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Rape arrest shows need to fix MySpace, AG Cooper says

Release date: 9/15/2006

For immediate release Contact: Melissa Lovell

Date: September 15, 2006 Phone: 919/716-6413

Rape arrest shows need to fix MySpace, AG Cooper says

Children must be shielded from predatory adults, especially online

RALEIGH: This week’s arrest of a police officer for raping a 14-year-old girl he lured through MySpace reemphasizes the need to protect underage children from adults on the popular social networking sites, Attorney General Roy Cooper said Friday.

On Wednesday, the State Bureau of Investigation arrested Luther Daniel Stidham, 36, of the Boiling Spring Lakes Police Department, on multiple felonies including statutory rape, sex offense and indecent liberties with a minor.

Investigators believe Stidham communicated with the girl through the MySpace internet site after initial contact was made through a police “ride along” program. The SBI has seized computers and other evidence to determine whether contacts have been made with other minors.

Cooper is chairman of a national group of attorneys general who are working to stop social networking sites such as MySpace, Xanga, Friendster and Facebook from exposing children to predators and pornography.

“Children shouldn’t be faced with adult decisions or situations, especially when they have a false sense of security online,” Cooper said. “The networking sites are bringing people together, but they’re also allowing unsuspecting children to fall victim.”

Cooper and the AG’s group are pushing social networking sites to eliminate inappropriate or lewd content, and to keep children and adults apart. Most important is ensuring that the sites effectively verify children’s ages to keep minors away from adult pictures and discussions, he said. The group is also pushing the sites to put virtual walls between children and adults, especially adult-oriented areas such as dating.

The SBI will continue to hunt down child predators who are cruising the internet as if it were a playground, Cooper said.

“Our investigators have the tools to find the predators, but parents and networking sites also have the responsibility to make sure they protect children at the start,” Cooper said. More information for parents is available at www.ncdoj.gov under “Internet Safety.”

Stidham is currently being held at the Brunswick County Detention Center of $150,000 bond. The investigation was at the request of District Attorney Rex Gore and the SBI’s Coastal District agents were assisted by the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office and the Boiling Spring Lakes Police Department.

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