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Program exposes the dangers of 'sexting'

Date: 5/26/2009

By Laura Christiansen

Staff Intern

LONGMEADOW Williams Middle School and Glenbrook Middle School hosted a program about the dangers of Internet use and the new phenomenon of "sexting" on May 18 for both students and parents.

"Sexting is the act of text messaging someone in the hopes of having a sexual encounter with them later; initially casual, transitioning into highly suggestive and even sexually explicit," according to These text messages can also include semi-nude or nude photographs.

Katelyn LeClerc, an intelligence analyst with Massachusetts State Police, was the featured guest speaker.

"I talked about the dangers of kids posting their information online. I think that kids don't understand that it's not just their friends that are looking at these sites. Other people [that are not on their friends list] are looking at their photos," LeClerc said.

Using Web sites like Facebook and Myspace can be great tools to keep in touch with friends, but when misused, they can become very dangerous.

"Our kids are exposed to so many electronic gadgets these days and what does not go along with [the gadgets] is a user manual that explains the dangers the device poses," Chris Collins, the principal at Williams Middle School, said.

The schools are trying to be proactive with the situation and educate both the student body and the parents about the dangers of the Internet and sexting.

"Part of what was driving this is that we're going to come down severely about this type of behavior. We think this will go a long way; there were a lot of wide eyes coming out [of the assembly]," Collins said.

At the program, LeClerc also covered the topics of the spread of child pornography through sexting and the solicitation of children via Web sites.

"[The parents] found it very sobering. It impressed upon them the stranger dangers of getting connected with someone that could harm their child. Another part that was shocking is the rapid increase of sexting among students; not so much in Longmeadow, but with teenagers across the United States," Michael Sullivan, the principal at Glenbrook Middle School, said.

At Glenbrook Middle School, there have been no reported cases of child solicitation or sexting within the building; however, some of the effects of incidents have spilled over into school life.

"I think we've only had one incident this year of sexting. It happened outside of school, but the fall out came to school. Then we've had a handful of times in the last two years of cases where people are using texting as a way of bully other people, which also spilled over into school," Sullivan said.

According to Collins, the effects of spreading information through the Internet or through texting can have lasting consequences.

"This, for us, was really all about education. The technology is great but a lot of danger goes along with the technology," Collins said.

The two schools plan to continue educating students and parents about the dangers of the Internet and cell phones; however, no set plans have been made for future programs yet.