HARTFORD, Conn. – Police are investigating whether as many as seven teenage Middletown girls have been sexually assaulted by men they met through the popular Web site MySpace.com.
Users of the social networking site create profiles that can include photos, personal information and even cell phone numbers.
"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.
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.
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.
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."
MySpace.com is owned and operated by News Corporation, which also owns and operates FOXNews.com.