July 8, 2008

DVDs to Profile Teen Perils

By Oshrat Carmiel, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.

Jul. 5--The Bergen County Prosecutor's Office is spending $72,000 to write and produce two educational DVDs -- with original scripts, local scenery and area high school students as actors -- about the dangers of cyber bullying and sexual predators

The office plans to send copies to every high school in the county in the fall, and make them available for download nationally through the prosecutor's Web site.

The original productions, produced by a Montvale company, Chase Wilson, will be paid for by money from the agency's drug forfeiture fund, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said.

Chase Wilson was hired for the project in a no-bid contract. The company has done previous educational videos for Hackensack University Medical Center and the Prosecutor's Office, and the county freeholders hired the firm Wednesday to produce two more educational videos for the Prosecutor's Office at a total cost of $228,804.

The current videos, "The Web" and "Sticks and Stones," come in response to heavy demand for Internet safety information from the Prosecutor's Office, Molinelli said. A fact sheet on Web safety -- which includes such suggestions as keeping children's computers in public areas of the home rather than in their private bedrooms -- continues to get hundreds of hits, he said.

And community forums, sponsored by the prosecutor's computer crimes division, are also in demand. A recent forum drew 600 people, he said.

"It's been very taxing on our office to do, the demand got so great," Molinelli said.

To make the movies accurate, Lt. Andrew Donofrio, head of the computer crimes unit, helped producers with research, allowing them to glimpse the grittiest details of his work.

"We let them review some cases, videos of suspect interviews," Donofrio said.

Producers also read instant-message exchanges between members of the computer crimes unit, posing as children, and the Internet predators who tried to seduce them.

"The stuff you see on television on "To Catch a Predator" was Disney compared to this," said Rich D'Elia, a partner at Chase Wilson who co-wrote the videos.

"What I was reading was just so disturbing from these bad guys talking to who they thought were young girls or young boys," D'Elia said "I literally was upset enough that [afterward] I had to pull over to the side of the road and collect myself."

The scripts -- which have been shot at Park Ridge High School and the Court Street Bridge in Hackensack and will be shot next week at Garden State Plaza -- depict teens in various states of gullibility and vulnerability.

"The Web" features several girls who fatefully agree to meet an Internet suitor after hours at a darkened mall parking lot.

"Sticks and Stones" suggests that personal photos, posted online or shared with friends, can be manipulated, disseminated and used to harass long after school is out.

Its story line depicts an awkward teen who, in jest, sends a shirtless photo of himself to a friend's cellphone, only to find that the photo has been disseminated and mocked throughout the entire school.

"These kids are connected 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Donofrio said. "They're connected on their cellphone. They're connected on their computer."

And there's even a local example to prove it, he said, citing the case of seven freshmen at Pascack Valley High School who were suspended for distributing electronic images of nude middle school girls.

"Once they put something out on the Internet, a picture or otherwise, it's there forever," Molinelli said.


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