MERIDEN — Police and school officials this week discussed the issues surrounding juveniles sending sexually explicit images and videos on social media.
Earlier this week, city police issued a statement saying there has been a rise in “sexting” among juveniles. They also warned sexually explicit photos and videos created and shared in social networks are used to bully and harass.
Sgt. George Clements, who works in the police Special Crimes Unit, said the department recently charged three juveniles with offenses in connection to these types of cases, but could not discuss the specifics. Clements said there are other investigations that will most likely lead to the arrest of additional juveniles.
“Parents need to be aware of what kids are doing,” Clements said. “I don’t think parents are always fully aware of the risks of technology.”
Clements said parents may not know the access children have to inappropriate material, and that the rest of the world can access a child through various devices. He advised parents to look at the resources available on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website.
Barbara Haeffner, director of Teaching and Innovation for Meriden Public Schools, said the school district takes a proactive approach.
“All students in the district participate in lessons focused on Internet Safety and Cyberbullying each school year,” Haeffner said in an email. “We use Gaggle Safety Management, a product that...blocks potentially harmful content and flags any potentially inappropriate content. Administrators are notified and appropriate staff intervene as needed. Both our school network and loanable wifi hotspots used for distance learning provide filtered access to the Internet.”
The schools recently shared information about a virtual internet safety program for parents and students, Haeffner said.
Clements said there are a couple state statutes that juveniles can be charged under, including criminal possession of child pornography by a minor, which usually applies when a juvenile takes a picture of themselves and sends it to another person, who then shares it with more people. Clements said it is very difficult for police to destroy every copy of an image.
“Once it is released on to the internet, we can’t guarantee that we catch them all,” Clements said.
He noted in those cases the police department notifies the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to add the image to their database of known child pornography.
Amanda Miranda, director of Youth and Social Services in Wallingford, said there hasn’t been an increase in these types of incidents in Wallingford. She advised parents to monitor children’s devices and youths to stop and think before sending something into cyberspace.
“Take a moment to think ahead,” Miranda said. “If I send it, who is going to see it? It’s not private.”
Wallingford School Superintendent Salvatore Menzo also said there has not been an issue with these types of incidents thus far this year.
If there is, the district works “extremely collaboratively” with police.
“Parents have a difficult challenge between cell phone issues and now online learning. We encourage parents to monitor their children's use on both platforms,” Menzo said in an email.
Menzo said the district is introducing a free app in the next two weeks that will allow parents to control their child’s school issued device while at home.
He noted this will provide parents an opportunity to shut off internet access on the device when they are not doing school work.