WATSONVILLE, Calif. (KION) Concerned and shocked parents are coming together in Watsonville a few days after police arrested a city parks employee who is accused of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old over a year ago.
That man, Matthew Jimenez, is being charged with sodomy and oral copulation of a person under 16 and child molestation. He is pleading not guilty on all three counts. His next court appearance is in early March.
On Thursday, the city discussed ways parents can protect their children from predators and what signs they should be looking for in a forum at city hall.
Cell phones were a major topic during the forum because it is an easy way for potential predators to communicate with children.
"Facebook, Tinder, Bumble, all these different websites. There's a lot of kids that use these apps," said Jacob Marciel, a licensed clinical supervisor who counsels victims of sexual assault and their families.
While details of an alleged inappropriate relationship between Jimenez and the teen are still limited, we do know he and the teen met through a mutual friend. But experts at the forum say social media can play a big role in how children interact with predators.
"I highly recommend putting parental blockers on those things to monitor what their child is doing," said Marciel.
Watsonville police just received 20 iPads from the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, and they are planning to hold workshops for parents to demonstrate how to navigate social media.
"We're walking them through Instagram, through Snapchat, TikTok and just kind of showing them the different signs that they should be looking for," said Michelle Pulido, a Watsonville Police Department spokeswoman.
Teaching kids from an early age about what an appropriate relationship with an adult is is also important. But as far as signs to look out for if your child is being victimized: pay attention to irregular schedules, if they become super quiet all of a sudden and seem evasive and if they start to ignore basic routines like eating or bathing.
"It could (indicate) that a relationship is going on and the stress level they're having in that relationship," said Marciel.
Those iPad session with Watsonville PD will not start until a few months, but they will be available to the public.
Watsonville police and city officials held a forum on Thursday to address social media safety concerns. The meeting comes on the heels of the arrest of a city employee.
Matthew Jimenez was arrested in early February for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenager. The 23-year-old is charged with several child sex crimes. Jimenez faces charges of sodomy of a person under 16, oral copulation of a person under 16 and child molestation. He is pleading not guilty to the charges.
The victim in the case was 15-years-old at the time of the alleged abuse. He said the two met through a mutual friend. The police department said that the incidents, a reported five, took place outside of city facilities. The incident was reported a year ago.
Jimenez was hired in 2015 as a part-time Parks and Community Services employee, where he worked with youth at a local center. Police say they are not aware of other potential victims.
Police in Watsonville invited a psychologist to guide parents on how to talk to children and what signs to look for if they suspect their child has been a victim of sexual abuse.
KION’s Josh Kristianto will have more at 10 and 11 p.m.