Soroptimist program offers students advice

JOHNSTOWN – Knox Junior High School student Clinton Cionek never has been a victim of “cyberbullying,” but he says he knows of other young people who have been bullied online.

On Thursday, Cionek and other Knox students learned about issues related to cyberbullying and how victims can get help from teachers and other adults.

“Some didn’t know they could actually go for help if they are being bullied on the Internet,” Cionek said of the students.

The students Thursday increased their awareness of cyberbullying thanks to a program presented by the Fulton County Soroptimists.

The program, A Soroptimist Program to Inspire Real Self-Esteem, or ASPIRE, strives to teach young people, especially girls, about the dangers of irresponsible online contact.

Organizers of the program present it at local schools. On Thursday, it came to Knox.

The program included presentations by Investigator Tom Northrup of the Computer Crimes Unit of the New York State Police and Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira.

After the presentations, girls and boys broke off into separate groups.

The students learned about safe use of the Internet and problems regarding cyberbullying.

Sandy Peters, chairwoman of the ASPIRE committee and a past president of the Soroptimists of Fulton County, said the program was developed as a community outreach program in 2008.

“Over the course of the last several years, we have made the rounds to most of the Fulton County schools, either with the full assembly program or the broken-down program,” Peters said.

Separating the youths by gender allows presenters to speak with the youths individually.

“There is a major reason to have that separate program for the girls, who are seven times more likely to be subjected to cyberbullying or victimization over the Internet or their cellphones,” Peters said.

The program presented to students talked about some of the examples of what constitutes cyberbullying and what children should look out for when encountering a stranger on the Internet.

Northrup said technology in the hands of minors is becoming more advanced.

“The days of the flip phone are gone,” Northrup said.

Many times, Northrup said, he has had to work with victims of cyberbullying or people who had been in contact with a possible sex offender on the Internet.

Cyberbullying has pronounced effects on the victims, he said. It can lead to depression, withdrawn social contact, anxiety and possibly suicide, he said.

“Think about what you are doing with the technical skills you have,” Northrup told students.

“Sexting,” the sending of sexually explicit photos by text- message, is another problem today.

Northrup said people engaging in this activity can be charged with creating and possessing underage pornography.

Sira said as a prosecutor, she meets many people involved in cases related to cyberbullying and online predators.

“It is a lot more fun to come and speak to you in your own setting than have to meet you later on as a victim,” Sira said.

“We don’t know who we are talking to when we are online all the time,” Sira said.

Knox Principal Mike Satterlee praised the program.

“It seemed like a very timely program for all the students,” Satterlee said. “… Obviously for something they all have to deal with daily, with technology the way it is, communication they deal with all the time, the more aware we can make them about the things they are dealing with, the safer we can make them.”