Speak Up About ‘Sexting’
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Speak Up About ‘Sexting’

Most of the media focus surrounding the Anthony Weiner saga has been about him, the women he contacted and what his future holds. While these are all things that need to be considered, I believe there is an important issue that has been largely ignored that needs to be addressed.

By his own admission, Weiner has been communicating with many other women, all of them in an inappropriate manner. The proverbial straw broke last Friday when he contacted a 17-year-old girl in Delaware. While Weiner has gone off to seek refuge and the cure of his “demon,” I would like to ask each of the women whom he contacted the following questions: Why did you not speak up? Why did you not contact the House Ethics Committee? And finally: What message are you sending to all of our daughters?

“Sexting” didn’t start and it won’t end with Anthony Weiner. I had my own wake-up call a little over a year ago when one of our high school students came to me in tears, unable to talk, and thrust her cell phone in my hands. What was written would have made a sailor blush. In the process of investigating this episode and with the permission of the parents of the young man who sent the original text, our school went on to explore the world of sexting. That investigation went deep, and what we discovered wasn’t pretty. The most troubling part was that, except for the one girl who came to me in tears, none of the dozens of girls who had received disturbing messages (and pictures) had spoken up. No one had gone to her mother, the school counselor, a favorite teacher or the administration. They either simply ignored it or, worse, got sucked into it. Either choice is unacceptable.

We also did a tremendous amount of research beyond the walls of our school and realized we weren’t alone. Jewish schools across North America were experiencing their own “sexting” episodes. The problem wasn’t limited to any one community. From Beis Yakovs to Hebrew Academies to Solomon Schechters, we were all in the same boat. In consultation with our Ometz School Counselor (formerly Jewish Family Service) and our administrative team we began to address the issue. First, we realized this isn’t a school issue, although it often plays out there, and we get the blame — it is a communal issue. It is also not exclusively about technology either; cell phones or e-mail are just the medium. The real issue is much larger and complex.

To address our situation, we held an “attendance-mandatory” parent meeting to bring them on board to make them our partners. We presented the unedited actual texts sent by our children (names deleted of course) so that we could convey the gravity of the situation. The next step was a series of Ometz-facilitated joint parent-student sessions to strengthen the communication at home and to convey the message that we are in this together.

Finally we looked at our school policies and what we can do to make our school a safer place.

The Anthony Weiner story will soon (hopefully) disappear from the news; however our story and how we respond to it needs to remain on the front page.

Educational Director Hebrew Academy of Montreal

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