In today’s world, children are being exposed to technology and social media at a younger age than ever before. While these advancements have enabled kids to connect with friends and loved ones easily, they have also opened the doors for predators to prey on young, vulnerable victims.
One such predator, 22-year-old Joseph Robert Meili, met his 11-year-old victim through the dating app MeetMe. The conversations eventually turned romantic, and the girl agreed to meet up with Meili at his Springfield, Missouri, apartment. The girl later told authorities that she fell asleep and awoke to find herself sexually assaulted by Meili.
Despite facing serious charges of first-degree statutory rape, first-degree statutory sodomy, and child kidnapping, Meili was able to strike an incredible deal with the authorities. For pleading guilty to the rape and kidnapping, his charges were reduced to just one count of third-degree child molestation, which is a class C felony. Instead of a lengthy prison sentence, Meili received just five years of supervised probation and a $10,000 fine.
The reason for Meili’s light sentence was his claim that he believed the girl was 18 years old. He blamed his child victim for the rape, claiming that she had tricked him into believing she was older by listing her age as 18 on her profile. His defense attorney, Scott Pierson, said that Meili felt horrible about the incident and would be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. The prosecution later confirmed that it was “absolutely” impossible that Meili believed the girl was 18 years old, as she was easily identifiable as a much younger child. The Greene County Senior Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Elizabeth Fax, believes that it was “willful ignorance” that led Meili to go through with the sexual assault.
While prosecutors recommended that Meili serve at least 120 days in a sex offender treatment program and up to seven years in prison, Judge Calvin Holden only gave him probation. Rulings like this are disheartening, as they send the message that rapists can get away with their heinous crimes. Meili’s paltry sentence tells child predators that they can groom, kidnap, and rape children as long as they claim that the child was a willing participant and that they thought the child was of age. It is expected that Meili will commit more depraved acts in the future, as there was nothing to deter him from repeating his horrific behavior.
The case highlights the dangers of dating apps and the need to protect children from online predators. While technology has made it easier for people to connect, it has also made it easier for predators to prey on young and vulnerable victims. Despite the challenges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers must take these cases seriously and ensure that justice is served. It is time to send a message that child predators will face severe consequences for their actions and that children must be protected from the dangers of the digital world.