MASTIC BEACH, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island man is under arrest for allegedly raping an 11-year-old girl he met on a popular app.
This has police reminding parents of the importance of online safety.READ MORE: Driver Arrested After Car Slams Into Scaffolding On East Side
Twenty-two-year-old Renato Oliva Garcia is accused of raping a girl, just 11 years old, at his Hemlock Drive home. Police say the two met on Snapchat.
“An app that was on, we believe, her mom’s phone, she doesn’t have a phone. Over the course of weeks, they became familiar with each other,” Suffolk County Police Chief of Detectives Gerard Gigante said.
They met on Monday, which police say they learned of when she didn’t show up for her fifth grade class.
“It was determined she left the house at the time to catch the school bus and she came back at the time the school bus lets off,” Gigante said.
But she never actually got on the bus. Instead, investigators say, Oliva Garcia picked her up near her home, bringing her to where he lives with family, who were not home at the time.
Nobody was there when CBS2’s Jenna DeAngelis stopped by.
Oliva Garcia was in court Thursday, pleading not guilty.
His attorney says the victim admitted in a statement she lied about her age and Oliva Garcia didn’t realize his behavior was anything but legal.
“It’s awful, awful,” neighbor Angela Banfield said.
She has kids and grandkids of her own.
“I talk to my grandchildren about the dangers of social media and that there are people out there that prey on children,” she said.
Suffolk County Police stress the importance of monitoring what your kids are doing on social media and cell phone apps.
“I think a lot of people may look at the devices as maybe a form of, OK, they’re on the phone or they’re on the tablet and they’re OK, but really they’re being exposed to a lot of stuff that is well above their age. Over a period of weeks, people build familiarity, she may have felt comfortable meeting him and a tragic crime occurred,” Gigante said.READ MORE: NYPD Enlists Volunteers For Citywide Graffiti Cleanup Initiative
That advice echoed by other experts CBS2 spoke to.
“Keep the dialogue open. Get your kids to talk to you about what they’re doing online. Have open discussions about sort of dating online, when it’s appropriate to meet people online and how important it is to vet whoever it is that you’re interacting with online, and try not to be judgmental,” said Dr. Jodi Gold, a child and adolescent psychiatrist.
Gold says not to take away social media entirely.
“If you yell and scream at them, you will shut them down and you will send them underground,” she said. “The best way to [keep the conversation open], not to be judgmental, to be curious, to get involved with what their social media and video game life is and try to set reasonable guidelines online, the same guidelines you already have in place offline.”
She also says to ask questions if your child is interacting with kids or adults that they don’t know in person.
“For instance, you can walk into the room and have a conversation yourself with somebody your teenager is playing a video game with or someone your teenager is chatting with online, there’s nothing wrong with that,” Gold said.
CBS2 reached out to Snapchat which says safety is a priority:
- It does not allow users under 18 to create public profiles.
- You cannot receive a message from someone who you haven’t added as a friend.
- It recently added a new feature, “friend check up,” that prompts users to review their friend lists and and comfortably remove anyone they no longer want on their list.
Children under the age of 13 are prohibited from creating accounts on Snapchat, according to their Terms of Service, and the app is rated 12+ in the Apple app store and Teen in the Google Play store.
The company says the Children’s Advertising and Review Unit recently examined Snapchat’s compliance with the organization’s guidelines and found the app uses many safeguards to make sure children will not be able to continue using Snapchat if they do breach the age gate.
Snapchat also notes all privacy settings are on by default and it’s easy for users to report an concerns directly in the app.
The company has also launched a digital literacy initiative to educate users on how to protect their privacy and safety.
But still, with a young, tech-savvy generation, it’s important to keep on your kids.
Oliva Garcia’s bail was set at $150,000 cash with a court date set for March 23.MORE NEWS: 3-Year-Old Child Killed In Hartford Shooting
Detectives are asking anyone who believes they are a victim to call its special victims section at 631-852-6531.