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Following rash of middle school cases year ago, officials, police ramping up effort to make kids stop

By Meaghan Downs

His youngest sexting case involved an 11-year-old female Anderson County Middle School student, school resource officer Joe Saunier said.
The 11-year-old’s friend talked to her mom about an inappropriate photo her friend had sent to another boy. The parent contacted Saunier, who arrived at the boys’ house to warn his parents about the incoming image.
The boy had already messaged a photo back, Saunier said.  
Saunier said he wished he knew what students were thinking when they sent these photos.
Perhaps then he — and other school administrators looking to curb sexting and cyberbullying — could more effectively stop it.
Saunier, who’s been serving as the resource officer at the middle school since 2009, said he handled 20 cases of sexting out of 30 total bullying and harassment incidents at the middle school — the most he’s seen in recent years.
Compared to the more than 800 students who attend the middle school, the percentage of sexting incidents Saunier has investigated is almost insignificant.
Understanding the full ramifications and fallout of sexting isn’t, according to Saunier.
Sexting is not just sending a photo to a friend, he said.
“They have to understand, it is child pornography,” Saunier said of students sharing inappropriate photos.
Four Anderson County eighth grade boys said they do define sexting as child pornography.
“’Cause you’re giving it to other people, you’re showing it,” one boy explained in an interview with The Anderson News.
All four students use the smart phone photo-sharing apps Instagram and Snapchat, but said they would delete an inappropriate photo right away if they received one.
A few said they’d tell their parents first, and then delete the photo.
All four boys said they’ve heard of other students sending inappropriate photos to one another at the middle school.
A male seventh grade student and a female seventh grader said they had an idea of what sexting was, but couldn’t define it.
“I know it’s wrong,” the female seventh grader said. “It’s gross.”
A female high school senior said she’s heard of other female students in her class getting caught sexting, but that she’s never received inappropriate photos or texts or sent any to others.  
“I don’t see why people do that or see the need to do that,” she said of sexting. “I’d be more worried about my parents finding out, or people in the community. It would spread like wildfire.”
Surveys from 4,400 American middle and high school students reported that 8 percent of them sent naked or seminude images of themselves and 13 percent said they received similar pictures from classmates, according to a 2010 study titled “Reducing Teen Technology” cited in a Federal Bureau of Investigation report published in June 2013.
Hundreds of school resource officers interviewed for the same FBI study said cyberbullying was a serious problem warranting a law enforcement response.
Saunier said he agrees, but the law comes in as a last resort, he said.
Saunier said he’s had to charge two students for harassing communications over the four years he’s been a resource officer.
 “Sometimes kids look at it like it’s a trophy,” Saunier, who defines underage sexting as any student sending semi-naked or completely nude photos of themselves to others. “They’re not afraid of the shame.”
Most of the sexting incidents Saunier has handled at the middle school usually aren’t about spreading a photo to bully someone else, he said.
Past sexting incidents at the middle school included girls sending photos to one another or a girlfriend sending a photo to a boyfriend and vice versa, Saunier said. A couple may have broken up and one of them still has the incriminating photo in her phone, he added.
Three cases resulted in someone posting a photo on a pornographic site, Saunier said. Two were female students, he said, and one was a male student.
About 90 percent of the time, Saunier said, the parents are the ones that report the behavior.
 “Most times, the cyberbullying occurs outside of school  — on weekends and in the evenings,” Anderson County Middle School Principal Jeanna Kidd said via e-mail. “When it is reported to school officials that an bullying incident has occurred outside of the school day, we notify Officer Saunier so that he can assist in dealing with out of school issues. When the cyberbullying occurs during the school day, school administrators address the situation, administer necessary consequences, and notify the parents of the students who are involved.“  
Although the middle school does not have a specific policy on sexting, middle school administrators have implemented a new procedure in an attempt to end repeat incidents of bullying and harassment.
A counselor or administrator meets with a student reported to have bullied or harassed someone else individually, Kidd said.
“During this initial meeting, we review the definitions of bullying, harassment and sexual harassment with the individual because often times, a student does not understand or know what those really are,” she said.
Both the staff member and the student sign the form documenting the meeting so that if there is a future offense with the same student, Kidd said, staff members can share the child had knowledge that their behavior was inappropriate and knew not to do it again as asked by administrators.
Saunier credits this new procedure and attached form with the decrease in sexting and bullying incidents that he’s seen this school year.
By the second week of school, he was already dealing with his first bullying investigation, Saunier said.
Starting Monday, middle school students would be receiving lessons on bullying awareness during advisory classes, Kidd said.
Saunier said he’s been asked to give talks about cyberbullying, Internet use and sexting (possibly to a few church groups) in the coming weeks. He said sexting is still a problem with students, but it’s not contagious.
His advice to help end underage sexting?
“Don’t be afraid to address it,” he said. “Whether they’re doing it or not, they need to address it so they don’t. Be a parent.”
One Anderson County high school senior agreed.
“I think it starts at home,” she said. “I think any issue that arises in a child’s life starts at home.”

What is ‘sexting?’
The advent of cell phones and other devices with cameras give people the ability to photograph themselves and instantly send those images to others via text messages, hence “sexting.”
School resource officer Joe Saunier describes underage sexting as any student sending semi-naked or completely nude photos of themselves to others.
“They have to understand, it is child pornography,” Saunier said.

What is the technology use policy at the middle school?
Students must register all devices with the school’s system and pass a “digital driver’s license test,” which can address a variety of topics such as cyberbullying, teen suicide, sexting and how students’ personal information can go quickly viral and spread, according to middle school library media specialist Jennifer Miller.
Cell phones and similar devices cannot be out in the hallways or used in the school building unless a teacher has given students permission to use devices in class or for another purpose.
Tablets, iPads, laptops and other personally owned electronic devices can be used on the school’s wireless in class if given permission by their teacher.
The district’s overall technology acceptable use policy also explicitly prohibits sharing confidential information about students or employees; sending or displaying offensive messages or pictures; using obscene language; and harassing, insulting, bullying or attacking others while on the network.