Anthony Stancl was a student at Eisenhower High School New Berlin, Wisconsin. He was considered a bit of a braggart, a bit of a jerk, who generally didn’t fit in well. He initially harassed and then made overtures to a known and popular gay, male student at the school, which brought him additional ridicule. He had a part-time job after school as an application developer and seemed to get along well with the adults there.
And on Facebook, he posed as a female Eisenhower student and tricked at least 31 young male students at the school into sending him naked images of themselves. He used those pictures to coerce 7 of the young men into performing sex-acts with him on camera. This was not discovered until he created a fake bomb threat, resulting in his computers being searched. (Read more details about this case here.)
This story provides us with a lot of discussion points, but this article is going to focus on just two: Why were these boys willing to provide such risky images to an unverified person, and why did none of these boys ask for help?
Educating Teens on Cyber Safety
Before digital cameras, taking a naked picture of oneself would be a risky and comparatively complex process. Sharing a picture with your significant other usually meant involving the person running the machine at the photo shop – not an option for most people. These days, however, you point, click, look at the view screen to make sure it worked, auto correct, crop as needed, adjust the file size, and send it. You can do it all from a good phone in less than 2 minutes.
It’s very likely the parents of those 31 boys didn’t think to tell their kids, “Don’t send naked pictures of yourself to anyone, ever, because digital files never go away once you share them.” It’s not widely portrayed in sitcoms, our parents didn’t bring it up to us, and most schools don’t send home information fliers on how to have that discussion.
Technology always changes, but what doesn’t change are these three rules: people online should always be treated as strangers until they’ve verified their identity; taking pictures of yourself naked or sexualized is demeaning and can actually land you in jail; and, once you put something out in the internet, you cannot ever get it back. These three rules are a few of the basic tools that kids need to know how to use before they get started on social networking and cell phones.
Have ‘The Talk’ More than Once
When something does go wrong, online or off, kids need to be able to ask for help. 31 boys were tricked into sending explicit photographs – they didn’t think they were in a situation where they needed guidance or help. However, 7 of those boys were coerced into performing sex acts—some multiple times—in front of a camera. None of these boys asked for help. Why? Without interviewing the parents and adults in the community, we likely won’t know.
What usually happens is that children don’t know what words to use, or they’re afraid that their already bad situation will be made worse by drama and stress associated with reporting. That means parents need to encourage kids to discuss these topics and report as needed by providing neutral, constructive, and consistent conversations on these issues.
Parents and other safe adults need to initiate ‘what if’ and ‘just so you know’ type discussions. Ex: “What if someone asked you to do something that made you uncomfortable? Just so you know, whatever happens, you can always come to me. I might get upset, but I won’t be mad at you, and we’ll work through it together.” The key point here is that you need to keep having the ‘what if’ and ‘just so you know’ conversations even after your kids really want you to stop bringing that stuff up.
Kid: “Yeah yeah, Dad, I hear you, of course I would never __,”
Dad: “Good, I trust you to do the right thing; I just need you to know that I have your back no matter what.”
Bethan Tuttle, CIPP, is mom to two and Executive Director of CommunityWatch, a non-profit that provides empowering crime-prevention education for kids, families, and communities. Learn more at CommunityWatch.us and follow @ComWatch on Twitter for empowering crime prevention updates.
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