In light of recent events involving online abuse, the Hebrew Academy invited detective Jenny Velasquez of the FBI to speak to students about dealing with the internet in the modern world. Velasquez addressed the high school this past Wednesday, explaining the dangers and consequences of cyberbullying and sexting.
Students were surprised to find out that one can be arrested for bullying committed on the Internet. The crime is connected with Florida statute 748 on stalking. Velasquez continued to explain how the crime is based on the perception of the victim and their response, affecting both the perpetrator and the victim. Colleges and potential bosses now inspect the social media accounts of prospective students or workers, and can refuse to accept or hire them. In addition, some local teens have moved to other countries or even committed suicide as a result of online oppression, Velasquez said.
Velasquez also brought up a significant yet uncomfortable topic: sexting. For everybody under 18, there are three separate crimes involving child pornography; taking the picture, possessing it, and sending it to others through the Internet. She discussed how her unit tracks down those who post inappropriate material through NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children), and focused on the very important fact that once you send something, it is no longer yours. Rather, it is public domain and the property of anybody with an internet connection.
Many students agree that sexting, which is the practice of sending sexually explicit photos online, is prevalent among students.
“Once somebody asked me for a nude, and I sent them an x-ray of a skeleton because it’s what’s on the inside that matters,” said Melanie Arougueti (12th grade).
However, students had mixed responses over the effect of Detective Velasquez’s speech. Some, including Mery Kamhazi (10th) felt that this was an effective scare tactic and many will change after this talk.
“The way she tried putting it out there was really scary. Maybe other people will actually be scared and take it into consideration, and they’re going to change and move on,” Kamhazi said.
Others felt that the lecture will not create change among the student body.
“I thought it was a good speaker, but to bring it to the school, obviously people are going to continue what they’re doing,” said Ezra Sultan (11th grade). “I don’t feel that the speaker did anything. It was just there to scare us and didn’t scare anyone.”
Some students say that the legal ramifications of sexting and cyberbullying will not dissuade anyone.
“That’s a major issue with all teenagers and that’s not gonna stop because all teenagers have sexual drives,” said Tehila Moore (11th). “It [the talk] was a scare tactic. She over-exaggerated a lot. It’s true: it’s illegal, but people are doing it already and it’s not going to stop people from sending nudes.”
Assistant Principal Dr. Lieber explained her decision for bringing the speaker.
“This is an issue that is prevalent all over in every school and every community that we felt like we needed to have a speaker come and speak about it,” Lieber said. “This is something that’s going on all over. I don’t think that it’s special to our school, but I think that it’s something that kids really need to hear and understand about what goes on with the Internet.”
Detective Velasquez has been a member of law enforcement for 17 years, 12 of which she was in Miami. For the last 10 years, she has worked in an SVU cybercrime unit dedicated to helping kids and older people.
Detective Velasquez also gave advice on how to prevent rampant cyber-offenses.
“A lot of schools have adopted a peer support group because some kids aren’t as comfortable going to teachers and parents about these situations, especially when it comes to sexting and exploitation,” explained Velasquez. “I think that that’s a great way to go to create a peer support. In addition to that, you can always report it to the cybertip line, http://www.cybertipline.com which goes to the national center for missing and exploited children (NCMEC), and there are several other websites that are anti-bullying and anti-sexting that you can report to as well.”
By: Jack Benveniste-Plitt (10th Grade)