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Thursday, June 17, 2021

Opinion

Another tragedy further highlights social media dangers for young Americans


A 14-year-old College Station girl recently said she was sexually assaulted by a Houston man whom she met via social media. Zachary Hocko, 28, took her to a College Station hotel, but when the girl stated she didn’t want to be there, he agreed to take her home. Once she was in his vehicle, he proceeded to take her to his apartment in Houston, which is where the alleged assault took place.

Social media can be a useful tool, but it comes with a heightened responsibility.

Young teenagers such as this girl are inadvertently putting themselves at risk each day simply because they have no way of knowing to whom they are talking. Lt. Chuck Fleeger of College Station Police Department said young people on social media “have to understand that there are those who will use these mediums to gain the trust and then victimize these individuals.”

Chris Scott of CAPS sheds light on the potential effects of this type of assault: “Regardless of age, those who have been the recipients of these sorts of traumatic experiences may develop either acute stress disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. Both disorders consist of a number of symptoms, including intrusive thoughts about the event, distressing dreams, intense psychological distress when encountering triggers to the event, difficulties experiencing positive emotions, avoidance behaviors and difficulties with sleep and concentration.”

The Internet is a dangerous place where the young and trusting are frequently preyed upon, and not enough preventative steps are being taken to protect girls like this assault victim. An arrest is of some comfort — Hocko has since been charged with aggravated kidnapping, sexual assault of a child and improper photography and visual recording — but there must be a viable way to prevent any child from suffering these atrocities and their potentially heinous, lifelong effects. Computers and the Internet have become essential in the classroom, so removing kids from these sites is a near impossibility.

Fleeger has another idea, though. He suggests that “we have to be honest with them and have those conversations about the potential pitfalls that there are so we can minimize the chance of victimization.” It’s easy for people to go through life with the attitude that nothing horrific will befall them. However, prevention is the only way to ensure that security.

Trust is an important quality in terms of human growth, but more important than that is the ability to use it well. The victim of this assault is recovering from her ordeal and in counseling. Hopefully, there will one day be a system in place for removing predators from the Internet, but until then, we must train younger generations to be extremely vigilant and judicious in regard to strangers.

Opinion columnist Katie Wian is an English junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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