Markus Hicks, 32, has been charged with one count of sexual assault. (East Coast Volleyball Club/Instagram)
A Paradise man has been charged after police say fake social media accounts were used to arrange a meeting that resulted in sexual assault.
Markus Hicks, 32, who has worked as a volleyball coach and a substitute teacher, was arrested Wednesday and appeared Thursday in provincial court in St. John's.
At a news conference Thursday, RNC spokesperson Const. James Cadigan said the investigation into the case began Aug. 23, after police received information about fake identities being used to arrange sexual acts.
So far, one complainant — an adult male — has come forward to the RNC, said Cadigan.
"We believe that there are other individuals who were contacted by these fictitious accounts. At this point, we have laid a single charge of sexual assault," he told reporters.
Cadigan said police believe the names "Isabella Ricci," with an online username of bellaricci4, and "Corinne Smith," with a username of smittycor15, have been used to arrange meetings.
He wouldn't say how long police believe the fake accounts were active or on which social media platforms because the RNC doesn't want to discourage anyone from contacting the force with information. Anyone who has come across the names or can provide more information should contact the RNC or the anonymous Crime Stoppers service, said Cadigan.
Const. James Cadigan, speaking at a news conference Thursday, says the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is looking for people who have been in contact with a pair of fake social media accounts to come forward with any information they may have. (Arlette Lazarenko/CBC)
Eric Hiscock, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association, said in a statement that the organization couldn't comment on the case due to the ongoing police investigation.
"Safe Sport provides specific guidance to athletes, coaches and the association on how to recognize, identify, and ultimately report any problematic, inappropriate, or illegal behaviour or activity," Hiscock said in the statement.
In its own statement, the provincial Education Department said it's aware of the charges and declined further comment, citing the ongoing police investigation.
"Educational psychologists and counsellors are at schools to assist students and staff wherever possible," the statement said.
Reminder to be safe online
Cadigan said parents should discuss online safety with their children.
"It's always important to speak to your children and youth about sharing personal and private information. Data and photographs, all of this information, once shared, is then in the possession of another person," he said.
"These people may be fictitious if you don't know them personally. There's a significant risk to a person's safety."
Sandra McKellar, executive director at End Sexual Violence N.L., says online sexual violence is much more prevalent than people realize.
Anyone who talks to others online and feels unsure or unsafe should trust their feelings and lean on someone they trust, said McKellar.
"Question what does not feel right," she said. "Who else knows that I'm talking to this person? Is this a question somebody who really cares about me would ask? If I respond to this question, will I put myself in danger?"
Parents and friends should be a source of trust for loved ones who are engaged in online activity.
"Talk to them about not believing everything they hear and to check in with them or someone they trust. Discuss when and how they can approach you, and believe them. We believe the people who come to us, and that's a way to show support."
McKellar says victims can be armed with information on what to do and how to move forward. The organization offers support, including a 24/7 phone line. Over the past year, McKellar says they have received more than 1,100 calls, not including the online chat, which is available 20 hours a week.
Regardless of how long ago an incident took place, McKeller said people can always reach out.
"If you have a question, please ask. Please do not hesitate or be afraid to reach out. Knowledge is power and we are here to help."
Hicks is scheduled to return to court next week for a bail hearing.
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