The United States Constitution might be the law of the land, but some of its basic provisions don’t prevail in Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Jeff Roe’s home.
“In my house my two children have no Fourth Amendment rights,” quips the father of a 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. “They know that I have the right to log onto any of their email accounts at any time. I can go into their room and inspect the contents of anything that I want to at any time. A lot of parents say they don’t want to invade their children's privacy; I say it’s called being a parent.”
That same in-your-face-style shines through in the community seminars he has conducted on the sheriff’s department’s behalf for the past four years. They serve as both a professional and personal crusade aimed at educating parents and children in the greater Forsyth community and beyond about the bourgeoning dangers of cyber crime. Since 2006, there have been more than two dozen sexting cases reported at public and private schools in Forsyth County. Arrests were made, but so far none have been formally prosecuted.
As a member of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, United States Secret Service Electronic Crimes Task Force and the Department of Justice-backed Project Safe Childhood Initiative, Roe is all too familiar with the negative impact that young victims of these crimes often endure.
“The consequences range from low-self esteem to suicide,” he says. “My goal is to protect as many people as I can from ever having to experience any of that.”
Sexting, cyber-bullying, sex trafficking, child pornography, pedophilia and just about every other related topic imaginable typically gets raised during the PowerPoint that he now presents for free at least once a week for schools, neighborhood groups, churches and for just about anyone else who wants to listen and learn. VIEW A PORTION OF ROE'S PRESENTATION.
“Everything I do is about the protection of the children, says Roe. “You pull the bodies (attendees) together and I’ll be there to speak.” He typically holds a session for parents one day and then follows it up with an age-appropriate one for their children the next day. “This allows for the parents and children to open the lines of communication and create dialogue amongst one another about what they have learned,” he says. Although he primarily speaks to teens, he also has two interactive presentations for younger children, including one featuring an animated character named “Clicky.”
This particular morning he’s addressing parents at Montessori Academy at Sharon Springs in Cumming. Moms and dads are sprinkled about the cozy kitchen. Some sip coffee or nibble at bagels from their chairs as Roe lectures in front of a monitor perched in a far corner. He scrolls through bullet points on the screen, detailing the dangers their children could face if preventive measures aren’t taken. At every pause the parents pepper him with questions.
“You absolutely need to know the username and password on all of your children’s accounts,” he advises. “Most kids today have more than one email account and their parents don’t know about it. Talk to your kids about what you consider appropriate and what you do not. Tell them what you expect of them and accept nothing less.”
Parent Heather Love, says Roe’s presentation makes her feel better prepared to protect her eight-year-old son.
“This was a great opportunity to gain more awareness about the threat posed to our children,” she says. “We have to be more proactive as parents in protecting them. It’s a scary thing trying to stay a step ahead. I did not realize that there are no laws on cyber bullying so law enforcement is really limited in what they can do.”
Attendee Hilary Cheeseman probably wishes she’d heard Roe’s presentation years earlier. Her son was a cyber bullying victim in another state. The impact, she says, linger on since they’ve relocated to Georgia.
“This is a really big issue,” says Cheeseman, a mother of six. “Even as he’s grown older it still has a devastating effect on him as a person. He has trust issues and he is very fearful of rejection.”
Principal Nancy Fish says Roe’s presentation fit well into the school’s regular “coffee chat” series.
“The number of kids with access to the Internet and cell phones has grown dramatically over the years and a lot of young people don’t have the capacity to fully understand the many dangers that are out there,” she says. “We felt we were just doing due diligence by creating this opportunity for parents to educate themselves about the potential dangers. We felt investigator Roe’s presentation would be a great resource for parents.”
Along with passing on tips, advice and warning signs of victims and perpetrators, throughout the presentation, Roe also shares tragic, worst-case scenario stories of young cyber victims, in hopes that the names and faces of Jesse Logan, Hope Witsell, Megan Myer, Phoebe Prince and Brandon Bitner will resonate with parents and students. VIEW ANOTHER EXCERPT FROM ROE'S PRESENTATION.
“I just recently added more photos and personal stories to the presentation,” he says. “I have always told Jesse’s [Logan] story and generally I hear a collective gasp when I show her picture. They say ‘omigosh, she’s so beautiful; she’s so young.’”
School owner Kathy Lindaman feels the personal stories are a nice touch.
“It conveys that it’s not just a story this is a real person who actually died,” she says.
Roe says the main challenge he faces is getting children to grasp the consequences of their actions online.
“Most of the young people know what they’re doing is wrong, but many don’t know the long-term ramifications of their actions,” he says. “After my presentation many of them tell me ‘I didn’t realize the problem was as big as it was. I even had one kid go home and take down a Website that he created. He said thanks to your presentation I realize what I had done was wrong, so I took it down.’”
As for parents, he advises them to keep an open line of communication with their children.
“I can’t tell you how many parents have told me, ‘I didn’t think I needed to talk to my children about taking nude photos,” he says. “I try to impress upon parents to talk to their children ahead of time and let them know the seriousness of this. Even if a girl sends a nude picture of herself to her boyfriend, she needs to know that once she sends that out she loses all control of that image. Once they break up, he’s probably going to send that same photo out to all of his buddies.”
Here are some tips from investigator Jeff Roe’s presentation, in his own words.
Jeff Roe’s Tips For Parents
Maintain account access.
“One study found that 48 percent of mothers admit that they don’t know what their kids do online,” he says. “That needs to change. You have to monitor what your children are doing; check their accounts and let them know that deleting stuff is not okay. You do the deleting. You should also routinely check your child’s browsing history.”
Throw out all stereotypes of cyber bullies and sexual predators.
“You need to let your kids know that there is evil in this world,” says Roe. “Don’t just think of the bad guy as some man who is 40 or 50 years old. Look at the kid right next to you! Forty-eight percent of all online solicitation is made by someone under the age of 18, according to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children. Juvenile offenders make up a growing number of the offenders in the area of internet crimes and sexting as well.”
Buy Web monitoring software.
“Talk to the sales associates at the electronics stores such as Fry’s or Best Buy. Let them know ‘I’m looking for software for monitoring my child’s Internet use. What do you suggest?’ There’s software that exists ranging from $19 to $99 and above.”
Know the capabilities of any device in your child’s possession.
“Talk to your kids; don’t be afraid to parent. Know the technology that you’re giving to a child and what it’s capable of. A lot of time we’re putting an adult device in the hands of a child and expecting them to make adult decisions. Then we’re surprised when they don’t.”
The same goes for gaming devices, according to Roe.
“Most parents are buying their kids an Xbox and have no idea that they can connect it to the Internet and talk to people all over the world.”
Document. Document. Document.
“Print out all incidents of cyber bullying; you need to have copies of everything just in case there’s ever an investigation. If you discover a nude or explicit photo – even if it is one that your child sent out of themselves– don’t delete it. Notify law enforcement so that the matter can be investigated and it can be added to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children database. They have a database of all known and unknown victim children. It can remain on file and be used to aid law enforcement for future prosecution.”
Talk to your children in advance.
“Just keep the lines of communication open, with your children. Let them know what you expect. Let them know that you’re not being mean or trying to invade their privacy, you’re trying to protect them.”
For more information on Investigator Roe’s presentations, visit http://www.forsythsheriff.org/presentations-crimeprevention-118
Got a juvenile justice story idea? Contact JJIE.org staff writer Chandra R. Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thomas, a former Rosalynn Carter Mental Health Journalism Fellow and Kiplinger Public Affairs Journalism Fellow, is an award-winning multimedia journalist who has worked for Fox 5 News in Atlanta and Atlanta, People and Essence magazines.