A 22 year-old Missouri man, Joseph Robert Meili, has been charged with child molestation of an 11-year-old girl — and received no prison time.
Meili has been sentenced to only five years of supervised probation after he pled guilty to third-degree child molestation. Meili admitted to having sex with the 11-year-old girl, meeting her on a dating app called MeetMe. The girl accessed the app on her mom’s cell phone.
Meili could have faced seven years in prison, but Judge Calvin R. Holden went easy on him.
According to The Huffington Post, Meili told police he agreed to meet the girl because her MeetMe profile said she was 18. He said even when he met her in person, he didn’t think she was a minor — an excuse that’s been used by other convicted sex offenders.
Greene County Senior Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Fax told HuffPost it’s not possible Meili thought the girl was 18. “He knew and just decided to go along with it anyway,” she said.
Meili’s attorney, Scott Pierson, said the girl “catfished” his client.
“He felt horrible about the entire incident,” Pierson said. “He’s going to be required to register as a sex offender… It’s a tough case.”
It’s particularly tough for the little girl, who will have to deal with the traumatic repercussions of the incident, and, reportedly, subsequently tested positive for chlamydia.
The MeetMe website states “every aspect of human life is enhanced by meeting great new people — whether it’s a casual, fun encounter, a lasting romance, or any of the infinite ways people choose to come together.”
In their Terms of Service, MeetMe states they don’t conduct criminal background checks on their members, and by using the service members represent that they aren’t a registered sex offender.
When new users subscribe to MeetMe, they’re asked to verify that they’re 18 years of age or older, with no back-up proof required. This is common for most dating and social media apps, and led to a series of child predator arrests back in April.
It’s unclear whether the girl started her own profile, or if she used her mother’s login information. It’s also unclear if the mother’s phone was locked with a passcode.
What is certain is that dating apps can be a hunting ground for criminals. And unless parents take every precaution to ensure their child can’t access their phones, the child could unwittingly fall into a sexual predator’s trap.