Online dating
Mike Sullivan, deputy chief of investigations for the Illinois Attorney General, prepared his talk on online safety and cyber stalking during the 4th annual 11th Judicial Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Council at Illinois Wesleyan University's Memorial Center, Tuesday, October 5, 2010. (The Pantagraph, David Proeber) David Proeber

BLOOMINGTON -- Children and teenagers haven't changed much over the years.

But technology has advanced, noted Mike Sullivan of the Illinois Attorney General's Office. So, the nasty note or inappropriate photograph that five classmates might see a generation ago has morphed into the reputation-destroying Facebook posting that millions of people may view today.

Shock may lead to depression and suicide, said McLean County State's Attorney Bill Yoder.

Dating Safety & Technology was the theme of the 4th Annual 11th Judicial Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Council Conference on Tuesday at Illinois Wesleyan University's Memorial Center. The conference was among numerous events taking place throughout Bloomington-Normal in which people learned about dangers of abusive relationships and how to reduce their risks, said Kim Wells, executive director of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence.

Nearly three-fourths of people ages 12 through 29 use social networking sites, according to Pew Internet and the American Life Project. One in four teens in a relationship have been harassed by their partner through cell phones and texting and three in 10 have received nude messages on their cell or online, according to the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline Study and Liz Claiborne Inc.

Yoder told a story during the conference of a 15-year-old McLean County girl who became acquainted with a man on the Internet. He drove into town, they had sexual intercourse and he left. But the girl refused to describe the man to police because she insisted she was in love so Yoder's office couldn't prosecute.

"This is an example of the dangers occurring within the four walls of our homes," Yoder said of the couple "meeting" online.

Children and teens are impulsive and don't realize that what they post doesn't go away, Sullivan said. A naked photograph could turn up later when applying for work or running for public office.

"Do you want pictures out there of you doing something stupid during the weekend?" asked Molly Gomberg, president of the Illinois State University Student-Athlete Advisory Council.

"There are 500 million people on Facebook," Wells said. "They are not all your friends."


Staying cyber-safe

Tips to stay safe online:

• Keep your home computer in a public area. Be aware of with whom your children are communicating.

• Ask to see your child's social networking site. If a posting is not dangerous to the child, don't fight it. Tell your child the posting rule of thumb is "Don't put anything on your site that you wouldn't show your grandma."

• Don't share personal information online.

• When you get a "friend" request on Facebook, consider how well you know the person.

• Have cell phone use rules, including no cell phone use after bedtime.

• Know that personal conversations are best shared face-to-face.

SOURCES: Kim Wells, Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence; Bill Yoder, McLean County State's Attorney; Mike Sullivan, Illinois Attorney General's Office; Molly Gomberg and Keenan Wimbley, Illinois State University Student-Athlete Advisory Council; Jane Chamberlain, YWCA McLean County

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