Wednesday, January 23, 2008

MySpace Predator

How a sinister MySpace predator targeted teen girls

By Dan Herbeck
Updated: 01/06/08 8:02 AM

On his MySpace page, he called himself “sex master Adam.”

He said he was 20 years old, and the page featured photographs of a muscular, shirtless young man.

His spelling and grammar were atrocious, but the words on his personal profile page left little doubt about the kind of girls he wanted to meet.

“yes i am from buffalo,” he wrote. “what im looking for are some bad lil girls and when i say bad i mean really bad girls who will do anything i ask them to.”

His MySpace page drew reponses from dozens of teenage girls, some as young as 13. And after communicating with Adam several times, some of the girls sent him pictures of themselves in the nude, sometimes in extremely lewd poses.

Police recently learned that Adam was really David W. Evans, a 48-year-old cafeteria worker who lived alone in an apartment on Buffalo’s West Side.

Cheektowaga police and the FBI arrested him last month, and charged him with coercing a minor to produce child pornography, a federal felony crime.
Six victims have been identified so far, but police believe there may be many more — dozens, possibly more than 100. They are trying to track down other teens whose pictures were found on Evans’ cell phones and computer.

As police continue their investigation and more girls are located, questions are being raised about the victims, too:

• Regardless of how old she thought Adam was, why would any teenage girl send naked pictures of herself to a man she had never met?

• How could the girls’ parents be unaware of what was going on?

• How common is this kind of conduct in the Internet age?

For cops and others studying the case, there are no simple answers.

“There was a progression,” said Cheektowaga Detective Michael K. Hockwater, who broke the case with Detective Terence J. Griffin. “It started out with girls using MySpace to meet a hot-looking 20-year-old guy. Then, [Evans] began making demands on them. And then, threatening to do things to them if they refused to send racier pictures. It just got out of hand.”

“I’ll tell you why it happened,” Griffin interjected. “Because their parents didn’t know what they were doing.”

The girls made terrible mistakes, but characterizing them as bad girls would be unfair, said Bonnie L. Glazer and Stefan Perkowski, who work with young sex crime victims through Child & Adolescent Treatment Services of Western New York.

“They’re not bad kids; they’re victims of a seduction by an adult,” said Perkowski, the agency’s program director. “And they’re growing up in an age when you have an explosion of role models like Paris Hilton telling them that this kind of behavior is not only acceptable, but something they should aspire to.”

Sexual predators often try to excuse their actions by claiming their young victims were at fault, said Glazer, a clinical social worker who is also the executive director of the child and adolescent treatment agency.

“We’ve seen many cases where teenagers do things over the Internet without realizing the implications, the trail of information,” Glazer said.
“The Internet makes it too easy.”

U.S. Attorney Terrance P. Flynn said he finds the case “very disturbing” on two different levels.

It demonstrates the ease with which sexual predators can misuse the Internet, he said, and it also shows the immaturity and vulnerability of some teens who use social networking sites to make their private lives public.

Sites widely misused

One person who was not surprised by the Evans case or the teen girls’ conduct is Patricia McLain, a Buffalobased community educator for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

“I’ve spoken to about 250 different groups in the past two years, and at almost every event, someone tells a horror story about one of the social networking sites,” McLain said. “These sites are misused by bullies, by sexual predators and by kids posting very inappropriate pictures of themselves.”

McLain said she shares Perkowski’s concern about the influence of tainted celebrities like Hilton. McLain is aware of several local cases in which underage girls have e-mailed nude pictures of themselves to boys they “had a crush on.”

With an estimated 100 million registered users, is reportedly the world’s busiest social networking Web site. Critics say the Web site’s operators don’t do enough to stop child predators from misusing it.

Last February, a federal judge in Austin, Texas, dismissed a $30 million lawsuit filed against MySpace by the family of a 13-year-old girl who said she was sexually assaulted by a 19- year-old man she met on the site. The man had falsely told the girl he was a high school senior and convinced her to give him her telephone number.

The judge said MySpace was protected under the Communications Decency Act and cannot be required to verify the age of every user. MySpace officials have said they have worked with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on security improvements, including free parental notification software.

“MySpace gets most of the publicity because it’s so big, but there are problems with all these sites,” McLain said. “You can pose as anyone on these sites. None of them verify the information that people post.”

Social networking sites can be used in many positive ways, McLain said. She noted that many soldiers fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan use the sites to keep in touch with friends and family members.

Threats and harassment

David Evans’ crimes went far beyond just misrepresenting himself on his MySpace profile, authorities said.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Evans used MySpace to meet teenage girls, and then — while posing as young Adam — got some of the girls to give him cell phone numbers.

“He convinced some of the girls to send him topless pictures of themselves. Then he’d ask for dirtier pictures,” Hockwater said. “If they refused, he threatened to call the girl’s parents and tell them what she had done, or post all her personal information and pictures on the Internet.”

Griffin said two girls told police Evans e-mailed them explicit pictures of him, and one girl said he threatened to come to her home and kill her if she stopped sending nude photos.

“One of the girls was petrified,” Hockwater said. “She finally went to her mother, and her mother came to us.”

So far, one victim has been found in Cheektowaga, one in Lancaster, one in the Town of Tonawanda, and three in the Rochester area, police said.

Evans pleaded not guilty in federal court after his arrest on Dec. 18. If convicted, he could face a mandatory 15- year prison term. His attorney, federal public defender John F. Humann, said the girls and their parents also should be scrutinized. He noted that Evans is not accused of having actual physical contact with any of the girls.

“I’m not trying to minimize [the allegations],” Humann said, “but where are these girls’ parents when they’re going on the Internet and sending out pictures of their private parts?”

Flynn said, “This case is a classic illustration of the need for parents to monitor their kids’ e-mail activity. Before they allow a son or daughter to sign up for a MySpace account, they need to talk to them and determine whether they are mature enough to handle it.”

“The Internet world is a mirror of the real world,” McLain said. “There are predators looking to take advantage of kids in the real world, and in the Internet world. Parents need to know that.”

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