Students Learn Internet Lessons

ST. MARYS — A local DARE officer visited a local health class to discuss the dangers of sexting and being too open on the Internet.

Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office DARE Deputy Sam Blank visited the freshmen and sophomore students in Monica VanderHorst’s health classes at Memorial High School on Thursday.

“He’s here to talk about the importance of the media,” VanderHorst told her students. “What great  influence it has. It can be positive, but it’s also a negative influence how you use it.

Blank noted he put together the sexting program.

“I put this together on my own because I’m the DARE deputy for Auglaize County, and I’ve been to every school, and every school I’ve been to is having issues with people sending out inappropriate text messages, pictures, threatening texts, bullying texts, basically technology tying in with crime,” he said. “So I came up with this presentation to do for students all across Auglaize County.”

He noted the issue is a widespread issue throughout, not only the county, but throughout the world.

“There is a problem here in St. Marys,” Blank said. “There is a problem all over the United States and the world with people using technology in inappropriate ways.”

He added his purpose of being there to talk to the students was not to threaten them.

“The reason I’m here is to be a warning — I don’t want to see you guys have to put up with all the junk this stuff will bring to your lives,” Blank said.

He stressed the anonymity of chat rooms, where they don’t know who they’re conversing with and the opportunity to create fake profiles on social networking sites like Facebook.

Blank also noted the GPS technology on phones now and how tools such as Facebook’s Check-In option that lets people know where a person is if they update their phone.

He told the students their phone is not private.

“You are responsible for everything on your phone,” Blank said.

“People think that there’s some kind of right or security on your cell phone that police can’t look at, anybody can’t look at — you wouldn’t dream of walking through the hallways here in St. Marys with photo albums of naked pictures of your boyfriend or girlfriend. You wouldn’t just walk around with those, but a lot of people have inappropriate stuff on their cell phones, and they don’t think about it.”

Sexting, he noted, is when a person takes sexually explicit pictures of him or herself and forwards it to other students through their cell phone or other device.

Blank stressed sexting is illegal — and when the subjects are younger than 18, it is considered child pornography.

“It’s illegal,” he said.

“So don’t take or send nude or sexually explicit photos of yourself or someone else. If you do, even if they’re of you or you’re passing along one of someone else, you can be charged with producing or distributing child pornography. If you keep them on your computer, you can be charged with possession. If they go to someone in another state, which happens really easily, it’s a federal felony.”

Blank noted sexting can cause emotional and reputational damage, and the photos can be distributed and archived online for people to search for forever.

“When a digital picture is created, there are many ways to keep that picture permanently,” he added.

Blank noted why sexting may be an issue.

“In many cases, kids are responding to peer pressure in a form of cyberbullying or pressure from a boyfriend or girlfriend,” he said.

Blank stressed sexting is illegal for both parties involved.

“This is what I deal with all the time in every school that I’ve been to in Auglaize County,” he said.

“I hear stories and incidences with students that have to put up with this. I spoke with students and groups of kids who have sent out photos and received photos as young as sixth grade. That’s what I’m dealing with in Auglaize County. Now is there younger kids, probably, but it just hasn’t come to the surface — it scares me that I’m already dealing with kids in sixth grade.”

Besides ruining reputations, sexting among children can cause them to be arrested and charged with distributing child pornography, Blank said.

“The only way you can prevent that is to not take the picture,” he said.

Sexting can also cause emotional damage and suicide, Blank said, noting a video the students watched about a student at Sycamore High School outside Cincinnati who committed suicide after a nude photo of the student went viral at her school.

Blank told the students not to delete the photo when they receive it, and instead, he stressed they should show a parent as soon as it happens.

“I know, and law enforcement knows, that you cannot control what you receive on your cell phone — as soon as you get an inappropriate picture or a picture of a classmate nude, you need to take your phone and walk it straight up to one of your parents,” he said.

“I know that’s going to be embarrassing, and I know it’s going to be really bad, but let me tell you it’s going to save your butt. If a person sends out a photo and that person sends it to another person who sends it to you, and you have it in your possession, somewhere along that chain of people somebody tells their parent or tells the police, the police are going to investigate it, and they’re going to look through the outbox and who it got sent to — they’re going to go through that list, and they’re going to find who you are and come to investigate.”

Blank also told students to be cautious about what they put on Facebook sites — such as inappropriate, unflattering photos, photos of them in partaking in reckless behaviors — because they will be visible, especially to future employers.

“You’ve got to think of Facebook as like a snapshot of your life and who you are and what you want people to see,” he said. “What everybody can see, not just your friends, but what you want the whole world to see.”