Recent disappearances bring attention to importance of online safety

Published: Nov. 8, 2019 at 5:18 PM CST
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In separate cases, two missing teenage girls from Northeast Wisconsin were both found safe this week hundreds of miles away.

Investigators in both cases say the teenagers each used social media and technology to talk to the older men they left with.

"The apps are always changing, and the function of the apps is always changing," said Samantha Bouressa, program supervisor at the Sexual Assault Center of Family Services.

That leaves parents constantly trying to keep up as their children move toward what is new and popular.

"You don't necessarily need to rip the phone out of your teenager's hand, but have conversations about the different apps that they're using," said Bouressa.

She says a number of the cases that come into the Sexual Assault Center of Family Services do have a social media or internet component. But, that does not mean the answer is going offline.

"We don't preach, 'Don't use social media, don't use dating apps.' Instead, we try to talk about how to safely use the internet, because telling people not to do something is not the answer," said Bouressa.

Instead, it is about staying educated on what each app does and which people get access to the information that is shared.

Another option is a new app called Bark. Parents download it onto their child's cell phone, and it monitors internet activity for signs of sexting, cyber bullying, and suicidal thoughts before sending alerts of harmful behavior it detects.

"These conversations are hard to have. It's about really difficult topics, so it's beyond internet safety. It's about healthy relationships and setting boundaries with the people in your lives," said Bouressa.

The cases of both Melissa Estrella Vasquez-Gonzalez and Cassandra Garza are still under investigation.

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