SHERIFF DART WARNS STUDENTS OF
DIGITAL MEDIA DANGERS
Wednesday, January 12, 2011— Sheriff Tom Dart addressed more than one hundred middle school students today, warning about the dangers and criminal penalties surrounding the abuse of digital media, including sexting and cyberbullying.
The sheriff spoke to 7th graders during a presentation at William Howard Taft School, located at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue in Chicago. The event is part of a Cook County Sheriff’s Office Youth Services initiative that addresses internet safety issues, serving as an educational preventive measure, and a caution against cyber-predators – both young and old.
“By now most parents understand there are predators out there who use the internet to take advantage of children,” Sheriff Dart says. “We want to make sure kids are aware of these dangers. But in addition, we want to start a discussion on the dangers when there is peer to peer bullying, and to make students aware that there are penalties for this type of behavior.”
Sheriff Dart and CCSO’s Youth Services Division were invited to speak at the school in part because of an incident in early Fall that involved Facebook bullying. Counselors learned that a group of students had been ganging up on one student, and placing harassing posts on different Facebook pages. The cyberbullying began when the kids were in elementary school, and continued when the students entered 7th grade at William Howard Taft. Administrators immediately intervened.
CPS policy prohibits the use of any computer to harass or bully another student, and violations can result in a suspension and possible expulsion, depending on the severity of the issue, according to school officials.
Previously under Illinois law, kids charged with sexting could face child pornography charges. A new law that took effect Jan. 1st reduces sexting penalties, requiring juvenile court supervision, along with counseling and community service. Depending on the facts of the offense, criminal charges are a possibility. Similarly, aggravated cyberbullying could fall under Illinois’ Harassing & Obscene Communications Act, which allows for misdemeanor and felony penalties.