Officials in Anderson County and at local schools have announced an educational campaign designed to protect children from online sexual predators.
Among the concerns are sexting, or the exchange of explicit photos, usually using smart phones, District Attorney General Dave Clark said in a press release.
Clark is working with Anderson County Sheriff Paul White and the Anderson County, Clinton, and Oak Ridge school systems. He said a letter is being sent out to the parents of every child in grades five through 10 in those three systems.
“We want to make parents aware of the dangers posed by online predators and provide them with some strategies to help keep their families safe,” Clark said.
Officials also want to ensure that parents have materials and strategies that may help them talk to children about online risks and how to use computers safely.
“We want to make sure parents and kids know that the dangers of online predators aren’t just in big cities or far-away places but exist in all communities, including our own,” Clark said.
In addition, local officials wanted to report some of their new abilities in catching predators so that parents know that help is available if they suspect a problem.
“We are catching people right here in Anderson County who are making sexual contact with children online and people who are distributing pornography through computers,” White said.
The sheriff has trained a detective to find and arrest predators who are stalking children online, Clark said.
“I wish there were no predators to catch, but the good news is that the new training is leading to arrests and prosecutions that will keep our kids safer,” he said.
Clark said schools are affected, with some students exchanging nude images, including pictures of themselves, using their cell phones. These private pictures can sometimes be sent to other students when romances end and feelings are hurt, Clark said.
“This can be extremely embarrassing to the photographed children and also very disruptive of the learning environment,” Anderson County Schools Superintendent Larry Foster said. “We have seen these issues not just at our high schools, but also at the middle school level.”
“The important message is that there are many things that prosecutors, police, schools, and parents can do to keep our children safe by working together,” Clark said. “We are going to fight sexual predators together, so Anderson County is not a good place for them to think about offending.”