Families get the 411 on sexting risk

Families get the 411 on sexting risk

By Kimball Perry The Cincinnati Enquirer, Feb 21, 2011

CINCINNATI — The 16-year-old girl, smitten with her adult boyfriend, e-mailed him naked pictures of herself.
The girl told her parents, who contacted police. Hurt now is a convicted felon in a case that highlights the dangers lurking for children on the Internet.When she wanted to break up with Clarence Hurt of Terrace Park, Ohio, though, he threatened to share those pictures with the world in cyberspace unless she had sex with him.

This is the way kids have relationships now. It's very impersonal. You could be dating for a month and never (have) met," says Dotty Smith, assistant chief juvenile prosecutor in Hamilton County.

The teen met Hurt in an online dating chat room. "They also would exchange photographs of each other ... online," Assistant Prosecutor Kevin Hardman says of the sexually explicit pictures. "As many 16-year-old girls will do, she got tired of him and wanted to move on."
That's when Hurt made his threat.

"The gist of it was, 'You're going to have sex with me or I'm going to put (naked pictures of you) online,' " Hardman says.

Instead of capitulating, the girl told her parents.

Hurt, 21, was convicted Feb. 16 when he pleaded guilty to attempted extortion. Two other charges were dropped. Police analyzed Hurt's computer and found no proof he posted those pictures online.

Smith is part of a group that makes presentations at schools to students and parents about the dangers in cyberspace and how to deal with them.

"The principals tell us to scare them to death," Smith says of her audiences.

The biggest problem, Smith says, is that many parents are ignorant of the access their children have — via cellphones, computers, Internet-connected gaming systems — to strangers, and vice versa.

Parents are "not aware of what some of these devices can do," she says. "It's about good choices with the huge (array) of technology choices we have out there."
Parents must become aware, and make their children aware, that nothing in an e-mail or text is private, Smith says.

"They just simply do not understand the power in their hands," she says.

It's fine to give responsible children cellphones, for example, to know they are safe or have a way to call for help. But parents must realize they still are in charge and need to set limits on cellphones, computers, FacebookTwitter and other social-networking sites.

"You're not going to be prosecuted for being good parents and doing what's best for the children," the assistant prosecutor says.

The children could be prosecuted, though. It's a crime, Hardman says, for minors to take or transmit a sexually explicit picture of minors, even if the picture is of themselves.

Smith's advice: Watch your children when they are on social-networking sites. Check on them every 10 minutes. Don't let them surf the Internet behind a closed door.

If not, Smith tells parents, "you are willing to allow them ... to have access to people anywhere in the world."

She encourages children to wait a few seconds before sending that picture, tweet or comment.

"If we have just one kid pause and think before they hit send, it's worth it," she says.
Hurt faces up to 1½ years in prison when he is sentenced March 14.

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