Detective Leonardo Soto and Sgt. Jessie Agosto led the lesson, with the help of top Westville cop Lt. Elliot Rosa and top Dwight/Beaver Hills cop Lt. Ryan Przybylski, for 80 seventh and eighth-graders gathered Tuesday in the school cafeteria.
Internet usage is now a part of everyday life for students,in both their personal lives and classes. With the ongoing growth of social media, children have become at bigger risk for online predators.
Detective Soto reminded students that any sexual touching that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient is sexual violence.
“I know that your age, you want to play games, you want to joke, you want to slap somebody’s butt,” Soto said. “If you’re behind a friend, and you pat her on the butt, you have now committed a crime.”
The students erupts in hollers at the comment.
“This is why we’re here,” Soto said. “We want you to know about unwanted sexual touch. Who knows about the ‘bad touch’?”
Almost the students raised their hands.
“When your parents send you to school, they send you here knowing that you’re going to be safe,” Soto said. “With that, keep your hands to yourself. That includes: no kicking, no fighting, no punching, and no pushing.”
Onto the screen the officers displayed the state statutes’ definition of fourth-degree sexual assault. It applies when sexual contact (without penetration) occurs between a 12-year old minor and a person who is two years older than the child; or sexual contact between a 13,14, or 15 year-old and a person who is at least three years older.“You will go to court. You will be arrested. Your parents will be called,” Soto said of anyone committing the offense. “You’re going to have to see a judge. You may get fined up to $5,000. This is why it’s important that you understand how serious it is to touch someone. If you don’t, you’re going to see us and get arrested.”
Soto said the moral of the story is to keep your hands to yourself
He then asked the students, “True or False: sometimes bullying is OK?”
A majority of the students called out ‘False!’ A couple of students yelled out, ‘True!’
“No one ever deserves to be bullied!” Soto said. “Everyone deserves to feel safe.”
A follow-up question: “True or False: Bullying doesn’t happen that often.”
The entire cafeteria roared, “False!”
That answer was correct: 1 out 5 of students admit to being bullied or engaging in some kind of bullying behavior. Soto reminded the classes that bullying occurs a lot online nowadays.
“It can happen on your cell phone, laptop, and games,” Soto said. “You can send, post, and share things that will hurt someone else.”
Sgt. Agosto took over the microphone next to explain how kids can feel different, powerless, unpopular, and alone.
“Why is it important to talk about cyberbullying?” Agosto asked the crowd. “It’s only words online? Right?”
“‘Can I say something?’” a student asked. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
“Is that true?” Agosto asked the student.
“No,” he said, hesitantly.
Agosto said that cyberbullying can be worse than in-person bullying. She said many kids have been affected by online bullying, which can escalate quicker than in person.
“A lot of times, cyberbullying is being done on social media or some type of platform that many people have access to,” Agosto said. “It’s not just an issue between the bully and the person being bullied. It’s an issue with that person that’s being bullied and being put out there in front of many other people, which makes it even more hurtful.”
The screen displayed the next question , “What is sexting?” To which students responded, “Ewwwww!”
“I’m actually happy to hear the ews, because that means you guys will never do it, right?,Agosto said. “Don’t send private pictures out. Because guess what happens to those private pictures?”
A couple of students yelled out, “They get leaked!”
Agosto nodded, stating the photos end up everywhere. She told students that even if law enforcement does swoop in to tell a social media site to remove inappropriate pictures of a child, those pictures don’t disappear forever.
One female student asked what she she do if her boyfriend is asking for pictures of her.
“Once that picture is out there, that picture is out there forever,” Agosto said. “And I get it, sometimes we’re like, ‘Oh, but she’s my girlfriend and he’s my boyfriend. They would never send that picture out to anyone, right?’”
That’s how many of those pictures are often leaked, Agosto told the crowd. Sexting is serious not only because of revealing one’s personal body, but also because it’s a crime. She said that many kids around their age fail to realize that it’s illegal not only to leak someone’s sexualized pictures but also to take one’s own and send it out.
“You can go to jail for a year,” Agosto said. “Or be fined $2,000, or rather yet, your parents. And guess what happens to your cellphones? They get taken by us, and we have to look at everything on your cell phone. Then we have to tell your parents about everything on your cell phone. Do you think your parents will give your cell phone back once it’s returned to them?”
“No!” the students yelled in unison.
Agosto also reminded students about online predators. They’re not only on Instagram and Snapchat. They also lurk in chat rooms. Discord and Snapchat are common examples of sites where predators lurk to attack teens and gamers.
“We need to be careful of who we talk to on these chat rooms,” Agosto said. “What do you do if this is happening to you or someone you know? You block them!”
Other tips included: Talk to a person in authority, parents, or a teacher. Don’t respond to people pursuing you. There’s also always the option to report them to the site. Lastly, students were told to give their cellphones to someone trustworthy to save all of the info so that authorities can do their job in catching the predator.
Lt. Rosa closed out the presentation by reminding students that no matter what, they will be judged. He asked the classes to name out loud what they think of him.
Students listed that he looks scary, mean, a bully — all just by looking at him.
“So listen, you’re all judging me. But guess what?” Rosa said. “No one guessed that I’m a military veteran, a martial artist, a college graduate, a father, and I love. You will be judged at everything that you do. By your skin color, hair, and the clothes that you wear. As you grow older: speak the right speech, and act the right act.”