Police are investigating whether as many as seven teenage girls have been sexually assaulted by men they met through the ultra-popular Web site MySpace.com.
"It is a predator's dream come true, this Web site," said Middletown Police Sgt. Bill McKenna. "Because not only can you see them, but you can see their friends. You can find out where they go to middle school and high school."
In a statement Thursday, MySpace.com said it was committed to providing a safe environment for its users and to working with state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal to address his concerns.
MySpace.com also said it has a series of initiatives designed to protect its users against inappropriate conduct and content. They include dedicating workers to monitor the site 24 hours a day, reviewing every image hosted by the site and working with law enforcement agencies.
This advertising-supported site, which was acquired last year by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, presents a veritable smorgasbord of teenagers, organized by community and high school, reports CBS News technology analyst Larry Magid.
"If you know the name of your local school and the sex and age of teens you're seeking, you can find them on MySpace. What's more, in most cases, you can find pictures, names and photos of their friends; details about where they were born; what they like; and where they hang out," Magid said. "In many cases, you can also find their full names and cell phone numbers."
The site, which includes safety tips, also prohibits use by anyone younger than 14, though a disclaimer says the people who run the site can't always tell if users are lying about their ages.
Online, identity can be easily veiled, altered or completely invented. MySpace.com is designed to give users a personal homepage with easy networking and messaging to friends, but with a fake name and few photos of someone else, an entirely fictitious profile can be born.
Blumenthal said Thursday that his office has received numerous complaints from parents who say their children can easily post and view inappropriate and sexually suggestive material on MySpace.com.
He referred complaints to Chief State's Attorney Christopher Morano.
"As a parent, I find it appalling and abhorrent that a Web site would so poorly police its pages," Blumenthal said. "This Web site is a parent's worst nightmare."
McKenna said none of the Middletown incidents appeared to have been violent. He said the girls, ages 12 to 16, say they were fondled or had consensual sex with men who turned out to be older than they claimed.
In one case, McKenna said, a man traveled more than 1,000 miles to meet a Connecticut girl whose profile was posted on the site.
It's possible for MySpace visitors to search users by schools, ages or geographical area. Magid tested out the site, by searching for young women in his area. He writes: "One of the girls, who is 16, has a sexually suggestive word as part of her user name. Thanks to MySpace, I have a pretty complete picture of her life. I know the day she was born, the hospital she was born in, her full name, where she goes to school, what she likes to eat, what time she goes to bed at night and her favorite fast-food restaurant."
He said it is difficult to determine the exact number of victims because some girls have been reluctant to disclose that they met their assailants online.
McKenna said Middletown police are warning parents to monitor their children's use of MySpace and similar sites. The Middletown Board of Education is so concerned that it is setting up a forum on the issue.
"We just want to get the ball rolling in terms of educating parents," McKenna said, adding that many may not be aware of the site. "I never heard of it up until two or three months ago when our first one came in. There's no parental controls."