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Students Get Tips on Internet Safety

Members of Essex County Prosecutor's Office visit with middle school students to discuss cyberbullying, stranger danger and sexting.

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office visited  in Caldwell earlier this week to present “The Internet Child Protection and Internet Safety Program.”

Lt. Richard Gould and Asst. Prosecutor Deborah Freier of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office addressed the middle schoolers during two morning assemblies designed to teach children how to protect themselves from cyberbulling and use the Internet safely.

Lt. Gould, who works in the county’s Cyber Crimes Unit, told the students that law enforcement is able to retrieve deleted information from not just computers, but also tablets, phones and video game boxes.

“Once you post something or send a picture, it’s there forever,” he said.

Gould warned students that who they are friends with today could change tomorrow, and therefore they should be careful of what they share with their peers.

He shared a story of a girl who had a picture of her head attached to a naked body. The picture was printed and posted around her school. Even though it was fake, he said, the image caused such humiliation that she had to transfer to another school.

New Jersey is one of the first state’s to recognize cyberbulling as a crime, Gould said. An estimated 160,000 U.S. students stay home from school every day because of cyberbullying, with New Jersey ranking higher than the national average.

Gould said cyberbulling is more harmful than typical schoolyard bullying, citing notable cases including that of 18-year-old Rutgers student Tyler Clementi who is believed to have committed suicide after his roommate used a Webcam to record him kissing another man and tweeted about the video.

He recommended that children keep their computers in open spaces of their homes and not to view their parents checking their emails and texts as an invasion of privacy. He also stressed that siblings should protect each other and be aware of what each other is doing online.

If a child experiences cyberbullying, he said, they should tell their parents and change email accounts. Gould said when it becomes harassment police should be notified and evidence should be preserved.

He said in addition to cyberbullying children should be aware of “stranger danger.” While many children understand not to share personal information, such as addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers, other details about a child can reveal his or her identity. For example, he said, a child should never discuss online with strangers what activities and teams they are involved with, or something as simple as a jersey number, because this information can easily be used to lead a predator to locate a child.

No child under the age of , he added, a timely issue after it was reported this week that the social networking site is considering lowering the age requirement to have an account.

Asst. Prosecutor Deborah Freier discussed the rising trend in sexting, transmitting nude or partially nude photos digitally. Freier told the students to never hit “send,” whether it’s a picture of themselves or something they were forwarded.

She said once you send it, “You have no control over that image. You’ll regret that day you hit send. You really can’t get it back.”

Freier said not to believe anyone who says they are not going to forward a picture.

She said she knows from her work that an image gets forwarded and forwarded until “it ends up with a 65-year-old man in Ohio.”

Children were made aware that it’s a felony to distribute naked pictures.

“Don’t take them. Don’t distribute them,” she said. “Spend your time doing better things.”

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