By Chief Robby Russo
My parents’ generation worried that new forms of media were fostering sexual immorality in hormonal neighborhood kids including their own. I remember the boy in the neighborhood who snuck out one of his dad's racy magazines which we considered a textbook of knowledge. Television was Happy Days, All in the Family and Combat. Movies rated “R” were accessed by someone’s big brother getting you in the theater back door.
Parents did what they could, missed a little, but never do I recall them asking the school and police to stem the evil tide of adolescence. The schools and police are obvious resources to fight against such behavior, but the wrong ones. Public ambivalence about youth sexuality limits what the schools can do, nor do we have strong evidence that schools can affect teenagers’ behavior, in any event.
Times have changed with the internet and the powerful convenience of smartphones. Let’s be honest: My kids were smarter than me and learned to uninstall software and override parental controls. Now that they’re older, the stories are coming out, right?
But the police department has seen a disturbing increase in crimes with serious risks associated with teen sexting in the city, including bullying and exposure to adult sexual predators that we’ve never seen before. Our investigators are seeing about one new case a week involving smartphones. Some cases involve a previous boyfriend sending classmates photos of his girlfriend. This type of bullying can be very hurtful and it’s illegal thanks to a law passed by Cottonwood Heights Rep. Marie Poulson.
Most parents would be shocked to know how many kids admit to sending a naked picture of themselves via text, email or snap chat. I’ve been a police officer long enough not to be surprised by much, but then we get complaints involving sexual intercourse being filmed by a third party without the consent of the involved individuals and that video being shared around social media. It’s a bit concerning.
Some of the most troubling cases involve underage teens sending nude photos in exchange for things such as money, alcohol, or trips to exotic locations. Once those photos are shared on the dark web they are gone, never to return in the way they wish they could be taken back. These enterprising young men and women may have picked this idea up from a popular cable show depicting women in prison selling underwear for cash, but these are still children - and this is real life.
Although the police department partners with the schools to handle these matters on a case by case basis, parents and religious institutions, not schools, should be the primary level of defense against this unacceptable behavior. Although it takes a village to raise a child, let’s not solely rely on the cops and educators to combat this problem.
Awareness and communication are the best defense against such activities. I urge all parents, ecclesiastic leaders and other mentors to talk to kids and let them know of the dangers of sexting. It’s also a good idea for parents to limit smartphone use, and to always check children’s phones for questionable content.