Police are investigating an incident in Haywards Heath in which a 15-year-old local girl reported being assaulted by a man she had met on a social networking site.
The pair met in Clair Park shortly after 6:30pm on Wednesday 17 August. The girl had brought two friends with her, so when she cried out for help they were able to come to her aid and raise the alarm.
A 20-year-old Hurstpierpoint man was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and grooming. He was interviewed and then bailed until 16 October while enquiries continue.
Sergeant Rachel Mundy said: "The exact circumstances of this case are still being investigated. Whatever the eventual outcome, the girl should not have met an online stranger, but was thankfully with friends so she didn't come to more harm.
"The simplest advice - and something we would ask parents to help educate their children about - is not to share personal details on the internet or to take online friendships into the offline world. You may feel you know someone you've spoken to on the internet, but they are still a stranger.
"In reality some people - often older teenagers or adults - will ignore this advice and be determined to meet someone. This is not something we recommend, but there are ways you can make yourself as safe as possible, as this girl did, such as meeting in a public place, in daylight hours and with friends."
The following safety advice should always be followed online, especially for younger people.
For personal social networking sites (like Facebook, Bebo and MySpace):
- Make your account is private so you have to manually accept friend requests.
- Never connect or make friends with people you don't already know offline.
- Change your privacy settings so personal details aren't visible on any public pages.
For more open sites (like Twitter, chat rooms and discussion boards):
- Make your account private if you can, so people can't see anything you post unless you allow them.
- Never tell anyone private information about yourself, such as your age, address or phone number.
- Invent a nickname rather than using your real name.
- Never say where you go to school or work.
- Never tell people when or where you are going somewhere.
- Never send pictures.
Remember, new people you speak to online are strangers:
- Never agree to meet a stranger in person.
- Never agree to speak to them on the phone.
- Never let anyone see a picture of you and don't accept pictures from them.
- If a stranger asks to meet you or phone you, asks for your photo or wants to send a photo, tell your parents or someone you trust straight away.
If you ignore this advice and decide to meet up with someone - even if you are an adult - your must:
- Make sure your parents or carers know where you are going if you live at home, or tell a close friend if you are an adult.
- Take your mobile phone with you and agree to text or call your parents or close friend at set times.
- Meet in a busy public place, like a shopping centre, during daylight hours.
- Take friends with you to make it a group meeting or make sure they are within earshot if you need them.
More information about online safety - including a section for parents, carers and teachers - is available on the excellent national website www.thinkuknow.co.uk