Ocean County Prosecutor Warns Parents About Sexting and Vaping

The Problems, He Said, Start in Middle School
By RICK MELLERUP | May 02, 2018
Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato

Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph D. Coronato joked – well, sort of joked, considering the seriousness of the opioid situation – that he wasn’t going to talk about drugs as he started addressing a group of concerned parents at the Little Egg Harbor School District’s Frog Pond Elementary School last Thursday evening, April 19. Coronato, who won 2016 Prosecutor of the Year honors from both the State Troopers Coalition and the New Jersey Narcotic Enforcement Officers Association, said, “I’m going to try to stay away from the drugs a little bit. I always seem to be talking about drugs.”

Instead he was going to be addressing a couple of other issues that pose serious threats to students, even the fifth- to ninth-grade students whose parents were especially invited to the presentation – sexting and vaping.

What exactly is sexting? According to Coronato, the simple explanation is that it is sending or receiving sexually explicit or sexually suggestive material over the internet, especially on cell phones. In other words, although Coronato didn’t bring up his name, think disgraced former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner.

Weiner infamously had to resign from Congress in 2011 after he sent a lewd photo of himself to a woman via Twitter that became public. Then in 2013, while running for New York City mayor, he sent explicit photos of himself using the name “Carlos Danger” to a 22-year-old woman in Indiana. The photos were released in the press. Weiner, who had been the early favorite in the New York City Democratic primary, won just 4.9 percent of the vote.

Lesson learned? No. On Sept. 21, 2016, the Daily Mail reported Weiner had been sexting with a 15-year-old girl from North Carolina. The FBI investigated and seized his laptop and, because Weiner’s wife was a close aide to Hillary Clinton and because that laptop had some Clinton emails on it, then-FBI Director James Comey reopened the investigation into Clinton’s emails less than two weeks before the November presidential election. Clinton has said that episode led to the election of Donald Trump, showing that sexting certainly can have consequences.

The consequences for Weiner became even more serious when he reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors and in September 2017 was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

Unfortunately, sexting gets far more people in trouble, especially teens, than Weiner. The problem is that phones have become far more than phones. Coronato said a study had shown that one in six teens has engaged in sexting.

“All cell phones have cameras,” said the prosecutor. “Teens send or receive an average of 3,000 texts per month, as compared to 200 phone calls.”

When they combine pictures with texts, the trouble can begin.

“Teens share everything!” he said, “full names, addresses, emails, pictures and videos.”

And when those pictures are sexually charged, oh boy!

“They believe ‘everybody’s doing it,’” said Coronato.

Teens think they can get away with sending nude or at least suggestive photos by using Snapchat, which supposedly allows pictures and messages to be available only for a short time before they become inaccessible. But Coronato’s main message for the evening was that once something appears on the internet, it can possibly remain out there somewhere – forever.

The consequences of sexting can be devastating, even for juveniles, he said. Offenders can be sent to local or state juvenile centers and be placed on up to three years of probation. And don’t believe, he said, that juvenile records are sealed – they can be sent to colleges and universities. As for adults – well, Weiner got away with a light sentence. When adults post or forward nude pics of underage individuals, they could be busted for child pornography and could get up to 20 years in prison.

If a tween/teen is sexting, or just being stupid on the internet, they can be playing with fire even if they don’t get in trouble with the law.

“We have a summer intern program at the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. When somebody applies, the first thing we’re going to do is go on Facebook.”

Other potential employers can do the same search.

“Anything you want to know about somebody can probably be found on the internet,” said Coronato.

Then there’s the matter of embarrassment. Nude photos can be reproduced and sent anywhere, and Coronato meant anywhere.

He remembers one case where his office was trying to remove photos of one victim whose pics had been posted on porno sites.

“When you upload something, it gets posted in Russia, it gets posted in India. I don’t have jurisdiction in Russia or India!”

It was a message that was repeated in a 16-minute video Coronato showed on Thursday.

“Once you send something, you have no control over it,” said one character to another. “You know that, don’t you? You know nothing goes away, right?”

One scene at the end of the video really points that out. A young girl is on the internet and stumbles upon a nude picture.

“Mom, is that you?!” she yells.

“It doesn’t go away, and there’s no magic wand to make it go away,” said Coronato. “If you leave here with anything, know that!”

Coronato also spent a few minutes discussing vaping. It is a problem for kids, even middle schoolers, he said. Youngsters think vaping is safe, unlike cigarettes. But the prosecutor had seen one report that showed that 56 chemicals can be found in e-cigarettes, including lead. Plus, he said, a study had shown that kids who vaped are six times more likely to take up real cigarettes later in life.

A significant problem, he said, is that e-cigarette manufacturers seem to be purposely marketing to children, what with flavors such as bubble gum and cotton candy.

“There are over 7,000 flavors on the market today.”

Kids, he said, can vape anywhere, even in classrooms. There are vapes, he said, that look like pens, and 60 percent don’t put out any smoke. So a student can sit in class ingesting nicotine and it looks as if he’s just chewing on his pen.

Coronato had said he wasn’t going to be talking about drugs on Thursday evening, but that’s exactly how he ended his presentation.

Pot, he said, “used to be leaves.” But now, he said, growers had learned that stems can be even more valuable with the oils removed from them; oils, he said, that are 10 times more potent than leaf marijuana.

So there was a case in Ocean County where somebody was soaking Jolly Ranchers candies with oil and selling them in school.

“I went ballistic!”

Put marijuana oils and vapes together and you have a big problem, said Coronato. All vaping machines, he said, can take the oils.

“They’re taking everything they can and smoking it in front of you!”

Life, he said, can be rough on kids. “When you’re 13 years old, you want to look like you’re 18, 19, 20. It’s tough.”

But with social media, sexting, vaping and pot oils, it may be just as tough being a parent.

rickmellerup@thesandpaper.net

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