Following his arrest Sept. 3, Steven Gray Reece of Black Mountain faces the charge of using a social website as a sex offender, according to court documents.
North Carolina state law prohibits sex offenders from using certain social networking websites with minors involved, possibly resulting in a felony conviction.
Reece, 27 years old, holds previous convictions which include indecent liberties with a minor, second-degree sexual exploitation of a minor, assault on a female and failing to register as a sex offender, according to court documents.
While the law prohibits certain sites, it does not prohibit chat rooms or the internet as a whole to sex offenders, the North Carolina Supreme Court said.
Seventy-six percent of first online encounters between a sex offender and their underage victim take place in an online chatroom, according to a study by the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
The same study said perpetrators appeared to use information on the victims’ profiles to initiate contact.
Dana Flores, a certified nursing assistant from Asheville, said social websites can be inappropriate for children younger than 16.
“There are men who are on there and who look at your pictures in the wrong way,” Flores said.
Flores also said some websites can be dangerous if users have location settings turned on, making it easier for strangers to track them down.
Around 12 percent of stalking victims experienced it through unwanted emails or online messages, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Flores’ 9-year-old daughter sometimes uses Snapchat, a mobile app which allows users to send “self-destructing” photographs, according to TechTarget Network. As a mother, Flores said she monitors her daughter’s use and knows with whom her daughter interacts.
She said she appreciates how the law tries to stop sex offenders from getting on certain socialsites, but she has her doubts about whether or not it works.
“With Facebook, you know, you can create an account with an email address and make up a fake name and use a fake profile picture,” Flores said.
Brittany Dalton, another Asheville mother, said she will not allow her children to use social networking sites until they turn 16.
“My daughter is 8 years old. You know, kids get on the internet and lie about their ages,” Dalton said.
Dalton said she does not want her children exposed to everything the internet offers. Shesaid the online presence of sexual predators worries her.
Most children who converse with adults online know they talk to adults, said the American Psychological Association.
While both Flores and Dalton talk to their kids about the potential dangers online, they said they think the law adds another layer of protection for their kids.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals said they found the 2008 ban on sex offenders right to social media to be unconstitutional and too vague in 2013. A sex offender charged with accessing a prohibited social site said the statute violated his First Amendment right to free speech.
The North Carolina Supreme Court recently reversed the decision last year. They said they hope to prevent sex offenders from targeting children by using the information on their personal profiles.
Mark Gibney, a professor of political science at UNC Asheville, said he feels indecisive on the statute.
“You’re convicted of a felony, you serve your time and then your sentence is over. That’s the way that the law generally works,” Gibney said. “With the sex offender cases, you’re arrested, you serve your time and then when you get out, in some ways, the penalties persist the rest of your life.”
Gibney said he understands the need to protect our children from exploitation, but does not know if this particular law infringes too much on the rights of sex offenders. He said sex offender laws seem too broad because people can become sex offenders for many different reasons, from statutory rape to child pornography.
“It’s too easy to just say, ‘Well, let’s put some of these sex offenders away without looking at the circumstances of the case,’” Gibney said.
Reece will appear in court Nov. 23, according to court documents.