HMS students receive stark warning about sexting

HALEYVILLE    -  Sexting is becoming a serious problem for middle school students, prompting Haleyville Middle School officials to organize a student assembly with a power-packed message.
 Students in grades six, seven and eight at Haleyville Middle School assembled in the gym Feb. 1, to hear a powerful message from Winston County District Judge Mike Newell on the dangers and consequences of sending inappropriate pictures of themselves via text message or sharing these types of pictures of themselves or others on social media.  Also in attendance to provide more of an impact against such behavior was Haleyville Police Investigator Lt. Eddie Collins.
“We want them to understand the severity of this,” Collins pointed out. “In our daily routine of dealing with criminals, we don’t want them to be children.
“Kids are special to all of us, and we want them to remain that way,” Collins added.
Police stressed that sending  inappropriate pictures via text or through social media is a a felony and is considered pornography.
“It’s a big problem,” Collins said. “We’ve had multiple cases here in the middle school.  Not the high school, the middle school.”
Collins noted police have been at the middle school several times this school year over these issues.

“If they do it, they are going to wind up in an institution, whether it be the Department of Youth Services or the state penitentiary eventually, not to mention the sex offender stamp that will follow them the rest of their lives for  just sending a picture,” Collins continued.
“What they don’t understand is one picture on their phone carries the same weight as some weirdo in a basement with 3,000 pictures on his phone,” Collins emphasized. “It’s the same crime.”
Middle School Principal Bo Wilcoxson said the program was held to make sure students understand the severity of passing explicit pictures and not using their cell phones appropriately.

“Judge Newell talked to parents at the beginning of the year,” Wilcoxson said, referring to the Parents as Partners meeting held in October.
“We’ve let Judge Newell talk to the students the second part of the year, just to remind them what could happen,” Wilcoxson added.
 The idea of the program, Wilcoxson continued, was to get students to think about the consequences of things before they do them.
“Cell phones are wonderful if they are used correctly,” he added. “We want to make sure they are used correctly.”
Newell began the program before the entire middle school student body with a strong warning that he expected them to listen to him, not to talk or use cell phones during the program.
“If I see you talking amongst yourselves, not paying attention or distracting your neighbor, I am going to send you out in the hall, and you are going to sit there until Coach (Bo) Wilcoxson deals with you. Are we square?” Newell addressed students.
Newell asked the students to answer out loud, so they answered yes.
Not far into Newell’s remarks, he called out a student who was not paying attention, making the student come before the assembly before making the student go out of the gym for the remainder of the program.
“Let me explain something to you.  There is nothing funny about this,” Newell told the student.  “In the hall.”
Newell then told students he was the juvenile court judge for Winston County.
“If you get in trouble, I’m the guy you come to see,” he pointed out.
Newell then held up his cell phone and asked how many students had one, to which about 100 percent of the students raised their hands.
He then asked students how many had Snapchat on their phones, with a majority raised their hands.
The judge then asked students if they believed that after they sent a picture or received a picture on Snapchat, it would be gone after a certain period of time. Newell informed the students that recently,  the 25th Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office served a subpoena regarding Snapchat.
“There’s a bunch of you sitting in this room that have been using your phones inappropriately,” Newell pointed out, stressing that the DA’s office can confiscate from their phones material on Snapchat or any other information.
“It does not disappear,” Newell noted.
“I don’t know why it is, but we have a horrible problem in the middle school  with people sending inappropriate pictures,” he added.
Newell then asked students if they were aware of their classmates sending inappropriate pictures to one another via social media.
“Let’s just see a show of hands because I know it has happened,” he said.
After no hands were raised, Newell told the students to stand, at which time he asked them to raise their right hands, asked them if they would “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” to the questions he asked. They responded yes.
Newell then asked students again if they were aware of inappropriate pictures being sent on social media. More hands were raised that time.
“It’s OK.  Raise them high,” he said. “I want your peers to see it’s happening all over the place.”
Newell asked  students if they took an inappropriate picture of themselves and sent it to someone else, what it would be considered.
Newell then focused on a student in the audience, stating “Is there something so important that you can’t pay attention? Put your phone down and focus. Are we clear? One more time and you are in the hall.”
Newell then told students that sending or receiving inappropriate pictures is a crime that could end up sending them to the state  penitentiary, especially if tried in adult court, where these types of cases are tried for persons ages 16 and older.
“If you are less than 16, you come before me,” Newell continued. “If you get caught, you get charged, and it is a sex crime.  You get to go to the Tennessee Valley Detention Facility.”
Newell stressed that administrators and teachers have discussed these warnings repeatedly.
“And it still persists,” he exclaimed. “The internet never forgets.”
If a person sends an inappropriate picture to another, the person receiving can be charged with possession of child pornography, Newell stated. If convicted, a person guilty of such crimes must register as a sex offender, he added.
“I kid you not. This is super, super serious, and for some reason you are just not getting it,” Newell told students.  “Despite what you are told, choices have consequences. Life is about choices.”
If someone truly loves or cares for another person, they should respect that person’s word, he said. So, if a male student wants to send a picture of his girlfriend, the girlfriend should have the courage to say no.
Male students in the room were asked how many had sisters, to which many raised their hands. Newell said for them to picture their sister as a female exploited through an inappropriate picture and take that same mentality to respecting their girlfriends, their friends and classmates.
“If it’s not good enough for your sister, why is it good enough for some other girl?” Newell asked.
Newell concluded the program by telling students to ask themselves, “Is this something I really should be doing??
“The Lord doesn’t love anybody any more than the other,” Newell added. “Life is about choices we make. We have to choose wisely.
“If you have pictures on your phone, delete them.  Get rid of them,” Newell urged. “Normally, we have this talk with you in court, but we have had this talk today.  We will not have this talk again.”
Newell warned if students were caught sending or receiving inappropriate pictures, they would suffer the consequences.
“How do we avoid it? We just don’t do it, right?”  Newell continued.
He further emphasized that God gives everyone free will, but it is up to each person how they use it.
“It all starts, ladies and gentlemen, with the choices you make,” he told students. “It is my earnest hope and my desire that you choose wisely.
“I have already told you, if you choose poorly, I will deal with it accordingly,” Newell concluded.





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