An Argentine man who had been grooming an 11-year-old girl has been located and beaten up by her father, Walter Rodríguez. The 29-year-old, identified as Germán Acosta, had been sexually harassing the girl via WhatsApp messages, bullying her into lying to her parents so she could meet him. But Acosta had not been counting on her father finding out. The child told her dad what was happening and from that moment on he took charge, exchanging messages with Acosta as if he were his daughter and arranging a date to see him.
In Argentina, seven in 10 people don’t know what grooming means Hernán Navarro
“Tell them you are going to see a friend,” Acosta wrote to the girl, not knowing her dad was reading the messages. He also sent sexually explicit messages and asked her to send photos of herself in her underwear. “I’m a virgin,” she told him. “That’s great,” he replied.
“First he wanted to have the date at his house and I told him yes, of course, because I was going to kill him. He would open the door and I would kill him,” Rodríguez told TV channel TB. But Acosta changed the meeting place to a street in the Villa Crespo neighborhood in Buenos Aires. When Rodríguez saw Acosta, he punched him in the face and beat up him up before calling the police. He took a photo of the accused with a bloody face and shared the images on social networks. “This son of a bitch is a pervert. He sent photos to my 11-year-old daughter,” he wrote on Facebook. He also shared screenshots of the WhatsApp conversation.
A Facebook message from Rodríguez showing how Acosta tried to lure his daughter.
Rodríguez and Acosta are now facing charges but have not been detained. Rodríguez is accused of battery and Acosta of online harassment and grooming – the crime of befriending a child to lure them to perform sexual acts. “I made my statement before Justice. I told them everything, how it happened, I showed them the screenshots, what he had been sending to my little girl,” Rodríguez explained. “I don’t understand why they let him go. A person like this doesn’t deserve to be free.”
Under Argentine law, a person who contacts a minor online or via phone messages to groom them faces between six months and four years in prison.
This son of a bitch is a pervert. He sent photos to my 11-year-old daughter Walter Rodríguez
“By letting him free there is the potential risk to society because he could continue harassing these children,” warns Hernán Navarro from the not-for-profit group Grooming Argentina.
“In Argentina, seven in 10 people don’t know what grooming means. It is an invisible problem and because of this, few cases appear before the courts. Not because they don’t occur but because they are not reported,” says Navarro. According to him, the country needs to recognize that it is going through a cultural change and that children can be abused online – even if there is no physical contact. “Parents think that because their children are by their sides they are safe by their side. But kids are alone on the internet,” he adds. Worse still, online abuse can expose children to greater dangers, such as human trafficking, rape and crime.
Last year, the Argentine justice system set a precedent by sentencing for the first time a case of femicide preceded by online harassment, giving life in prison to Jonathan Luna, the killer of Micaela Ortega, a 12-year-old he contacted on Facebook. A similar case from 2016 that also caused outrage in Argentina concerned a 30-year-old policeman who seduced a 13-year-old via social networks, before bringing her to a hotel and killing her with a shot to her head before committing suicide.
English version by Melissa Kitson.