More details have been released about the homicide that occurred here in Utica yesterday morning. According to Utica Police, 17-year-old Bianca Devins was murdered by someone she met online, and with whom she had a very close relationship. He had met members of her family, who say that he was a trusted individual.

Rumors were circulating all over social media this morning and it caused a lengthy conversation between my coworkers and I. How this seemed more like something we would see on an episode of "Criminal Minds" - not what you would ever expect in your own back yard. How scary the whole story is, how scary reality can be, if it could have been avoided. Then, it turned to the topic of how scary the internet is, a necessary conversation.

As a millennial, (and as a 25 year old female), I have been around, really, for the evolution of the world wide web. I remember when, as a middle schooler, most of my friends and I were using the internet for really basic things: downloading music for our iPods, messaging each other through AOL Instant Messenger, and Googling the answers to our homework.

When the majority of social networks were introduced to me, like Myspace and Facebook, they were used for connecting with people you knew. Friends, family, family friends. I had my own personal Myspace and Facebook pages, but only was connected to the people I knew (and my favorite verified musicians.)

Nowadays, the internet has given a whole new meaning to staying connected. Apps and websites have made it easier than ever before to meet new people and to be in direct communication with them. There truly are so many channels that exist today that we don't even know exist - and I've found THAT is never really discussed.

Yes, Bianca was only 17 years old and she knew her murderer- but acts of this nature can happen to anyone of any age. Regardless of the circumstances and the details that have been shared, it's all connected to the internet and social media- things that we can't talk enough about. It serves as a good opportunity to voice a critical reminder about internet safety in general, no matter what age you are.

There are obviously many risks that come with putting yourself out there on the internet. Personal safety, stalking and harassment, fraud, cat-fishing, and blackmail, among so many other things., a dating website, has tips on their site on dating safety that really can relate to all aspects of the internet, in my opinion.

Online Dating Safety Tips: General

  • Protect Your Personal Information- Never give personal information, such as your social security number, credit card number or bank information, or your work or home address to people you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
  • Be Web Wise- Block and report suspicious users. You can block and report concerns about any suspicious user anonymously from any profile page, email or messaging window. Keep conversations on the platform. Bad actors will try to move the conversation to text, personal email or phone conversations. (In this case, they're referring to their platform, but almost every social media platform gives you a way to report concerns. USE THEM.)
  • Report All Suspicious Behavior- Examples include: people asking you for money or donations, requesting photographs, harassing or offensive messages or emails. Inappropriate behavior during or after meeting in person, etc.

They also point out that it is just as, if not more important, to keep your safety in mind if you plan to meet up with someone in real life.

Online Dating Safety Tips: Meeting IRL

  • Get to Know the Other Person- Keep your communications on the platform and really get to know users online/using the app before meeting them in person. Bad actors often push people to communicate off the platform immediately. It’s up to you to research and do your due diligence.
  • Always Meet and Stay in Public- Meet for the first few times in a populated, public place – never in a private or remote location and never at your date’s home or apartment. If your date pressures you, end the date and leave at once.
  • Tell Your Friends and Family Members of Your Plans- Inform a friend or family member of your plans and when and where you’re going. Make sure you have your cell phone charged and with you at all times.
  • Transport Yourself to and from the Meeting- You need to be independent and in control of your own transportation, especially in case things don’t work out.
  • Stay Sober- Consumption of alcohol and/or other drugs can impair your judgment and potentially put you in danger. It’s important to keep a clear mind and avoid anything that might place you at risk. Be aware that bad actors might try to take advantage of you by altering your beverage(s) with synthetic substances.

The Utica Police Department says that "some sort of argument ensued at the (concert) venue that precipitated the following engagement between the two." Although conflict/arguments are generally normal in a relationship, they should never become personal, physical attacks. That is considered domestic abuse and is something that should be taken very seriously.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, on average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States — more than 12 million women and men over the course of a year.

If you or someone you know is in a situation with domestic violence, the Utica Police Department urges you to contact them at 315-735-3301 and ask for their domestic violence unit. You can also reach out to the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or use their online web chat. They have resources for anyone in the United States who is experiencing domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship. They can also help provide support to friends and family members who are concerned about a loved one.

The internet can be a very scary place. So can reality.

My deepest condolences and prayers go out to the family and friends of the girl who had so much life left to live and was taken way too soon.

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