Sexting, cyberbullying among technology-related issues facing Lowcountry students
Detective Doug Galluccio hadn’t finished unpacking his new desk when he got his first call from a school resource officer about a sexting incident.
A seventh-grader at C.E. Williams Middle School had taken nude photos of herself and sent them by cellphone to five male classmates. Those ended up posted online.
That was in 2010 when Galluccio became Charleston’s first full-time police officer dedicated to the Internet Crimes Against Children task force. It was his job to help investigate the incident.
The student ended up having to leave the school because she was teased so much, and charges never were filed.
Students are spending more of their lives online and on cellphones, and that virtual world has created new ways for them to become victims and aggressors. Sexting and cyberbullying are two issues cropping up in schools, but the technology can be used by criminals to endanger children.
Charleston has had at least a part-time officer dealing with Internet- related child exploitation since 2005, but it elevated that position to full-time status two years ago. Mount Pleasant has a similar person in that task force role, as does Berkeley County.
Galluccio’s job is a combination of prevention, education, investigation and prosecution. He often uses the C.E. Williams Middle example when he speaks to students, and that was the case Friday when he talked to a student group at St. Andrew’s Middle in West Ashley. He said it reinforces how close to home these incidents are.
“This happens in our community with kids your age,” he told them.
Students didn’t seem surprised. One St. Andrew’s Middle sixth-grader said she recently got a text message from an eighth-grader asking her to send a naked photo of herself. The girl didn’t acquiesce, but she did keep it a secret from her parents.
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” she said.
When police found out about the text message on Friday, they immediately started asking questions. School Resource Officer Kathy Beauregard brought the girl into her office for a conversation, and she tried to impress upon her the seriousness of what had transpired.
Beauregard told the student she wanted to address the situation now and prevent it from becoming a bigger one in the future. Galluccio sat in on their conversation.
Galluccio just had finished talking to nearly 20 students about Internet safety, and he offered specific tips to protect themselves, such as adjusting privacy settings on social media sites, such as Facebook. He warned them of adult predators who troll sites looking for children, and he cautioned them from posting too much information, such as birth dates, phone numbers or hometown.
Cyberbullying is a problem across the county, and Galluccio told students to think before they post. A statement such as “I’m gonna get her” could be interpreted as cyberbullying, he said.
Seventh-grader Rob Simmons could relate to what Galluccio had to say. Someone once posted a comment on a gaming website about him and threatened to shoot him if he ever came to his house. Simmons told his mom and then stopped going to that site.
Simmons said he thinks of his school as one of the safest places around because “nothing happens here,” but Friday’s presentation made him want to be more cautious.
“It was a lot of information I didn’t know,” he said. “It was eye-opening.”
Galluccio’s long-term goal is to see his one-man unit expand. His own children, ages 6 and 8, motivate him to keep other children safe, and he said there’s enough happening to keep a dozen more officers busy.
“Kids are our future, and they need to be protected,” he said.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or 937-5546.