Messaging apps posing danger to minors as parents are left helpl - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Messaging apps posing danger to minors as parents are left helpless

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Messaging apps are posing a threat to minors across the nation. In just two weeks, there have been two cases of sexual assault in southern Wisconsin in which the teen victims met the alleged suspects over social media. 

On Monday, Janesville police arrested Bryan Kind, 31. Officers say he had been communicating with a 16-year-old girl for the past year via various apps and internet messaging sites. Then, Kind would travel from Michigan to Rock County to meet the teen at hotels on several different occasions, according to police. Authorities say during some of those stays, Kind would would engage in sexual contact with the girl. 

Last month, a Fort Atkinson man was charged with abducting a 14-year-old girl from Michigan. Police say he brought her to Wisconsin and sexually assaulted her in his apartment. The two also met on a social media site, according to the FBI. 

It's a problem Steve Noll says isn't going away. He's a marketing professor and social media expert at Madison Area Technical College. 

"We have children as young at five and six who know how to go online," he said. "As kids are getting younger and younger with this technology, the predators are out there, it's only a matter of time before these stories start to even cycle down."

Parents usually teach their children the phrase "stranger danger," but Noll says in this digital age, kids don't only see strangers on the streets. 

"Now, it's a virtual street." 

It's a path that includes stops like Facebook Messenger, Tinder and Kik. All of those apps are messaging apps where Noll says predators could be lurking. 

"They are typing in the voice of a teenager, they have learned in their predatory research how to pass as a teenager," he said. 

Experts say kids aren't only using their cell phones to use the apps. They're also using tablets and even older technologies like PC's. But Noll says, although it's a side of the story many aren't willing to explore, sometimes the teens themselves are seeking a thrill. 

"There are sometimes these kids out there actively looking for danger," Noll explained. "We have rebellious kids, kids who are wanting to stretch their own identity, they are purposely going on these apps for the sense of danger for the sense of thrill."

The issue isn't stationary in Wisconsin, it's an international affair. 

"there was one last year where a guy came all the way from Australia to Los Angeles to have sex with a teenager," Noll added. 

There are a number of sites that help parents block apps from your child's phone, but Noll says safety measures go beyond the software. 

"A lot of it is just monitoring the behavior of your kid and looking for signs that something's up," he said. 

To Noll and other experts, it's a battle parents may never completely win. 

"The reality is, while we've been sitting here, yet another chatting app has been posted into the app stores," he said. 

But it is a battle parents can take steps in fighting. 

"When you see a stranger on that virtual street, if you don't know who they are in real life, you shouldn't be talking to them," he said. 

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