EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 11, 2008

Salem High sex photos spurs meeting

By Meghan Carey

SALEM — Obscene photos of underage students circulated at Salem High School last week, but a meeting for parents last night focused on keeping their children safe in a high-tech world.

The sexually explicit photos were sent by students via cell phone before one brought it to the attention of an administrator Wednesday. At least one girl pictured was under 16.

Rockingham County Attorney James Reams spoke to students and parents about child pornography and the consequences of distributing such images, either by cell phone or the Internet.

Reams told them that if these images were posted on the Internet, pedophiles would have access to them. He then told them stories about pedophiles and the crimes they committed.

At least one parent was upset last night that the school district chose to hold the informational meeting and a school assembly where students were told about child pornography. This leads to more rumors than facts, Carol Buckley said.

She said when her son came home, he spoke of a 40-year-old man getting two 15-year-old girls drunk and taking pictures of them — one of the stories Reams told students involving teens from another town.

There are no adults involved in the Salem High case, said Principal William Hagen. He said the intent was to let students know that what they had on their phones was pornography.

School Resource Officer Matt Norcross said from conversations he had with students, it was clear they were not aware of the seriousness of the matter. "The kids downplayed it," he said. "They said, 'It's no big deal — I know that girl.'"

Three or four different pictures were passed around and at least four students still had them on their phones when they talked with police or school administrators, Reams said.

But the county attorney said he is sure the images were sent to many more phones, possibly by using a "reply to all" feature.

"What we know is just the tip of the iceberg," Reams said. Charges won't necessarily be filed against the students because it was "a school situation" and did not involve a sexual predator, he said.

"We're not real concerned about (these girls) having been victims," Reams said. "We're not 100 percent sure (they were victims) because there are still pieces of the investigation that are ongoing. But our level of concern has dropped a bit as the investigation has gone on."

About 100 parents attended the meeting. Approximately 2,300 students go to Salem High.

Parent Liz Getchell said when her son was in third grade — he's now a senior — they found him looking at a pornography site at home. The link was sent around the Haigh School and Boys & Girls Club. A meeting similar to last night's was held, but just three people attended.

"I feel better after tonight, but I don't think a lot of parents get it," she said. "My heart goes out to these girls and their parents."

Getchell uses a computer program that lets her see everything her sons do on the computer, including their instant messenger conversations.

Many of the parents who attended last night said they carefully monitor their children's use of the Internet.

Sharon Riley said her daughter, a freshman, thinks she is crazy because she doesn't let her use MySpace or Facebook, and checks her cell phone. But the parents gave Riley a round of applause when she told her story.

Tina Doherty said meetings like last night's are "eye-openers" about what could happen to her daughter, also a freshman, and her seventh-grade son. But she likes going to them and using the information as a tool to talk to them at home.

"They're naive to think nothing can happen," she said. "That won't do them any good."