ST. CLAIRSVILLE - The statistics on 'sexting' are overwhelming.
So much so, that area schools are looking to spread the word to their student bodies to inform them of the problems and the consequences of using cell phones and/or social websites to spread pornographic materials.
The Sexual Predator Internet Initiative made a stop at St. Clairsville Middle School Friday morning and addressed the sixth, seventh and eighth graders about using the phone and Internet for more than they should.
?T-L Photo/SETH STASKEY
PICTURED ARE some of the key people in bringing the Sexual Predator Internet Initiative to speak to the students at St. Clairsville Middle School Friday. From left are Bethesda Police Chief Tim Zdanski, Pastor Ashley Barker, St. Clairsville Police Chief Martin Kenzora, St. Clairsville School Resource Officer Jeff Gazdik and St. Clairsville Middle School Principal Mike McKeever.
"Almost all of our kids have cell phones, so this is a very relative topic," said St. Clairsville Middle School Principal Mike McKeever. "I think this information is relative to any age group."
St. Clairsville's School Resource officer Jeff Gazdik worked with Bethesda Chief of Police Tim Zdanski to arrange the program's visit.
"We chose our sixth through eighth grade because our fifth graders are still a little bit young to be talking about some of these topics," McKeever said. "All of these kids use their phone and send text messages, so we felt this could be a very educational lesson."
The stats indicate that 20 percent of teens in the country have send sexually explicit photos and messages through their phones. Some 40 percent of teens have received those sorts of messages.
"Most of the time, it's intended for boyfriends and or girlfriends or those people who aren't in a relationship and someone would like them to be in one," Zdanski said.
Zdanski introduced the program and Gazdik spoke about the legal issues, which could arise if a student is caught sending, forwarding, displaying or even looking at any explicit images on a phone.
Methodist Church Pastor Ashley Barker served as one of the key note speakers as well and showed a presentation, which gave testimonies on people who've sent pictures and had those pictures forwarded to friends.
One of the most talked about stories happened to Cincinnati Sycamore graduate Jessica Logan who committed suicide shortly after her high school graduation because of the constant harassment she received after her boyfriend forwarded the picture to others in seven different schools around the metropolitan Cincinnati area.
There was also a video in the presentation that talked about how there is spyware software on the market, which allows people to tap into phone calls; trace people's movements through the GPS units on phones and even listen to conversations that are being held off of the phone.
The message came across loud and clear to everyone in the auditorium regardless of age as teachers and several parents were also in attendance.
However, the kids were definitely paying attention.
"It's kind of scary how there are people out there who wait for young children to come onto the Internet and basically stalk them," said seventh grader Emily Drake. "I had no idea that the spyware was out there and people could get into your phone, read your messages and record what you're doing."
The issues that could arise on the Internet aren't just limited to messages.
According to McKeever, St. C. Middle's had some reports of cyber bullying and other types of cell-phone related issues.
"I learned a lot about the laws around cell phones myself," McKeever said. "I don't think a lot of kids realize how serious it is and even if they just receive a 'sext' and forward it on, they can be prosecuted."
Eighth grader Joel Giffin thinks the presentation definitely hit home.
"I hope people paid attention and realized that you can get into a lot of trouble for sending those kinds of messages," Giffin said. "I'd hate to see people get in trouble and quite possibly ruin their life if these things happen to them."
Just before the students were dismissed back to their regular classes, Gazdik reminded them think of the six Ps before they send certain things on their phones or via their computers.
"Would you be able to show or tell the principal, parents, police, pastor, potential employer and predators what you're sending?" Gazdik said.
According to Zdanski, these school visits have been well-received since their inception last fall.
"We've been adding to our group," Zdanski said. "We're working toward getting into every school in the area to talk about this."
The group will visit Shenandoah High and Middle Schools next week and then speak at Union Local High School in May.
Staskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org