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Published: Wednesday, 3/10/2010

Oregon parents warned about 'sexting'

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Just last month, a "sexting" case surfaced in Oregon City Schools involving some male high school and middle school students with sexually explicit photos of a girl sent to their cell phones, a situation that remains under investigation.

While such instances are rare in Oregon, police and attorneys told about 40 parents and district employees last week, parents should know what their children are doing with cell phones and computers - and that sexting photos could be deemed by the Lucas County prosecutor's office as child pornography and a felony.

"They have all this technology available to them, and they're going to use it," said Dean Mandros, chief of the criminal division for the prosecutor's office. "You just have to talk to your children about the dangers."

Rob Miller, assistant county prosecutor, said he routinely goes through the cell phone of his Eisenhower Middle School daughter.

"It's not hers, it's mine," he said. "Last time I checked, I make all the payments."

Mr. Miller added: "I'm a firm believer that parents can't be too involved with their kids."

The parent forum last week at Clay High School followed similar sessions that have been held for both middle and high school students in Oregon and elsewhere. Personnel from the school district, Oregon police, and county prosecutor's office gave parents guidance on how to monitor their children's cell phone and computer use.

"As parents and guardians, we have to watch what our kids do," said Janet Zale, a detective with the Oregon Police Division. "Predators use the same Web sites as your kids. Of course they're going to use the same Web sites as your kids."

Adults are able to get information about children through social networking sites such as Facebook, which is a great way for students to interact but has its dangers, Amy Sweet, a technology teacher at Fassett Middle School, said.

"I encourage my students to lie about their age," Ms. Sweet said. "People aren't as interested in you when you're 42 as when you're 14."

Students should not put photos, cell-phone numbers, addresses, or other personal information on Facebook, Ms. Sweet said. Parents should go through their children's profile settings to make sure only friends can see posts, she said.

Photos have a way of resurfacing online long after they are removed from sites, warned Nathan Quigg, the district's technology director.

"Consider everything you put up there or your child puts up there as fairly permanent," he said.

A couple of years ago, a Clay student complained to Detective Zale about the way men were contacting her online. The girl's social networking site had photos of her showing off skin but helped the detective arrest a man offering fake identifications for oral sex, she said.

Predators are experts are "grooming" methods online, offering attention and affection before bringing up sexual topics - and hoping for physical encounters, Detective Zale said. Computers should be kept in a common room, not bedrooms or basements, and parents should establish what sites students can visit and with whom they can interact, she said.

If convicted of a felony offense for sexting, students may have to register as sex offenders for at least 15 years, Mr. Miller said. For now, Lucas County has not needed to aggressively pursue sexting cases, he said.

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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