Copyright 2006 The News and Observer
By JESSICA ROCHA and JENNIFER BREVORKA
The News & Observer
RALEIGH, N.C. — A former Wake County sheriff's deputy already serving time for having sexual relations with a teenage boy he met on the Internet faces new charges for a similar incident.
Steven Mitchell Diver, 32, was sentenced in March to more than 15 years in prison for having sex with a 15-year-old Cary boy in the boy's home last July, after the two met on the popular online social network MySpace.com.
Diver worked for the Wake County Sheriff's Office from 1998 to 2000, and wasn't a sheriff's deputy at the time of the incidents, spokeswoman Phyllis Stephens told The News & Observer last year.
Now Diver faces more statutory rape charges and online solicitation charges for seducing a 14-year-old Chatham County boy to have sex around that same time last summer. It's possible he'll be linked to additional cases, said Sgt. Joe Edwards, with the Chatham County Sheriff's Office.
The case illustrates the ease with which some predators are finding targets and then convincing them to meet in person. The Internet creates a "smorgasbord" for child predators, said state Attorney General Roy Cooper, and teens sometimes lack the street smarts to avoid them.
Before, the Internet was mostly thought to be used by pedophiles to share child pornography. Now it's increasingly being used to find young people for in-person sex encounters, experts think.
On MySpace and other sites, young people often post copious personal details and photos. All that information makes it easier for predators to target children, find out where they live, and contact them.
"They can groom numerous victims at the same time," Cooper said. "They can be much more efficient."
That's what law enforcement officers say happened with Diver.
Around July 14, 2005, Diver drove to the 15-year-old's home in Cary during the day, and had consensual sex with him, said Cary police Det. Tom Doyle. The boy's parents didn't realize what happened until they saw a text message Diver left on their son's mobile phone that said: "Will you be my [boyfriend]?"
In March, Diver pleaded guilty to three counts of taking indecent liberties with a child and one charge of statutory rape of a child, court records show.
About a month earlier, Chatham investigators said, Diver had been talking online and over the phone with a Chatham County teen. By July — the same time Diver had sex with the Cary teen — Diver also drove out to Chatham County in the middle of the night to meet the other teen.
"The victim gave the suspect everything he needed to know to make a connection with him," Edwards said.
Diver picked up the boy and drove him to Jordan Lake, Edwards said. Diver showed the boy some nude photos of other boys, and then had sex with him. A week later they met again. And in early August, Diver took the boy to the Streets of Southpoint mall for a movie.
Edwards said in the past two years he's seen close to 50 similar cases, where the Internet is used to lure young people into consensual sex.
So far, most of the online and offline sex activities are done willingly through artful manipulation, said Parry Aftab, executive director of Wiredsafety.org.
"Are kids at risk on MySpace that someone will climb through their window? No," she said. "The Internet sex predators are looking for love, they are looking for ... sex, but they don't want the fight."
Elected officials and law enforcement are trying to figure out ways to police cyberspace, enlisting the help of parents, police and even the sites' operators.
Aftab said children are more frequently meeting their Internet "friends" in person, and those people are more frequently turning out to be adults.
So parents should monitor what their children are posting online and with whom they are interacting, Aftab said, but they should also teach children to not to post anything they wouldn't want a parent or teacher to see. Parents should discourage children from meeting anyone in person that they meet in cyberspace. But if they do, to bring "sumo-wrestling" friends.
Teaching judgment might help kids who already know how to navigate the Internet also decide whom to talk to, and whom to meet in person. But Cooper thinks sites like Xanga.com and MySpace also could do more to make their sites safer places for children.
Two weeks ago, Cooper met with a representative from MySpace, and then wrote a letter asking the company to better police the content of the sites and to prohibit children under 16 from accessing the sites, and requiring parental consent for those under 18.
"I continue to recommend that parents prohibit their children from posting profiles on networking Web sites such as MySpace," Cooper stated in a letter to a MySpace representative.
Diver is accused of having sex with 2 teens last July.
Former N.C. deputy faces new child sex charges