Tuesday, December 12th at 6PM in the LGI in Exeter Township Senior High School
Mrs. Alycia Lenart, Exeter Township School District K-12 Student Support Coordinator
Sergeant Detective Rocco DeCamillo, Exeter Township Police Department
“Make no mistake, this is an eye-opening, worldwide problem affecting our students here in Exeter,” said Sergeant Detective Rocco DeCamillo to the faculty of the Exeter Township School District during a professional development session held at the Senior High last Tuesday. “To make things worse, we know there are a lot of cases here that are not being reported because it takes a lot of courage to go to a parent, a friend or to the police. This is why I think it’s important for you to be aware of this issue in case you have a student who considers you a role model and decides to confide in you.”
The issue is called sexting, and it can often lead to an even more serious issue called sextortion. “One can lead to the other one, but they are two very different things,” said DeCamillo, who was joined during the presentation by his colleague, Exeter Township Police Detective Anthony Pendell.
In short, DeCamillo explained that sexting is sending sexually-explicit messages, images or videos to another person. Sextortion, however, is a form of cyber blackmail where a perpetrator often demands money to refrain from publicly releasing sexually-explicit messages, images or videos of the victim. These issues, said DeCamillo, are ones that affect adults–as well as minors, too. “You might think of this as a high school problem, but we’re seeing sexting more frequently at the junior high level,” he said. “But what’s even scarier is that we’re starting to see it more frequently in preteens, too, which is scary. The victims–and their offenders–are becoming younger.”
To complicate matters, minors are very savvy with finding ways to hide explicit content and conversations from their parents–and perpetrators are just as savvy at finding their victims. Rather than using traditional texting methods, DeCamillo said that minors and offenders alike use social media, texting or gaming platforms to send or receive content, such as WhatsApp, XBox, Instagram, Playstation, Roblox and Snapchat. On these platforms, adults often pose as minors, cultivating trust and a following by requesting mutual friends. Once a relationship and trust has been established, DeCamillo said that perpetrators will often start by requesting selfies of the minor victim. “Younger kids–those who are 11 or 12–almost can’t help but send these selfies of themselves out naked. They think they’re talking to a 15 year old, but it’s really a 43 year old who is harvesting child pornography.”
Currently, the most frequently used platform is Snapchat. “Snap is the devil,” DeCamillo said as he discussed the app’s encrypted feature called “My Eyes Only,” which is a hidden vault that erases all content as soon as a user asks for a password reset. This, he said, even prevents law enforcement from finding and recovering those photos once a report’s been filed, giving kids a false sense of security about hiding–or sending–naked selfies on the platform. “Kids often don’t think of the ramifications of when they hit that send button there’s a whole lot of things that can come out of it,” he said.
Minors who send sexually-explicit photographs lack the understanding that this is a crime under PA law; however, DeCamillo stressed that the focus of Exeter PD is more on education rather than on the arrests of minors. “This is not a situation where we can arrest our way out of it. It’s not that simple, and arrest isn’t always the answer.” Instead, he said that the department works to educate minors about the pitfalls of sending sexts and how repeated or more serious offenses can get them in serious trouble. Beyond criminal or legal issues, he also warned that sexting can lead to other problems, such as, grooming, destroying a person’s reputation, sextortion or mental health problems. The latter, he said, is unfortunately common, and is something that profoundly worries him and his department. “If the messages wind up in the wrong hands, it can be so mentally damaging to an adolescent teen.” Reflecting on cases outside of Exeter, he said solemnly, “Sometimes, it’s so extreme that children have taken their lives over it,” he said. “Sometimes therapy doesn’t quite work out, their reputation is destroyed and they feel they have no other option other than suicide,” he said with a pause, “It’s heartbreaking.”
Superintendent Dr. Christy Haller and Assistant Superintendent Mrs. Dawn Harris organized the session with Detective Sergeant DeCamillo and Detective Pendell to bring a greater awareness to teachers of this issue, which is only growing, according to the figures the detectives presented. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of reports involving sextortion doubled, according to their report, wth 45% of sextortion perpetrators actually carrying out threats, and 25% of victims seeking mental health help following an incident.
Like last year’s edibles presentation, the professional development session proved to be so popular with educators that Detective Sergeant DeCamillo and Detective Pendell, along with the district’s K-12 Student Supports Coordinator, Mrs. Alycia Lenart, have decided to offer a similar session to parents and families so that they, too, could learn what police are seeing in the local community, as well as how to talk to their kids about sexting and sextortion. The parent and family session will be held on Tuesday, December 12, 2023 at 6PM in Exeter Township Senior High School’s Large Group Instruction (LGI) room.