Agency shares ways to keep students safe online

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Following the Grand Island Northwest High School child pornography and human trafficking cases local agencies are giving advice on how students can help avoid being exploited online. The investigation shows the student was using social media to coerce people into giving them inappropriate pictures and videos and then using them against them.

Following the Grand Island Northwest child pornography cases, GI ACT is giving some advice on how kids can avoid being exploited online. (KSNB)

The Grand Island Area Coalition on Trafficking wants people to understand what happens when they send these messages to other people and how frequently more than the intended recipient ends up seeing these images. For every one picture someone sends, three other people are likely to see it.

“When it comes to being online I think sometimes youth ignore the red flags, especially if it's a friend or a boyfriend, girlfriend so they might do things that they wouldn't in real life,” GI ACT Leadership Team Member Amber Smith said. “It's important to understand that anyone you really trust would never ask you to do something that you are uncomfortable with.”

The investigation also showed Northwest student used aliases to get the pictures and students should be wary of unknown profiles.

“Keep your profile private also be very careful of who you accept as a friend,” Smith said.

She said teens often add people they don't know well just because they have mutual friends. Many times students who are being asked for explicit content are scared to speak out for risk of getting in trouble.

“Quite honestly the predators, the people who solicit these images, depend on the victim to feel shame, to feel fear, so that they will continue to meet the demands the predator is asking for,” Smith said.

Some apps also have the option to share locations, which the coalition said does not need to be shared publicly. Smith adds students need someone they can trust, even if it is not a parent. Over all she wants teens to know they aren't alone and it's not their fault if a predator is asking for these things.

“You won't get in trouble for asking for help. In fact, people want to help you and they want to go after those people, friends, family, strangers, whatever who are putting you in that position,” Smith said.

The coalition said the best thing that parents can do is to be supportive and calm to help their child.

Advocacy groups:

Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition:
​402-476-6256

Central Nebraska Child Advocacy Center:
(308) 385-5238

Grand Island Public Schools is also responding to the GINW situation through a press release:

“Though the situation at Grand Island Northwest High School did not take place at a Grand Island Public Schools campus or involve a GIPS staff member, we took a proactive approach today and are sending out a communication to all GIPS parents this evening. Here is the message we are sending out:

GIPS Families,

Our entire community has been impacted by the recent social media scam incident involving an area high school teacher and student. Inappropriate images were shared and used to force those involved to perform acts of a sexual nature. An investigation is underway and until it is complete we will not have all the details about this situation.

Though this did not happen at a GIPS school, we anticipate some students and staff may need support to help them deal with the emotions that such an event produces. We are taking every step to be responsive to the needs of our students and their families. We are following the directives and protocols of Homeland Security and law enforcement.

If you feel you or your students have been directly impacted or have knowledge related to this incident, please contact Special Agent Michael Einspahr with Homeland Security at (308) 660-6258. If you have any questions or concerns the district can address, please feel free to call your school.

The Crisis Team members will be available at Grand Island Senior High on Thursday, January 16, from 9 to 11 a.m. and from 1 to 3 p.m. in the East Conference room.If your student is at another school, they can seek assistance from the school’s counselor or social worker.

We urge families to use this opportunity to talk about online, social media and overall personal safety. Thank you for your role in helping keep all students safe.”