Words Wound Curriculum

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on February 11, 2015

Cyberbullying happens every day. Harsh words and damaging photos exchanged through texts, email, or social media can result in humiliation, broken friendships, punishment at school, and even legal prosecution. In some cases, online harassment has contributed to teen suicide and a number of other behavioral and emotional problems. Faced with this frightening phenomenon, parents, educators, and teens are looking for information and advice. Words Wound is a school-based curriculum designed to give educators the tools to teach students how to use technology to combat cruelty and promote kindness.

The program consists of a book for teens called Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral. Each student should have their own copy of the book to utilize during class sessions—and to take home and read—to complete instructional activities. For educators, there is a Leader’s Guide to accompany this book. This is free to download, available in PDF format from the Free Spirit Publishing website or from Amazon to download to a Kindle device.

The curriculum can be covered in a variety of ways and can be customized to your schedule, class period duration, and school-specific goals. As an example, each chapter might be covered in seven 40-minute sessions (shorter or longer as needed). For homework prior to each session, students will be asked to read the chapter that will be discussed. The teacher will begin the lesson by providing a brief overview of the concepts covered (see the Overview and Objectives in the Leader’s Guide). Next, students will complete the “Fill in the Blank” activity included in the Leader’s Guide. The teacher might then pose several questions for discussion to the larger group (again, some examples are included in each chapter’s “Think About It, Talk About It” section). In addition, the Leader’s Guide includes two suggestions for activities that could be completed during each chapter module or as homework following the session. There is also a 10-point multiple-choice quiz corresponding to each chapter that can be administered at the conclusion of the discussion.

Suggested order of session activities:

– Introduce the topic(s) to be discussed, and ensure that students have done their assigned readings
– Have students complete the “Fill in the Blank” activity from the Leader’s Guide (they can use their book for this)
– Engage in classroom discussion about the chapter
– Address any questions students bring up about the material
– Complete the group activity that students can work through to continue to assimilate the material (specific ideas are offered in the main book and in the Leader’s Guide)
– Administer the “Make Your Choice” quiz included in the Leader’s Guide to assess the student’s level of comprehension of information (this can be open- or closed-book)

Please feel free to adapt to your needs! We’ve also created pre– and post-tests that we make freely available to schools that are interested in measuring the overall impact of the curriculum. They are short (7 minute) surveys designed to assess behaviors in, and perceptions about, cyberbullying before and after completing the Words Wound curriculum. Contact us at connect@wordswound.org for access to these online instruments.

For a printable version of this, click here.

Bullying Assembly Programs – What Schools Need to Know

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on February 9, 2015

bullying assemblySchools have been organizing assemblies to address bullying, substance abuse, and a variety of other student issues for as long as I can remember. I definitely remember sitting through them during middle school in particular, and – unfortunately – tuning out because I just didn’t feel like I could connect with the speaker. When it came to the assemblies about bullying, I thought to myself, “yes, we all realize that it’s wrong to be mean to others, but nothing really is going to change at my school, and so why even bother?” I admit that was quite a defeatist mentality, but I’ll blame it in large part on my disillusioned, angst-ridden adolescent self.

That said, I also remember a couple of more inspirational speakers who gave presentations at my schools – and while they weren’t at all about bullying, I did find them compelling, hopeful, motivating, and even instructive. And I didn’t feel like I was being preached or lectured to. That showed me I could be reached – it just really seemed to depend on the quality of the content, the tone of the message, the level at which I was spoken to, and the relatability of what was conveyed. The bottom line is that there is value in assembly programs, but their selection and implementation requires significant consideration and forethought.

The Assembly as a Bullying Solution

Since schools know that bullying and cyberbullying is a problem on their campus and want to do something about it, scheduling an assembly is often the very first idea that comes to their mind. It makes sense, because they seem to be an easy-to-implement solution. Typically, a school has a budget, they find a speaker (or just have one of their staff members do it), they schedule the day and time, and they bring that person in to do his/her thing in the auditorium, gymnasium, or cafeteria. This takes a lot less time and effort than all that is actually needed to make a true difference. But at least it is something.

To be sure, there are a ton of options available for schools in this space. Just do a Google search for “bullying assembly” or “cyberbullying assembly,” and you’ll find pages and pages of people, many of whom are self-described “experts” (perhaps they are, I have no idea). Many educators also receive unsolicited emails from speakers, encouraging them to check out their web sites and skillsets, and consider hiring them to talk to their students. The speakers’ web sites describe what makes their particular talks engaging, interactive, and motivating, and most provide testimonials highlighting the benefit the assemblies provided to the school and attendant students. All of this is good. Really good. There is definitely a need to reach kids with a gripping and powerful message that cultivates empathy, induces intentional kindness and respect towards one’s peers, and equips them to know exactly what to do if they – or someone they know – is being targeted. And there is definitely a need for many speakers to be out there doing their part to help. However, there are three points which we want to make to help inform your implementation:

1. Assemblies must be used as a single piece of a much broader effort.

While a bullying assembly does have some value, we cannot emphasize strongly enough that a “one and done” strategy will fall short and ring painfully hollow in time – even if it is the most heart-rending or entertaining or memorable or impressive or convicting talk your youth have ever heard in their entire lives. Students need more. Bullying prevention initiatives in schools can have assemblies as part of their programming, but according to the research need more substantive characteristics such as information sent home to parents, requests for parents to attend meetings (so as to get them on board to help educators with the message), instructive role-playing scenarios in the classroom, and efforts that lasted more than one day. Schools need more than a flash-in-the-pan event, even if it is really good. The speaker’s efforts can have great value as a launching pad from which other initiatives can take off. These can include a comprehensive anti-bullying curriculum, peer-to-peer programming, specifically training faculty/staff on how to teach digital civility and how to handle problems that arise, modules on socio-emotional learning, stress management, and conflict resolution, social norming, and building a positive school climate.

2. Consider the impact of the specific content

A school’s good intentions to impact, influence, and inspire their student body may backfire if the speaker or organization is not carefully vetted, and if the message is not carefully designed – with every word measured and every aspect planned and prepped for. For example, in just the last six months one school district has had significant reputational fallout in the community because they brought in a speaker whose interactive exercises may have contributed to excessive vulnerability (and even emotional and psychological pain) by students, and consequently further targeting by bullies, and at least one school district has been sued for indirectly contributing to a teen suicide by hiring a speaker who gave a presentation that may have planted ideas of self-harm as a viable option out of the pain one is experiencing.

3. Take the time to find a great speaker to optimize chances for success

Schools interested in bringing out speakers to conduct student assemblies must demonstrate due diligence and do their background research. This is one of the primary ways to find out if they actually are relatable and uplifting, and if they actually have great content that focuses on the positive, provides real solutions, and can lead to specific follow-up by the school. We suggest that educators reach out to colleagues at other schools for specific recommendations. Feel free to even cold call those you don’t know but who work at schools similar to your own. Feel free to review testimonials, but also know that a speaker’s testimonials may not paint a full picture. As such, we also recommend that you take the time to schedule a call with potential speakers so you can get to know their style, passion, convictions, content areas, and exactly how they will connect with your students.

My next blog will detail what I believe the best bullying and cyberbullying assembly speakers do, in order to illuminate what makes a great quality presentation to youth. In addition, Justin and I would love to hear your own thoughts, observations, and experiences in this area, and so feel free to weigh in!

Cyberbullying legislation and case law: Implications for school policy and practice

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on December 30, 2014

By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin

This Fact Sheet provides a summary of important court cases and pending legislation that can help school districts evaluate and improve their current cyberbullying policies.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2015). Cyberbullying legislation and case law: Implications for school policy and practice. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from http://www.cyberbullying.us/cyberbullying-legal-issues.pdf

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Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying (2nd edition)

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on October 31, 2014

By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin

The #1 cyberbullying prevention book just got better!

Cyberbullying occurs when three components intersect: teens, technology, and trouble. This perfect storm of elements manifests as harassment, humiliation, and hate that can follow a child everywhere. Drawing on the authors’ own extensive research, this groundbreaking eye-opening resource incorporates the personal voices of youth affected by or involved in cyberbullying, while helping readers understand the causes and consequences of online aggression.

Since 2007, school leaders, teachers, and parents have relied on the bestselling and award-winning first edition of Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard for practical strategies to address cyberbullying. Now in its second edition, this essential guide is completely updated with new research and evolving best practices for prevention and response, including:

– Summaries of recent legal rulings related to teens and technology, and their implications
– Discussion of the responsibilities of school personnel, and how that translates to policy and programming
– Guidance on how educators, parents, students, and law enforcement can work individually and collectively to prevent and respond to cyberbullying
– Useful “breakout boxes” highlighting strategies you can implement
– Practical resources, including an assessment instrument, scenarios, and staff development questions

Written in an accessible and informal tone by leading experts in the field, this must-have book provides the tools to prevent and respond to cyberbullying in your school community.

“This is an excellent resource that clears up much of the confusion and sometimes hysteria generated in the media on cyberbullying.  It provides prudent and do-able strategies from crafting policies, to investigating and responding to incidents. Most importantly, it provides the right mindset and philosophy for helping schools prevent the problem in the first place and for empowering all members of the school community to work together. Policymakers, administrators, teachers, parents, and students would all benefit from the knowledge contained in this book.”
- Jim Dillon, Author of No Place for Bullying (Corwin, 2012) and Director of the Center for Leadership and Bullying Prevention, Measurement Incorporated

“In a society that is grappling with the ramifications of the rapid pace of technological advancement, cyberbullying has emerged as a serious issue in education.  This book provides real-life scenarios, timely data, and best practices to help school leaders protect the children and adolescents in their schools.  All educators will find these resources useful in detecting and preventing cyberbullying and ensuring the safety of students.”
-Gail Connelly, Executive Director,
National Association of Elementary School Principals

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2015). Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying (2nd edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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Cyberbullying Report Card

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on October 8, 2014

By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin

Use this Cyberbullying Report Card to assess school activities, policies, and procedures to prevent and respond to cyberbullying.

From: Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2015). Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications (978-1483349930).

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Cyberbullying Incident Tracking Form

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin

Use this Cyberbullying Incident Tracking Form to document incidents that occur at school.

From: Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2015). Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying (2nd Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications (978-1483349930).

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Empower Bystanders to Improve School Climate

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on July 18, 2014

used under created commons courtesy of Saad FaruqueAs technology has allowed bullies to expand the reach and scope of their torment to an ever broader audience, it has also allowed for increasing numbers of others to see and potentially respond. Cruel posts on Facebook or humiliating pictures sent via a cell phone can be viewed by countless individuals, and the question becomes, what does a teen do when he or she sees such behaviors? In our research, we have found that 42 percent of students had witnessed other people being cyberbullied. We suspect this number is a bit lower than expected due to the wording of the question, which reads as though we were interested in experiences that were synchronous: that is, that they saw the cyberbullying as it was happening. In assemblies at schools, we regularly ask students to indicate by a show of hands if they “have seen cyberbullying.” Usually most of the hands go up.

Since adults cannot be everywhere to witness every adolescent problem (especially those that occur online), we should equip youth with the tools necessary to take some action. In fact it is likely that students will see or hear about these problems before adults. So what should teens do if they see technology being used in a harmful way? Well, that depends on a lot of factors, including the nature of the incident, the relationships involved, their expectation of future harassment or violence, and their interpersonal skills. We certainly do not want to put more youth at risk by pressuring them to actively intervene in situations that might not be safe (e.g., standing up to a physically aggressive bully), but we should give students guidance about what they can do. Minimally, it would be helpful for bystanders to carefully document what happened and then take the details to an adult they trust will respond appropriately. A bystander might also take the target aside to tell her that what happened was not cool and he is there and available to help make the problem go away. A student could also organize her friends to condemn the behavior without doing anything directly.

Sometimes it can be difficult for students to stand up to a bully, especially if the person doing the bullying is a friend. One way to address this concern is to encourage students who are put in this situation to respond in a way that is supportive of their friend but not of the behavior. So if someone is laughing about an embarrassing picture or mean-spirited video, students can subtly express their disapproval by not laughing along. A concerned student could also try to change the subject or encourage the friend who is participating in the hurtful behavior to do something else (like download a new app to their phone or explore a new website that is becoming popular).

No doubt many teens are more than capable of intervening on behalf of the victimized — by helping the target, redirecting the bully, or informing an adult who can respond. The problem is that most students don’t tell adults about their experiences or those of other students. Researchers Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon found that less than 20 percent of students who “saw or heard rumor-spreading, exclusion, harassment based on religion, gender, race and sexual orientation or who witnessed kicking or other physically aggressive acts” told an adult about the experience. Our own research similarly has found that teens are reluctant to tell adults about their experiences with cyberbullying. And whose fault is that? If we are honest with ourselves, we know it is primarily ours. If adults consistently, appropriately, and effectively responded to bullying, cyberbullying, or any other adolescent problem behavior, youth would feel more comfortable coming to us with their concerns.

Encouraging students to stand up for one another can complement broader prevention and response efforts and will result in a better climate at school for a number of reasons. First, it reinforces the mind-set among students that they are all members of the same community where everyone is looking out for one another. How can a school claim to have a positive climate if incidents of harassment are ignored, dismissed, or trivialized by students? Second, there is a greater chance that school personnel will adequately address inappropriate behaviors if students who witness such behaviors are emboldened to take action. If students know that any participation in cyberbullying is likely to be met with disapproval from classmates and, ultimately, potential consequences from school administrators or parents, they will hopefully reconsider their involvement in these behaviors.

Finally, we shouldn’t assume that all students will have the skills necessary to move from “standing by” to “standing up.” Instead, we should provide them with opportunities to learn what to do in specific situations. Educators can also use role-playing to help students develop strategies or bring students together in small groups to brainstorm and talk about these and other appropriate response techniques for a variety of situations, before they arise, which can help empower students to do the right thing when the time comes. They can also take advantage of the skills, experiences, and knowledge of older students to educate the younger ones about these issues. Taking some time to equip students with effective response skills will pay dividends in the long run as educators work to prevent bullying and develop a positive school climate.

Adapted from School Climate 2.0: Preventing Cyberbullying and Sexting One Classroom at a Time

Image credit: Saad Faruque (Flickr – Creative Commons)

A Leader’s Guide to “Words Wound”

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on May 9, 2014

 

By Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja

Whether you teach in the classroom, lead a youth group, or work with teens in another setting, “Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral” can help you guide your young people as they learn about cyberbullying, consider their own attitudes and actions (and those of others), and think about ways to delete cyberbullying and make kindness go viral. This FREE leader’s guide can help you use Words Wound to inspire productive discussion, engage teens in reflection, explore useful strategies for dealing with online bullying, and work toward building a culture of greater kindness and respect.

Click here to download in .pdf format

Click here to get the Kindle version

Yik Yak

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on March 7, 2014

(Please see my December 2014 follow-up blog on Yik Yak here after reading this entry…)

yikyakThere is a new cell phone application that is gaining notoriety at the speed of light among some groups of teens (as well as their teachers and parents). In essence, Yik Yak is pretty much a location-based anonymous Twitter feed. The free app allows users to post anonymous comments that can be viewed by anyone who is within 5 miles of the person who posted it. Or at least the 500 who are the closest. When installing the app, the user gets a warning message stating that the app contains mature material and is therefore only appropriate for users 17 and older. But that hasn’t stopped high school students in some cities from signing up in droves.

One can easily see the attraction for students in using this app: they can post nameless comments that others in their immediate vicinity can see. As such, it is perfectly tailored for a school environment. Often the comments are mundane observations for their classmates about what is going on around them. But they could include harassing messages, answers to tests, sexually explicit comments, hate speech, or bomb threats. Schools in Chicago and elsewhere have sent letters home to parents, educating them about the app, and imploring them to see to it that it is removed from their child’s phone. I appreciate the steps these principals are taking to inform parents, but wonder whether the effort will really result in fewer students using it.

Alternative to Facebook?

Teens are hungry for an online environment where they can interact and communicate that is outside the prying eyes of parents. Facebook is still by far the most popular social media environment for teens, but they don’t seem to visit the site as frequently, or for as long, as they once did. One reason for that is the fact that most parents (and grandparents and aunts and uncles and teachers) are on Facebook and can therefore see much of what teens are posting. So they are looking for an alternative place to hang out and communicate without adults looking over their virtual shoulders. Yik Yak has apparently served that purpose for some.

We were first alerted to the app a couple of weeks ago when we received a report through our website encouraging us to investigate it: “The amount of hateful comments is basically every other comment. It is too much to even report. Cyberbullying is already a huge problem today and the last thing we need is an anonymous app that allows one to do that. Soon Facebook, twitter, and other social medias will be the least of our worries when it comes to cyberbullying and suicide.”

We get these kinds of reports frequently and often the new app that is mentioned disappears before it can gain national attention. Something was different with this app. In just the last week or so, quite a few people have contacted us with questions about how to protect themselves and their schools from its potential wrath. Because cell phone apps and online environments are constantly changing, however, we suggest that, instead of focusing on banning a specific site or particular piece of technology, parents and educators should work to instill good values in their children and students so that they choose not to use them in ways that cause harm. Attacking particular applications to stop cyberbullying is a lot like trying to win a decent prize at the carnival by playing that whack-a-mole game. The odds are stacked against you. The target always shifts.

It’s Probably Not As Bad As We Think

Before getting too worked up about this latest “threat,” it is important that we keep some perspective. First of all, Yik Yak’s reach is still extremely small with only a couple hundred thousand users (compared to over 30 million on another popular and fear-inducing app: Snapchat). Second, we know from more than a decade’s worth of research that most teens are not misusing technology or mistreating others while online. Snapchat, for example gained infamy about a year ago as the “sexting app” because the images taken and sent using the app seemed to disappear after 10 seconds. Most teens realize that even though the image may no longer be visible on the 5-inch screen in front of them, it doesn’t mean it is really completely gone (despite implicit promises from the app itself). The vast majority of teens use Snapchat to send goofy, yet mostly harmless, selfie pictures to their friends and even though some will misuse it, they are in the minority.

The same is likely true for new apps like Yik Yak. Sure, the anonymous nature of the posts may embolden users to let down their guard and post things they normally wouldn’t say in a face-to-face interaction. But again, most teens are savvy enough at this point to realize that eventually it could come back around to them. In fact, there was already at least one example of a student being arrested for what was posted on the app. Moreover, unlike some sites and apps, it seems that the creators of Yik Yak are being responsive to the concerns of adults. According to the Chicago Tribune, company officials have agreed to disable the app in the Chicago area while schools attempt to get a handle on the significant problems created by it.

Time will tell whether Yik Yak will really catch on among teens (or the adults who were its original intended audience). One thing is for certain: this won’t be the last time we hear about an app that is creating problems among students in schools.

Restorative Group Conferencing and Sexting: Repairing Harm in Wright County

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on March 4, 2014

sexting_rjEditor’s note: This is a guest post written by Nancy Riestenberg, who works for the Minnesota Department of Education. In it, she discusses an innovative approach used to address the harm that results from sexting images that are distributed beyond the originally intended recipient.

Nancy Riestenberg
School Climate Specialist, Minnesota Department of Education

Three years ago, in a middle school in Wright County, Minnesota, students discovered sexually explicit pictures of a student on the cell phone of her boyfriend.  The students ran to the bathroom with the cell phone and sent the pictures on to eight other students.  By the time the adults in the school discovered them, many student cell phones had received the pictures. The administration asked the school resource officer from the Sheriff’s Office to investigate.  Potentially many students could be charged with sending or receiving sexually explicit pictures of a minor, a felony offense.  What was the County Attorney going to do?

Sexting is the act of sending sexually explicit messages or photos electronically, primarily thought cell phones.  If the photo is of a child under the age of 18, the photo could be considered child pornography.  Possession and dissemination of child pornography is a felony and could carry a sentence of one year or more in jail and a minimum $3000 fine or both.  Collateral consequences of a felony on a student’s record could include being barred from certain jobs, entering the military and being accepted to college or university.

As a result of this case, the Court Services Department, Sheriff’s Office, and the County Attorney Office collaborated with the school district to develop the process currently used to handle sexting cases in Wright County. The process uses community conferencing, diversion and charging based on facts of the cases. The Restorative Justice Agent works with the County Attorney, school resource officer and school administrator to determine the proper approach in each case.

Restorative group conferencing, like victim offender dialogues and circles are a face to face communication processed facilitated by a trained adult, which brings together the persons harmed, the person who did the harm and other affected parties to engage in dialogue about a specific offence or rule violation. The facilitator usually meets with or talks to participants prior to bringing everyone together, ‘so they will know what to expect’ in the conference. The Center for Restorative Justice & Peacemaking at the University of Minnesota describes process:

The focus of the encounter nearly always involves naming what happened, identifying its impact, and coming to some common understanding, often including reaching agreement as to how any resultant harm will be repaired. Use of these processes can take place at any point in the justice process, including pre-arrest, pre-court referral, pre-sentencing, or post-sentencing and even during incarceration.  (Umbreit, et. al, 2006).

In this incident, the decision was made to divert the case to the Wright County Restorative Justice Agent, who set up a restorative group conference to address and repair the harm. In addition to the students, parents of each student participated in the conference as well as the county attorney, the investigating officer, the school administrators and teachers—almost 40 people total.  Some parents were initially angry that their child was participating in the conference since they had not made the pictures, but just sent on what they had received.  It was the story of the girl who made the pictures that helped clarify the harm.  She thought the pictures were just between her and her boyfriend, but now, she was the one who would live with the consequence of the pictures being forever floating on the Internet.

The conference results in an agreement that is made thorough consensus and all participants sign it. In addition to a three day suspension that was imposed before the conference, the students agreed to apologies, to write a written report on the risks and dangers of sending or receiving child pornography and all agreed to immediately report to the school administration or the SRO any sexually explicit pictures they might receive in the future or believe are circulating. The parents agreed to more closely monitor their child’s cell phone and internet use. The school district and county probation agreed to develop a presentation for parents as well as one for all students in the district with age appropriate lessons on sexting, legal and school consequences, and cyber literacy. Everyone signed the agreement. The county attorney agreed to a stay of adjudication or dismissal of charges if the agreement terms were met.

This incident and terms of the conferencing agreement resulted in the development of a county-wide protocol for both prevention education and investigation of sexting incidents.

1.    County-wide, age appropriate education. Presentations on sexting, the law and its consequences are presented at the middle and high school levels.  Presenters include a county probation office, a school social worker, county social worker and the restorative justice agent. Some schools developed ad campaigns designed by the students to educate their peers and parents.  Presentations have also been made to parent groups.

2.    Policy regarding cell phones and investigations.  School policy regarding cell phones bans them in class; if a phone is found to have sexually explicit pictures on it, the Sherriff’s deputy takes the phone, conducts an investigating, and sends the investigation to the Sherriff’s office.  The pictures are captured as evidence.  The Deputy deletes the pictures.

3.    Diversion or charges.  The sergeant in charge of the juvenile and sexual predator unit recommends diversion or charges to the County Attorney. Diverted cases go to the Restorative Justice Agent for conferencing. A student is considered for diversion if he/she has no prior offenses, is not on probation, and if there are no extenuating circumstances. If a student receives an image and deletes it, the sheriff’s deputy will speak with the student and the parents, giving information on how to make cell phones more secure from such images.

Since the first case, there have been over 200 students involved in sexting investigations.  All but a few were handled through a diversion process and many of the diversions are conducted as a community conference. Brian Stoll, Wright County Probation Officer presented the following reasons why the process works:

  • It gives all those involved a chance to provide input, including school officials;
  • It allows the perpetrator/victim to accept responsibility, but also to acknowledge the harm they experienced; and
  • It holds individuals accountable without damaging his/her future.

In the three years that the educational and restorative program has been implemented, the seriousness of the cases, the number of youth involved in a case and number of referrals has gone down.  “In the early cases,” said Eric Leander, Sergeant in charge of the Juvenile and Sexual Predator Unit, “we saw a lot of graphic video and close ups of body parts.  Now, there are no videos and much less explicit pictures of the body.”

“Many of the cases now are between boyfriend and girlfriend, rather than the 10 to 15 person cases we started with,” reported Karen Determan, the Restorative Justice Agent, “and the images have not gone much past the two of them.” “Now students tell teachers or the SRO’s or administrators that they have seen or heard about sexting, so we get to stop the images before they get too far,” said Jeff Scherber, a middle school principal. “Students report even if they just heard about an image or if it has not happened in school.  And the parents have been great supporters of our work.  It used to be that parents would say, ‘my kid, my phone.’  We don’t hear that any more.  They support our policy.”

The goals of the process include educating both the juveniles and the parents, attempting to repair the harm done, help all participants to understand the collateral consequences of sexting, and to deter further incidents.  Most importantly, the process helps to keep juveniles out of the criminal justice system.

References:

Umbreit, M.S., Vos, B, and Coates, R.B. Restorative Justice Dialogue: Evidence-based Practice. Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, University of Minnesota, 2006.

Wright County Court Services, www.co.wright.mn.us. Michael J. MacMillan, Director mike.macmillan@co.wright.mn.us; Brian Stoll, Probation Officer, Brian.Stoll@co.wright.mn.us.