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A warning to parents: Older men seeking young girls on Web is increasing

Published: Saturday, Aug. 24 2013 5:30 p.m. MDT

Layton, who used to work for the Weber County Sheriff's Office and the northern Utah bureau of the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, said every case of this type that he's seen has involved a female victim and male perpetrator. In most cases, the girls are 14 or 15 years old and the men are in their mid-20s.

The reason for the increase in cases: "It's all related to social media," he said.

In July, a 24-year-old Sandy man was charged in 3rd District Court with three counts of rape of a child, a first-degree felony, and three counts of child endangerment, a third-degree felony, after allegedly befriending a 13-year-old girl on Facebook, giving her heroin and impregnating her after they met in person.

Layton said he worked a case recently where a 24-year-old man met a 16-year-old girl online and eventually persuaded her to have sex with him in exchange for paying her cellphone bill. The girl told two of her friends about the deal, and they later participated as well, he said. The man was eventually arrested and convicted, according to Layton.

A report from the Utah Department of Health's Office of Vital Records and Statistics that looked at pregnancies of Utah girls ages 15 to 17 from 2006 to 2008 found that more than 600 of the fathers were ages 20 to 24, 120 were ages 25 to 29, and in 54 teen births the fathers were 30 or older.

In 43 percent of the pregnancies, the 15- to 17-year-old girls reported no information about the father.

Layton said he was seeing such a growing problem with older perpetrators abusing younger victims that he helped push a bill that passed the 2013 Utah Legislature that lowered the age difference for unlawful sexual conduct between 16- and 17-year-old victims and a perpetrator to seven years instead of 10.

The new law also makes it a crime to have sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old if one person is 10 years or more older than the other, even if one party mistakenly believed the other was 18.

But despite a culture that tends to glamorize sex, Layton said he believes teens are not more knowledgable today about the subject than they were two decades ago.

"The maturity of the kids has not changed," he said. "A kid that is 14 and 15 nowadays is not any more mature than a kid was 20 years ago when they were 14 and 15 years old."

If a 25-year-old man approaches a teen girl on the street today and asks her to go to the movies with him, the girl would still say no, according to Layton.

"But when I get you on social media, when I get you on Facebook or when I start texting you, and I start to manipulate that kid, again, you have someone with no life experience here versus someone with a lot of life experience and knows how to manipulate," Layton said. "Then they break down those barriers. So when that (first) meeting takes place, they're friends now, even though they've never met."

The girl, however, may not have the same expectations as the man.

"The girl has a different perception of what's going to happen. The girl is going, 'This guy here, this is what I've been waiting for all my life. Here's my knight in shining armor. Here's the guy who's going to take me to the movies. He's going to buy me dinner. I'm ready to do that.' Whereas the guy is thinking sex," Layton said. "He's not thinking about a relationship."

While Indica was still missing, Huddleston said she believed her daughter's maturity level may have played into her situation. Her daughter may look 20, but "how she looks and how she thinks are two different things," she said.

What's the attraction?

So why do young girls "friend" older men on Facebook?

Amy Oxman, a licensed clinical social worker who works with children for trauma and abuse-related issues, says the reasons can be different for every girl.

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