Technology changes lives

NEW MANCHESTER – The volatile combination of alcohol, teenage sex and social media brought international attention to Steubenville during the past year.

It’s the kind of unwanted, endless attention that U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II warned Oak Glen High School students about on Thursday.

“You have so much technology that, from your bedroom, you can access the world,” Ihlenfeld said. “You have to be careful with what you do. You make one mistake, and you can pay for it for the rest of your life.”

Ihlenfeld, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, which includes Hancock County, brought his “Project Future Two-a-Days” program to Oak Glen’s fall sports students on Thursday as part of an ongoing effort to warn teenagers about the dangers of mixing sex, drugs and social media.

Ihlenfeld launched the program last week at Wheeling Park High School and will take his anti-drug message to high schools in the Northern Panhandle through September.

Joined by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Vogrin, Ihlenfeld laid out one scenario after another in which a high school student can be charged with a crime and sent to prison.

Ihlenfeld said an 18-year-old boy who asks his 16-year-old girlfriend to send him a nude photo of herself can be charged with multiple felonies, including distributing, manufacturing and possession of child pornography.

Being a teenager today is fraught with difficulties that would have been unimaginable to previous generations, Ihlenfeld said, largely because of the pervasive presence of social media, smartphones and the Internet.

“A poor choice today is much different than a poor choice 20 years ago,” he said.

Exhibit A for Ihlenfeld was the Steubenville teen rape case that has dominated headlines both locally and nationally for the past year. The federal prosecutor displayed the pictures of the defendants – Ma’Lik Richmond and Trent Mays – and said their sentences should be a warning to all high school students.

Richmond, convicted of rape, must serve a minimum of one year in a juvenile correctional facility and register as a sex offender, Ihlenfeld said. Mays, convicted of rape and disseminating pornographic images of the victim, must serve a minimum of two years and register as a sex offender for 20 years, he said.

In the same way that material on the Internet is virtually permanent, the consequences of misconduct involving social media can be lifelong, Ihlenfeld said.

“There is no changing your mind in cyberspace,” he said.

Users of smartphones should never forward an inappropriate image they have received and should not assume anything they send will remain private, Ihlenfeld said.

Ihlenfeld cited studies that suggest one in five teenagers have sent a nude or semi-nude photo over their smartphone. One of the biggest motivations for such behavior is revenge after the breakup of a relationship, he said.

Vogrin, a specialist in child crimes, limited his remarks to the dangers and consequences of illicit drug use. He said West Virginia ranks second in the nation for drug overdose deaths.

In Hancock County, there has been a 700 percent increase in the number of drug overdose deaths in the past decade – from zero in 2001-2002 to 15 in 2009-2010, Vogrin said. The most commonly-abused drugs today include heroin, psychotropic drugs such as Xanax and prescription painkillers such as OxyContin, he said.

“You don’t know what drugs are going to do to you when you put them in your system,” Vogrin said. “It can happen to anyone.”

Attending Thursday’s program were Oak Glen football players, cheerleaders, band members, members of the boys and girls soccer teams and members of the boys and girls cross country teams.

“We’re trying to be as proactive as we can,” said Oak Glen Athletic Director Phil Rujak. “We all need an education in this area.”

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