Cheyenne, Wyoming, Police Officer John Gay travels from school to school, warning students about the sexual predators lurking on the Internet. During a recent visit to Windsor High School in Windsor, Colorado, he got a little carried away, haranguing 16-year-old Shaylah Nordic over her allegedly provocative MySpace page in front of an assembly of her fellow students:
"He basically just said I was asking to be raped," said Shaylah Nordic, a Windsor sophomore.
A photo from Nordic's MySpace.com page, depicting her in a T-shirt and shorts, bending over and pointing at a new pair of shoes, was displayed on a screen in front of two separate student assemblies.
"He was saying that the posture of her rear end could be appealing to a sexual predator," said Ty Nordic, Shaylah's father.
"He did this in a mocking way," Ty said. "He took a pretty innocent picture and made it look sleazy."
Ty says Gay told the students that older men would be masturbating to her picture.
"She was belittled, embarrassed and humiliated," Ty said.
After Shaylah burst into tears and ran from the auditorium, Gay realized he had gone too far, so he apologized. Just kidding. He called her on her cell phone and asked her to return, thereby proving his point that creepy men could get her contact information from her MySpace page.
There is some disagreement between Gay and the Nordic family (as well as other students who witnessed his presentation) about exactly what he said—whether, for example, he claimed to have shown Shaylah's photograph to an imprisoned sex offender, who said he would use it as a masturbatory aid and added that if he ever met Shaylah he would "tear her up." But Gay does not dispute the general thrust of his comments, which amounted to a warning that Shaylah had in effect posted a "Rape Me" sign.
Shaylah, who has taken down her MySpace page, told Windsor Now the experience was especially upsetting because "my whole life I've really prided myself on being a Christian girl and having this pure image." Now teachers and fellow students look at her differently. "He just completely ruined that reputation that I worked for," she said. "He basically called me a slut."
Although no teacher or administrator intervened during Gay's presentation to save Shaylah from his harassment (which several of her fellow students vocally protested at the assembly), Principal Rick Porter apologized afterward:
I have some apologies to make. I don't want to apologize for the message that I'm trying to send because I am trying to educate kids in some of the dangers of the world that they work with every day. Some of the ways that [Gay] approached it offended, embarrassed and are hurting some of our kids.
Porter deserves some credit for apologizing. But when he booked Gay he had seen him in action and knew his technique involved using information from students' MySpace and Facebook pages to publicly put them on the spot. The fact that he asked Gay to visit his school anyway, not to mention the fact that Gay feels justified in using his Scared Modest approach to begin with, can be understood only in the context of the general panic about online sex offenders. Porter and Gay both seem to think they're dealing with an emergency in which harsh measures are required to prevent girls from being abducted, raped, and/or murdered, a danger Gay repeatedly invoked.
Yet such outcomes are rare even among Internet-related sex crimes, the vast majority of which involve consensual encounters between teenagers and adults. As investigators at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center have shown (PDF), the typical "online predator" (who targets teenagers, not prepubescent children) does not conceal his age or his sexual interest and does not use force or the threat of violence to get his way. Something like 95 percent of sex crimes that involve the Internet also involve the knowing cooperation of the victim. So while authority figures like Porter and Gay are warning teenagers to look out for violent perverts who may use their online information to kidnap and assault them, the real danger is both more subtle and more obvious. The University of New Hampshire researchers found that the teenagers most at risk of sexual overtures from adults were those who "interacted online with unknown people and also engaged in a high number of different risky online behaviors," such as "having unknown people on a buddy list, talking online to unknown people about sex, seeking pornography online, [and] being rude or nasty online." In other words, it's not simply a matter of posting personal information (which by itself was not associated with an increased risk of come-ons) or putting up a picture that might titillate a rapist (or a cop).
[via The Freedom Files]