Sexual assault and sexual violence is no longer restricted to the in-person kind.
It was a lesson that went out to sixth- to eighth-grade boys Monday night at a workshop run by the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault at Prairie Star Middle School in Leawood, KS.
"We are addressing the greater issue of digital abuse and digital violence, said MOCSA's David Belt. "Cyber bulling is a piece of that. So is sexting."
Belt runs a program called Man Up! and parents said it was frightening to hear Blue Valley School District administrators say these were issues they were already dealing with in middle school.
"Growing up we dealt with things you were willing to say face-to-face, and they're dealing with the fact that it takes less courage to do bad things," said Mike Cowen, who came with his sixth- and eighth-grade sons.
The internet, cell phones and social networking have all expanded on the kind of mean or otherwise inappropriate things that have long been a part of that especially awkward and fragile middle school age group.
"All it takes is just two pushes of your thumb and whatever you just said goes to 1,000 people as opposed to just two or three people," explained teacher Trevor Goertzen, who organized the workshop.
Goertzen and the school principal told parents, who came from various district middle schools, that often students soon regret what they "said," but by then, it's too late to take it back.
"It's permanent," said Goertzen. "It's not just a picture you can tear off your locker or a picture you can throw in a trash can. Now it's out there digitally."
He described, as an example, a situation in one of the high schools where a girl's bikini-clad vacation photo on Facebook was copied, altered and distributed to mock her. The administration was never able to trace it back to the person responsible.
The parents and students split into separate groups for most of the hour-and-a-half-long workshop, geared towards making them respectful of others and protective and proud of themselves.
Mike Cowen's sixth-grader said he learned something new.
"I didn't know people would take pictures off the Internet and Photoshop them," said Cameron Cowen, "zoom in on certain parts."
The father also got a new perspective on addressing specifics he hadn't thought about.
"Talking about what's appropriate to type, what's appropriate to say," that's what Mike Cowen said he has discussed. "I don't think I've ever sat down with my kids and said, 'If you ever receive a naked picture of a girl...' We haven't talked about that."
After all, he also learned that kind of thing is not as harmless as the curious sharing of his teen days, and not only because the representation is likely to spread farther, and with it the humiliation and shame of the photographee. If his son forwards a naked picture of a girl to a friend, workshop leaders told him, his son can be considered to be participating in child pornography.
Fortunately his son was not too keen on seeing naked pictures of girls his age. Aware from his older brothers that his perspective might change, he told KCTV5 he considers girls icky "for the moment."
Click here for more information from the Cyber bullying Research Center.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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