CHICAGO (WBBM) – Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart took his crusade against Internet predators and cyber-bullies to a group of seventh graders, who met with him at Taft High School.
Many came away surprised.
Dart told the seventh graders he wasn’t trying to scare them, but said that a lot of people want to hurt them and that they have to be on their toes when online.
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He said he has sat in several times with members of his Internet Task Force and has seen the undercover officers log in to an Internet chat room, write, “I’m 14 and want someone to talk to,” and within seconds had been contacted by several obvious predators.
What really seemed to stay with the seventh grade students was video from the story of “Tommy,” a 60-ish predator who sent girls a photo of a boy in his teens. First sheriff’s police personnel displayed the photo “Tommy” sent to the girls, then switched to a photo of the real Tommy, haggard and disheveled.
The girls, in particular, gasped.
“That was really scary, actually,” said a 13-year-old student named Emily. “He was creepy.”
But the warnings also extended to the boys, with the stories of two boys who agreed to meet with predators they’d met online.
“Some things were surprising, such as pretty old people, predators, that would be searching for young kids like me,” admitted 13-year-old Timothy Sanabria. “I find it amazing that people would do that.”
Another student, named Jenny, said she would change her e-mail and instant messaging addresses because they disclosed too much about her. Dart and other sheriff’s department personnel said students who take precautions in other areas sometimes don’t when it comes to that most basic point of contact.
Sheriff’s police personnel told the students they take both “sexting” and cyber-bullying seriously. They said students who send or receive suggestive photos on their cell phones or computers could find themselves arrested, convicted of manufacturing or possessing child pornography and be forced to register as a sex offender — even if still in their teens.
They said something seemingly as innocuous as a “poll” on a student’s appearance, clothing or habits could be construed as cyber-bullying and cause for police intervention. And they warned that telling someone to “tay away” from a boyfriend or girlfriend could also be construed as a threat, depending on the factors involved.
They urged the students to report to adults or police any such messages that they receive.