Two men were arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting two teenage girls they met on the social-networking Web site MySpace in East Haven on Sunday night.
Juan Carlos Coello, 19, of East Haven and Julio Quambana, 18, of Brooklyn were charged with aggravated sexual assault, carrying a weapon and reckless endangerment. The arrest has led to debate over whether MySpace does enough to protect the privacy minors who use the Web site.
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Their victims — two sisters who are 16 and 17 years old — were not hospitalized for any injuries, New Haven Police Department spokesman Joseph Avery said.
The two girls met with Coello and Quambana in a pre-arranged location Sunday night, and the men then took them to a friend’s home in Morris Cove, a neighborhood in East Haven, where they were both allegedly sexually assaulted, one at knifepoint, Avery said. He said it is unclear whether or not alcohol was involved.
After the assault, Quambano and Coello left the house, and the two girls called their friends, who then called the NHPD, Avery said. Officers picked up the girls and asked them to show them the house where they were taken. While they were investigating, Quambano and Coello returned, and were arrested immediately. Avery said the police also found the knife used in the assault.
The girls had only been in contact with Coello and Quambana for “a couple of weeks” before the assault, City Hall Spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said.
Avery said he did not yet know if Coello and Quambana were relatives or just friends or if they had met the two teenagers with the intent of sexually assaulting them.
Internet safety advocacy groups, such as national group Enough is Enough, said social networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook have done a great deal to increase safety for their users in recent years, but they still pose a threat to children.
“If these sites are used responsibly, then they can have a positive and beneficial impact for teens, but too often, we see teens that place themselves at risk,” Enough is Enough congressional liaison Cris Clapp said in an e-mail. The organization’s mission is to protect children and families from Internet-based sexual predators and pornographers.
MySpace is working with the New Haven Police Department to assist in the investigation of Coello and Quambana.
Clapp said that MySpace made an effort to increase the security of its Web site earlier this year by supporting the KIDS Act of 2007, a piece of legislation that would require all sex offenders to register their e-mail addresses and instant-messenger user names with law enforcement.
And last December, MySpace began working with a company called Sentinel Tech Holding to produce technology that would cross-check MySpace user information with the National Sex Offender Registry and monitor or block possible sex offenders from signing up, Clapp said.
Although MySpace has taken positive steps toward improving its security, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the company still needs to do more to make the Web site safer. Blumenthal said he, along with other representatives from all 50 states, is currently negotiating with MySpace and Facebook to make age and identity verification mandatory on the Web sites. He said he also wants MySpace to keep accurate lists of convicted sex offenders.
“There’s a need for improvement in safeguards provided by MySpace against potential predators and other dangers, but also on other social networking sites,” Blumenthal said.
MySpace has already adopted a software, which the company provides free to all parents, that keeps children under the age of 14 off the Web site, Blumenthal said.
He also said he is pushing for greater self-protection on the part of teenagers who use social-networking Web sites.
MySpace only allows users who register as over the age of 18 full access to the Web site. Users who register as under 14 to 15 years old are automatically assigned private profiles and cannot be found on search engines. They can also only be friends with other users who are under 18 years old. Users under 14 are not allowed on the Web site.