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Arrest prompts safety reminder about social media

While a Kent man remained in the Washington County Jail Monday following arraignment with the assignment of a $200,000 bond in Marietta Municipal Court, local law enforcement and behavioral health experts hope to remind parents of just how quickly children can fall prey to sexual predation.

Jordan Ross Dieffenbach, 23, of 1366 Elizabeth Court, Kent, faces one count of rape of a minor under 13 years old, a first-degree felony.

Dieffenbach stands accused of convincing a 12-year-old to meet him in the Little Hocking Elementary School parking lot Saturday, paying the child’s 8-year-old sibling to leave and “not tell anyone” and then performing sexual acts upon the older child.

According to Sgt. Scott Smeeks, of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Dieffenbach contacted the child via Instagram last week.

“She’d just met him (online) two or three days before,” said Smeeks.

Dieffenbach used one of his two Instagram accounts, as found by Times research, to contact the 12-year-old. The account had only one photo posted.

“He could pass for younger in that photo,” said Capt. Brian Rhodes, also of the sheriff’s office, as he reviewed the account Monday, noting the majority of the 882 accounts which that username follows are of young teens and preteens.

Smeeks said the investigation into Dieffenbach continues and Rhodes said a security letter has been sent by the office to Instagram to maintain the records of accounts allegedly held by Dieffenbach for further investigation and potential evidence.

Rhodes noted the profile could feasibly be that of a 14-year-old, by the lighting and smaller frame of Dieffenbach.

“They get befriended by someone that they think is similar age to them, but that person may not even look like the photos they’re posting online or be the same age,” said Rhodes. “Over time they develop that rapport to become a potential target by the predator.”

Dieffenbach was arrested Saturday after the child’s parent notified the law enforcement office of incidents that day and allowed officers to pose on the child’s Instagram account encouraging a second meeting.

Rhodes noted that while Dieffenbach was quickly apprehended, his alleged actions to convince the 12-year-old to meet him at Little Hocking Elementary School also depict patterns and methods of communication of which parents must be aware.

“Pay attention not only on your kid’s cell phones but on their tablets, Kindles, Xbox, their Nintendo Switch…there are secret chat rooms on so many devices and apps that look like a calculator but when you open it up it’s actually texting app or a link,” Rhodes described. “Some people, unfortunately, use the technology for bad things sometimes and they’re reaching out to these kids in the comfort of their own home, not bumping into them at Grand Central Mall or the movie theater or other places in the public.”

Instead, children and teenagers can meet via Tik Tok, Instagram, Discord, Twitch, Marco Polo, and other applications through smart devices on which they may be more versed in the technology than their own parents or older siblings.

“It can happen so fast, and it’s not only sexual stuff, it’s language and music or potentially really scary influences for young kids that they aren’t prepared to process and talk about,” said Chief Deputy Mark Warden.

“And parents right now have had their kids cooped up with them since March, we have a new normal and might be taking things for granted,” added Rhodes. “Blame isn’t the point here, it’s can you be aware, can you get reports on time of day, overall usage, see how much screen time and where your kids are on their devices?”

Doug Pfeifer, executive director of the behavioral health firm Life and Purpose Services, also weighed in Monday to guide how to have a constructive conversation and follow-up discussions with one’s child that allows for open dialogue and trust – rather than preventing every negative experience, instead, preparing one’s child to make clear and safe decisions.

“We can’t expect that kids just know how to carry themselves on these different social media platforms because they know the technology, their brains aren’t done developing,” said Pfeifer. “But having these conversations to prepare your child for independence and feedback is key.”

Pfeifer suggested opening the dialogue with “respectful curiosity” to initiate a conversation that, while potentially uncomfortable or awkward the first time, allows parents to build their child’s trust that talking together does not have to be punitive.

“Not coming at it like they’re getting in trouble, talk about what they use and why they use it, what do they enjoy?” said Pfeifer. “Reassure that they’re not in trouble, ‘I’m curious about your experiences and what you use if for’ is a good way to open that discussion to what they want out of that [platform].”

This dialogue, Pfeifer said, allows for further discussion about how to be safe on different applications, not giving away location information, talking about body image and feelings and how posts or comments are perceived by others.

“Remember kids’ brains are not fully developed so they’re making more impulsive and reactive decisions, not just ones that leave them prey to sexual predators,” said Pfeifer. “Share your concern that you want their experience to be healthy, safe and positive.”

Pfeifer also emphasized that once is not enough. Just like in practicing a sport or a talent, repetition and follow-up on how experiences have gone as a child develops also formulates more informed independence.

“You can’t just have this conversation once and think that, ‘well, it didn’t work’,” he said. “The brain changes with repetition. Prepare, experience and then evaluate how it went… when you evaluate, you’re teaching through that dialogue that it’s OK to make mistakes and learn from them.”

Janelle Patterson may be reached at jpatterson@mariettatimes.com.

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