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'Don't be fooled by online relationships'

Cary Ashby • Oct 4, 2019 at 11:00 AM

In his 10 years of “being a teen” online, retired sheriff’s Capt. Scott Frank said there was never a day when he wasn’t asked or pressured to send someone an inappropriate image of himself.

As the former online investigator known as “Captain Frank” spoke to students at various Norwalk City Schools buildings Thursday about internet safety, he said once you send someone a photo, it’s likely to be somewhere online forever and has been downloaded to various apps and sites. Frank, who spent 13 years registering sex offenders with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, addressed adults and parents Thursday night.

“Things don’t always disappear in the digital world,” said Frank, who worked for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force and spent 36 years in law enforcement.

Before coming to Norwalk, he sent numerous friend requests to various Norwalk High School students.

“Nineteen of them instantly said yes. It happens all the time,” Frank said. “You need to choose your friends wisely.”

Addressing Norwalk Middle School students, he said they should consider the information in the assembly an opportunity to set up themselves for making good decisions and have a “bright, safe tomorrow.”

Superintendent George Fisk, who attended the NMS presentation, said he hopes “our children go home today and start a conversation with their families about the lessons and advice they learned today.”

“Then as a family, they (should) initiate practices to keep them safe online,” he added. “What makes children special is their confidence, natural curiosity and trusting nature. Unfortunately, the evildoers who prey on our children use these qualities against them.”

Frank shared the story of a young girl who sent someone a photo of herself and ended up being pulled into sex trafficking. He said it took two years until he tracked her down at a Texas truck stop.

“That seventh-grader would never be the same,” Frank told the students.

A girl who identified herself as Kate shared her story on a video presentation. As a high school student, she said “my whole world was social media.” She accepted a Snapchat friend request from a man she didn’t know and two weeks later, after having never communicated with her in the meantime, he asked her how soccer practice was. Kate said she began to trust the man and she eventually gave into the pressure of sending him a nude photo of herself, which made its way to many apps. 

“One risky online choice leads to another to another. My digital world doesn’t have a rewind button and my digital world doesn’t have a delete button,” she said.

Scott said students should know people online “may not be who they appear to be.”

“Don’t be fooled by online relationships,” he added. “They lie to you; they trick you.”

“I’m hopeful that if his talk today helps just one student, it will be worth it,” said Amie Swope, district director of technology. “The internet is very dangerous and we are hopeful that one of the things we teach our students is to be thoughtful citizens and be careful about their own lives and make good choices.

“I like how he shared stories of (young) people who helped other people online, who reached out, are kind and are doing things to help people their age and save the world. I love how his presentation focused on the dangers of the internet, but also the positive power of it,” Swope added. 

School board president Lisa Wick heard Frank speak to youth and adults at the church she attends, Calvary Baptist.

“I was determined to get him here at Norwalk City Schools,” she said. “I was very persistent.”

When asked about her reaction to Scott’s presentation at the church, Wick said “your jaws drop” and pointed out that “no one made a sound” Thursday at Norwalk Middle School.

“This is serious stuff,” she added. “They think they know everything about this internet and about technology. Yes, it’s awesome, but there is so much evil out there and we need to get a grasp on it and make everybody aware.”

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