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ISSUES WITH JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL
Predators Lurking Online, Sought by Police; School Offers Group Therapy
Aired March 19, 2010 - 19:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, HOST (voice-over): Tonight, cops call him a cyber predator, who they believe stalked as many as 80 victims, some as many as 11. Today, ISSUES is hunting down cyber monsters and searching for solutions to these horrific crimes. It starts online. Sexual predators, desperate for underaged sex, luring young children away from their homes. Who are these dangerous perverts and how do we stop them? Tonight we`ll talk to an expert from the famous Perverted Justice organization as they go under cover to bust the sickos responsible.
And horrifying abuse. With the click of a mouse, cyber bullying spinning out of control. Hate-filled e-mails, texts and online messages pushing some young children to suicide. Tonight we`ll talk to the mother of a young girl who committed suicide after being bullied online.
Plus teaching tolerance. Young children not even safe in the classroom, bullies and bigots harassing our kids just because they`re different. Tonight we`ll talk radical new solutions. Should there be group therapy in public schools?
ISSUES starts now.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tonight an accused sicko cyber predator accused of kidnapping an underaged girl so he could rape her. Prosecutors say the 32- year-old perv from California, Joshua Threlkeld, used MySpace to lure his alleged victim and other young girls into sending him naked photos. Investigators say the sick scammer contacted at least 80 victims between the ages of 11 and 17.
His alleged M.O.? He posed as a 13-year-old girl calling himself Sarah, who said she worked for a male photographer who photographed models. Get the picture?
What`s: more this guy`s victims were not just in the U.S. He hit Canada. He hit England. Tonight he is in the slammer, and he could be charged with a whopping 149 counts when investigators get through with him.
But what about these young girls from all over the world? Why did they fall prey? What do parents watching right now need to know to prevent this from happening to their precious daughters or sons? Let`s face it: any child can be a target.
One of the more depraved cyber predators we will cover tonight, Ray Caniff (ph), who called himself Dr. Evil. Dr. Evil nabbed after trying to seduce a 13-year-old girl online. Turns out that girl was an undercover cop. We will talk to somebody from that very task force who set up that sting.
Meantime, one of the scariest hallmarks of the cyber predator crisis, cops say the creeps often come disguised as the friendly, law-abiding citizen. Exhibit A, cops say, Scott Ritter, the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, who was reportedly charged in a sex sting back in 2001.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AARON BROWN, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: Did you ever go into an Internet chatroom looking for teenaged girls to have a sexual encounter of any sort with? How about that?
SCOTT RITTER, FORMER CHIEF U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Aaron, I will respond the same way, this way until Sunday. I was arrested in June 2001, charged with a class B misdemeanor. I stood before a judge, and the case was dismissed. The file was sealed, and I certainly wish you and everyone else would respect that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: As Ritter said, that case was dismissed. But then just last month, Ritter was arrested again after cops say he masturbated in front of a Web cam, chatting online with an undercover cop posing as a 15- year-old girl.
We have a national crisis, people. We`ve got to deal with it.
Let`s go straight out to my expert panel: Judge Greg Mathis, host of his own wildly-successful, syndicated show, "Judge Mathis"; Parry Aftab, Internet privacy and security lawyer and executive director of WiredSafety.org"; and Sergeant Terry Wright from the Bedford County, Virginia, Sheriff`s Department. They created Southern Virginia Internet Crimes against Children Traffic Force.
And also on the phone, Xavier Von Erck, a legendary figure, director of operations at Perverted Justice.
Let`s start with you, Sergeant. Your task force nabbed Dr. Evil. How did you do it? How do you catch these guys at their own game on the Internet?
SGT. TERRY WRIGHT, BEDFORD COUNTY, VIRGINIA, SHERIFF`S DEPARTMENT: Well, we go online and go to any of the chat rooms or anywhere on the Internet where children go to communicate with each other through social net working sites, instant messaging or what have you. Even online gaming these days are avenues for the children to interact with each other and communicate with one another.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Listen, Parry Aftab, you`re the executive director of WiredSafety.org. Here`s what I`ve heard from the experts.
They say in these chat rooms, when an undercover sting operation begins and an undercover cop goes on and pretends to be a 13-year-old girl, the males come in like sharks that have just seen blood in the water. They`re saying it`s that intense when an undercover cop pretends to be a 13-year-old girl. Instantly, people, males start converging on that chatter.
PARRY AFTAB, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WIREDSAFETY.ORG: That`s true and it`s not just girls. About a third of the cases involve boys as victims, as well, Jane.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Jeez, this is control. And it brings to me to tonight`s big issue. Perverted patterns. It seems all of these creeps have an M.O. when they target kids. Prosecutors say at least 80 girls fell for Joshua Threlkeld, 16 (ph). He allegedly posed on MySpace as a 13-year- old model, convincing girls, "Hey, come over to my house or hotel for a nude photo shoot."
Worst of all, cops say he sexually assaulted one of them, and cops fear there may be more rape victims.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me go to Xavier Von Erck. And again, you are the director of operations for Perverted Justice, and you are a legendary figure, because you have caught so many of these creeps over the years. What are the red flags that can indicate an e-mail is from a predator?
XAVIER VON ERCK, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, PERVERTED JUSTICE (via phone): Well, the red flags is any kind of situation where your teen or your preteen is being contacted online is that you have an older person or just a person who`s incredibly too interested in your child. It doesn`t matter if they`re 30 or if they say they`re 13. If somebody is really interested in fishing for personal information, that should pull-up every red flag in your book.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, let me just say this. I get these crazy solicitations as we all do for money. And there`s always like a hallmark. First of all they use things like "sir or madam," and then they always talk about some crazy island somewhere in the Caribbean, like, I don`t know. There`s certain patterns, as soon as I see these -- they usually refer to money in pounds, not in U.S. dollars. I immediately delete them and realize that this is from some scammer trying to get me involved in some pyramid scheme.
Are there hallmarks, anybody on our panel, that would indicate to someone who`s surfing the Web "I`m dealing with a predator" as opposed to a 13-year-old girl named Sarah?
AFTAB: Yes, Jane, there are hallmarks. There are ten different categories of sexual predator ploys, and they appeal to different kids. And it will use one of those.
In this case you could be a model. They may offer you gifts. They may offer you something that you wouldn`t have on your own. You have to track those. And sometimes the kids know they`re talking to an adult; sometimes they don`t. We need to recognize that there are two major categories, but all of our kids are potential victims.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: But what do the parents do? I mean, this is what I don`t understand. I personally am not a parent myself, and when I cover stories like this, I kind of breathe a sigh of relief, because you know, especially with teenagers, they don`t want you just looking over their shoulders at everything they`re typing. They really resent it. The whole -- the whole development that occurs in puberty is that they want their privacy. They want to individuate. They want to say that they`re different from you, Mom and Dad. Leave me alone, shut the door, privacy sign.
How are you supposed to get in there, Parry, and figure out that -- that they`re communicating with a predator and stop it?
AFTAB: Well, if your kids are at risk and we know who they are, we need to really have that communication with them, keep an eye on it, and make sure that they`re not online all the time. Take their cell phone, stick it in your drawer at night. And keep an eye on what they`re doing online and offline.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: How do you do that? I mean, listen, if I have the passwords to somebody`s Yahoo! account or their Gmail, when they`re at school, I could go on there and figure it out. Are you suggesting demand the passwords for your kids` e-mail accounts so that you can see what they`re doing?
AFTAB: If they`re under a certain age, absolutely. And there`s software that you can get for a cell phone or the computer that will get it for you and let you know who`s talking to your kids and who they`re talking to. There`s even a new product that Taser came out with that will do that on a cell phone, capture all of the communications.
But you only need that if you think your kids are at risk. Most of the time it`s common sense, letting them know what to be careful about, and letting and eye on what they`re doing.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Next, more on the dangers of online predators. Every parent needs to get this information.
And a vicious online trick drives a teenager to take her own life. Listen up parents. Her heartbroken mother will be here to tell us what we need to know about cyber bullies.
But first, Judge Greg Mathis tries to shake up some criminals. How he`s using his own troubled past to turn prisoners into princes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREG MATHIS, "JUDGE MATHIS SHOW": I want to remind you all that`s what you`re doing to your families. You`re embarrassing. You`re embarrassing your mothers. You`re hurting your mothers. You`re embarrassing her in the neighborhood. You`re embarrassing her in the church. They`re talking behind her back like a dog.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: It`s a crisis of national magnitude, predators using the Internet to stalk our kids and lure them into sexual encounters.
Police say Joshua Threlkeld kidnapped an underaged girl so he could rape her. This alleged creep supposedly contacted 80 -- 80 -- different children on two continents.
Then there`s the self-proclaimed Dr. Evil, caught in a sex sting when he thought he was going to hook up with a 13-year-old girl. That girl turned out to be a cop.
Joining me now, along with the rest of my panel, Dr. Charles Sophy, the on-call psychiatrist on the show "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" and the author of this fantastic new book, "Side by Side."
Dr. Sophy, we`re talking cyber predators, but really, aren`t they just predators who happen to use the Internet? And does the Internet, the anonymity of the Internet make them even more brazen than they would be otherwise?
CHARLES SOPHY, PSYCHIATRIST: Oh, absolutely. This is a place where you can hide. You can be sneaky. You can be dirty. Nobody catches you, they think. It`s not a safe place. And parents need to understand they`re in a whole other world. And they`ve got to start watching their children, know where they`re at, know what they`re doing, because they`re out there all alone. And those people are out for blood.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, how do you approach a child? These are teenaged girls often. You know teenagers love their privacy. They don`t want to be treated like little children. So how does a parent approach the child when they see them typing on the Internet, and they`re afraid, "Oh, my God, who are you communicating with on that chatroom?" How do you approach effectively, Doctor, so the child doesn`t just say, "Shut up, leave me alone" and slam the door?
SOPHY: Right. Well, to do it effectively, I would hope that you were doing it a long time before now. It`s a process you have to build on.
However, if you get to a place now where you`re in this -- in this fear zone that you don`t know what they`re typing, you`re afraid to ask, you don`t want to be shut down and them cut you off, then you have to understand that it has to be a collaborative, respectful conversation.
You`re going to get it all done at the first discussion. You`re going to be able to say, "Hey, I want to talk about this. I want to feel more comfortable. Help me." Let them work with you. And trust your child a little bit. Give them a little bit of rope and see what they do with it. And that will tell you what your next step should be.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: But this apparently is really not what Parry Aftab of WiredSafety.org suggests. Parry, you seem to suggest use subterfuge if necessary. Get in there. Get the passwords. Check your child`s e-mail, which is equivalent to opening up somebody`s mail. So I see two divergent suggestions here.
AFTAB: We`re not divergent at all, Jane. I was talking about at-risk teens, teens you know are running away, engaging in this behavior. You have to do what it takes to protect them.
But I absolutely agree that you have to start early to start with values and the best filters, the ones between our kids` ears. Teaching them what to do, how to do it, and making sure they come to you when things go wrong.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: How do we know who the bad guys are? You know, way too often, these are trusted people in power.
Let`s take accused pedophile Scott Ritter. He used to be the chief U.N. weapons inspector, for goodness sakes. He became famous as an outspoken critic of the Iraq war. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RITTER: I mean, there`s two aspects here. One is the human aspect. I think anybody who holds claim to being a human would say it hurts to -- to have people come at you that way, especially if you know what you`re doing is right, fact-based, and you`re doing it for the right reasons.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Ritter was busted in a sex sting last month. He allegedly masturbated in front of a Web cam while chatting online with a person he thought was a 15-year-old girl but who was really a cop. This is the Scott Ritter we now know.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m wondering if we can talk to you about some charges that have been alleged against you.
RITTER: I`m sorry, no comment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there any statement you`d like to make at all?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: So Ritter remains free on bail. He has not been convicted of anything. We have to point that out. He and his attorney have an open invitation to appear on this show and tell their side of the story.
That said, Judge Greg Mathis, does Ritter epitomize the dilemma of trying to figure out who`s really a predator and who`s the good neighbor next door?
MATHIS: Yes, absolutely. You know, one of the things we`ve seen in this case is him masturbating on camera or by Web cam and showing young ladies. And when you have a guy like that who`s already been charged in the past, I think, for one, he should have a significant bond and make it tough to release him.
No. 2, I think it needs to be known that he was at least charged in the past. I know someone -- some are going to say it`s unconstitutional to allow people`s charges or arrests to be known without a conviction, but I think we`re getting into desperate areas and particularly a repeat arrest.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, there are so many sicko predators out there, and yet, it often seems prosecutors waste their time and taxpayer dollars on totally ridiculous cases.
Here`s a perfect example of their misplaced priorities: the prosecution of sexting teens. A 12-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl in Indiana are accused of sexting each other. That means they sent each other sexy photos and/or sexy messages via their cell phone. Get this: both of these kids could be charged with child exploitation and possession of child porn. They`re 12 and 13. How absurd is that?
Xavier Von Erck, I mean, really, is that what we should be focusing on now?
VON ERCK: Not on prosecution in that kind of situation, because they`re taking a horrible risk with their, you know -- their safety, but you shouldn`t put them in jail over it. You shouldn`t charge them.
We do need to focus away from things such as that and on the fact that there are so many of these guys. There`s not just one Scott Ritter here or another guy there.
The most -- the biggest profession that hits on us when we go out and do our undercover stings, are sadly, people who have positions of power over children: teachers, coaches, people who run daycare centers. And that`s really what people need to be made aware of, not so much, you know, stuff like a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old having -- sexting.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: One of the reasons that the sexting problem is a problem -- and kids admit, almost half of them who have been surveyed admit they`d either sent or posted or received these sexual images -- is that once the images are out on the Internet, they could get out anywhere. They could go viral. Next thing you know, you could have adult pervs trading these things. So that`s why it`s really so scary.
Dr. Charles Sophy, though, the answer is not locking the kids up.
SOPHY: No, it is not locking the kids up. It is educating parents and giving them the power to not be afraid of their children. Turn their cell phones up, find out their URL addresses. You have the authority, and you have the ability and the right to know. Your children are not the adults. You are. Set that standard straight from the beginning, and the earlier the better.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: All right. Hang in, fantastic panel. We`re covering this story every parent needs to see.
And it`s a young girl bullied to death. How can you protect your precious child from online bullies that kill?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Teen girls beating each other up after accusations of trash talking, a feud that started on MySpace and ended in fisticuffs. Adults allegedly on the sidelines as two other teens go to blows while a minor does the camerawork. This video ended up on YouTube.
Then there`s the grizzly killing of a high school junior in Chicago. This was caught on tape. The young victim was just passing by a community center when he was swept up in this violent melee and hit with a two by four.
Young men engaging in gang rape. The headlines grow more horrifying by the day.
We are in a crisis. It is time to talk about radical new solutions. How about resolving conflicts and short-circuiting hostility before it happens? What a concept.
The Harvey Milk School at the Hetrick-Martin Institute has a radical solution of its own. The school is specifically geared to gay, bisexual and transgender kids. They get group therapy, because the school figures, hey, they need it. Well, in my opinion, we all need it. There should be group therapy in all public schools to teach all kids how to deal with their feelings, how to resolve conflicts without violence.
Joining me now is Thomas Krever, executive director of the Hetrick- Martin Institute, home of the Harvey Milk High School.
Tom, thanks for joining us. How does the group therapy work at your school? Describe it as best as you can.
THOMAS KREVER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HETRICK-MARTIN INSTITUTE: Well, it`s good to be here. Thank you for the opportunity.
So basically, it`s done in a really incredibly supportive and safe environment. Our first premise, the cornerstone upon which all things rest, is that Harvey Milk High School is a safe place where young people, regardless of sexual identity or gender orientation, can receive an education free of bullyism, victimization, and harassment.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: How does the group therapy work? Kids in a circle?
KREVER: Exactly. So young people work in a -- walk into the room. It`s literally a circle. It`s facilitated by a trained professional who is steeped, well-steeped in our curriculum. Usually, it`s a counselor, someone who has mental-health background. Professional development is incredibly important, because you want the adult in the room to be able to navigate and mitigate whatever may come up.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: OK. Do you want proof that kids desperately need this kind of thing? Look no further than Michael Brewer. Three boys charged with drenching the 15-year-old with rubbing alcohol, setting him on fire. Michael faces an agonizing, lifelong recovery from the burns. It started over a $40 dispute over a video game.
Then there`s the hideous murder of 16-year-old Derrion Albert, stomped, pummeled to death in Chicago in broad daylight. An angry mob attacked him.
You know, if these kids that are suspects in these cases had been going to group therapy from elementary school to middle school to high school, I personally don`t think these crimes would have ever happened. What are your thoughts? What does group therapy give the kids?
KREVER: Well, what it really does is it allows them a vehicle or a venue to really observe healthy, positive relationships and understand what their role is in contributing or being a part of a positive.
They constantly are barraged by negative messages and many of them, of our young people today, are involved in negative peer groups and not supported. How often do we have the opportunity to talk about what is a healthy relationship?
And so, at Harvey Milk High School, or Hetrick-Martin Institute, they are able to really examine, what are the behaviors that make you feel safe, that let you know you`re in a loving relationship? And most importantly, how to take those relationships and replicate them in their lives.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Hang in there. Thank you so much. We`re going to continue to hear from you. Coming up, a side of famous Judge Greg Mathis you have never seen. Did you know he once did time?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Horrifying abuse: with a click of a mouse, cyber-bullying spinning out of control; hate-filled e-mails, texts and online messages, pushing some young children to suicide. Tonight, we`ll talk to the mother of a young girl who committed suicide after being bullied online.
Our nation is in crisis. Children are in danger. There`s an epidemic of kids falling prey to violent sex offenders and young people resorting to unimaginable violence as a solution to their little problems.
Teen girls beating each other up after accusations of trash talking. A feud that started on MySpace and ended up -- hey, look at that -- fisticuffs. Look at that.
Adults allegedly on the sidelines as two other teens go to blows while a minor does the camera work. This video ended up on YouTube.
The grisly -- and I mean grisly -- killing of a high school junior in Chicago caught on tape; the young victim just passing by a community center when he was pummeled with a two by four by an out-of- control mob of young people.
What the heck is going on?
Who better to weigh in than the one and only Judge Greg Mathis? He is the host of the wildly successful syndicated judge show named after him.
But few people realize that Judge Mathis was once a convicted criminal who did hard time. Now Judge Mathis is determined to break the cycle to keep other young men out of prison.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDGE GREG MATHIS, HOST, "JUDGE MATHIS SHOW": When I came off the street, when I came out of jail, got my GED, went to college, et cetera, I used that same courage when the roadblocks came in my way. I didn`t punk out, go back to the hood.
Ok, I`m strong in the hood. I`ve got courage there; I`m going to be strong out here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judge Mathis here for an ISSUES exclusive to talk about his PEER Prison initiative; that stands for Prisoner Empowerment, Education and Respect.
Judge Mathis, you are an inspiration to me. You went from prison to an equivalency diploma, to a bachelor`s degree to a law degree and finally a seat on the bench, not to mention your own TV show. Wow.
But what was the lowest low that you ever went through? Why were you in jail and how did you turn it around?
MATHIS: Well, at age 17, I was tried as an adult for carrying a gun and marijuana on me. And I spent nine months in jail awaiting the sentence and the trial. I pled guilty to a lesser charge and the judge gave me a second chance after having served nine months
My mother came to visit me there and told me how I had humiliated her all these years and she was sickened with cancer at time. And that encouraged me to change my life.
So that was the life I led but thank God I was able to overcome it. And now I try and use myself as an example to so many others to let them know they can overcome it as well.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: God bless you for that.
This past December, Judge Mathis spoke to a group of inmates in Wayne County, Michigan. Listen to what he told the prisoners about what turned his life around.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATHIS: My mother came. She would never come -- I had been in juvenile several times. This time I was tried as an adult at age 17 -- tried and convicted as an adult. While I was in jail, she came and visited and told me how she had just been diagnosed with cancer. They only gave her 6 to 12 months to live.
Reminded me how I had -- and this is what you all are doing, too -- how I had embarrassed her all of my life. How I had embarrassed her in the neighborhood, in the schools, in church. She said, "You`ve embarrassed me and now I`m going to die."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judge Mathis, here`s what I see. I see a lot of these kids are fast-tracked into the criminal justice system. They go to bad schools. They`re marginally educated, functionally illiterate in some cases. Of course they can`t get a good job.
So they end up doing something wrong and then once they are in the prison system, they have a scarlet letter and they can really never get out of it, never get a good job. And meanwhile, we`re turning them into hardened criminals because that`s what these prisons are, criminal factories. I think that the whole system needs to be completely revamped top to bottom. What do you say?
MATHIS: You hit it right on the head. You know, 80 percent of those in prison have no GED, no high school diploma.
And then we see the revolving door. There`s nearly 70 percent recidivism rate. Those who go to prison come out and within 18 months, 70 percent of them are back in prison because they`re not rehabilitated or trained.
And so when they come out, as you say, they have no skill, they have no real opportunity. So they go right back into the life of crime. It costs taxpayers more. And we are more at jeopardy.
You know, I propose that we invest more on the up front in education, and on the backside in rehabilitation than we do just on punishment. Because if we require as the judge required I did before I come off probation, I had to have a GED and be in either a skilled trade programs or in college.
If we required that of every prisoner before he is released, have some type of skill trade or have some type of education that allow you to be work ready, then I think we can go a long way. Otherwise, we are hurting our state budgets. As you see they cut education and they increased incarceration budgets.
Right now, the Obama administration just proposed an increase of $500 million in the prison budget. And we see state by state the education budget is being reduced as a result of the financial crisis but we don`t see the prison budgets being reduced.
We need to invest more in education over incarceration --
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Let me tell you something Judge Mathis. I have come to the conclusion that the prison industrial complex is a big money- making machine.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I`ve talked to people who are visiting relatives and friends in prison and they say every time they make a phone call, somebody gets the money. Every time they send a gift, somebody gets a cut.
This is a self- perpetuating institution that wants to grow larger. It has taken on a life of its own.
You are absolutely right. What the heck are we doing, pouring all the money into the prison system, when we could be taking that money and preventing criminals by establishing things like better charter schools and vocational education which has gone totally out the window in this country.
In Europe, people have an opportunity to become excellent carpenters, excellent electricians, excellent massage therapists. Not everybody in the world has to be a doctor and a lawyer. Not everybody is as smart as you and able to make the change. We have to be giving some of these kids some other options.
MATHIS: Yes. You mentioned the privatization or you mentioned the money-making in the prison system. They`re now privatizing prisons where many of them are paying prisoners $1 a day to make products that are sold on the open market.
MATHIS: They`re throwing unionized families out of work on the inside for slave labor -- from the outside they`re throwing unionized families out of work for slave labor on the inside, making money off those they fail to educate properly.
You have guns going in, education going out, jobs going out. Death going in to the inner cities of America and we need to change the paradigm.
And it`s more cost efficient. Jane, those nine months I spent in jail, I`m told it cost $50,000 taxpayer money. Six months later, when I was admitted to a major university under an affirmative action program, I had no -- my mother had passed. I had no father in my life. I had to rely on taxpayer grants and loans to go through college.
Well, it cost $6,000 per year. Four years $24,000 for a degree - - $24,000 for four-year degree -- half of the amount it cost to house me in prison for nine months. Nine months, $50,000 in jail. Four years, $24,000 for a degree. I think it`s more cost efficient.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: You and I are on the same page. Everything needs to change; the educational system, the criminal justice system. We`ve got to put our money into prevention as opposed to just punishment.
These are kids, a lot of them haven`t done anything violent, but they become violent once they go into jail.
Judge, I want to work with you on this. America needs to change the entire thing. It really has to change.
Thank you so much for joining us -- because lives are at stake.
MATHIS: Thank you.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: People who are afraid about being victims of crime, think about this, because we are creating criminals with this prison system that we have. And I hope that the politicians are listening.
A heart broken mom offers advice. Her daughter committed suicide after being harassed online. What can you do to protect your child from threats on the computer? Next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TINA MEIER, DAUGHTER COMMITTED SUICIDE: Megan`s death is not going to be in vain. I have decided that either I can do two things. I can, one, I can be sad every single day of my life, which regardless I`m going to miss her and I can sit in the house and do nothing. Or I can take the positives and I can try to make the changes and that`s what we`re going to do.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: The vicious bullying that used to be contained in the classrooms and playgrounds is now online and it is out of control. That became painfully clear when 13-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide. This beautiful young girl was distraught after a boy she met online called her a liar, a fat whore and even worse.
The most shocking part of the story that boy was really the mom of Megan`s classmate. Forty-eight-year-old Laurie Drew initially admitted that she has created a fake MySpace profile of a boy named Josh. She and her daughter took the trick even further, convincing Megan that this fictitious boy liked her.
After a few weeks Josh started insulting Megan online telling her he hated her. It pushed Megan to the edge.
Every parent needs to learn from this tragedy. Any child can be targeted.
Meanwhile, a 15-year-old high school student commits suicide after an onslaught of cyber-bullying by fellow students. Phoebe Prince reportedly had an argument with other girls over who she was dating. We`ll have more on her very tragic story coming up.
I want to welcome back my fantastic panel, also joining me on the phone Tina Meier, Megan`s mom.
Tina, we have so much compassion for what you have gone through with this horrific tragedy. What do you want people out there, parents who are watching tonight to learn from your tragic experience?
MEIER (via telephone): I think the number one thing I want parents to understand is it can happen to any child anywhere, anytime. Even if they have a child that does not show any signs of depression or does not have ADD or ADHD, any child that is getting cyber-bullied and they have repeated, constant text messages, constant rumors being spread about them absolutely can be overwhelmed in a moment`s time.
And a lot of parents think that their kids are fine, they can handle it. You really, absolutely must have an open communication with your child and know what they`re doing, know what`s on their cell phone, know what`s on the Internet. Know who their friends are on the Internet. And I think absolutely stay in touch with the child because they are growing up so fast on the Internet today that we can`t keep up with it.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, I have to mention in this case which is a very complex case, because there was the mother involved, there was her child and I believe there was a third individual involved.
Now, I understand last summer, a federal judge threw out Drew -- Laurie Drew`s conviction -- the mother`s conviction on charges of computer fraud for her role in creating the false account.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: What do you make of that -- Tina?
MEIER: Well, I think it`s absolutely disappointing. Because, you know, he certainly stated that -- he threw it out because he felt that anybody who gets on a social networking site and clicks the terms of service button, many people don`t put correct information down, putting their name down, they`ve put a different age down and he felt that it was unconstitutional to charge Laurie Drew -- he would have to charge everybody out there who put false information down.
I think that was a clear mistake on his part because cyber- bullying and putting down the wrong age or putting down a different name is completely different. And I think he missed the mark there.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. Well -- and this brings me to my big ISSUE. We`re talking about viral vengeance. Megan`s story is just heart- wrenching. It`s frustrating, it`s all too common.
As we mentioned Laurie Drew, the mom of Megan`s tormenter was tried in a federal court for violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. She was convicted but her conviction was overturned on appeal.
And we have a parent here who is essentially accused of joining in a sick conspiracy with her daughter and yet the law doesn`t seem to have caught up with this case. So essentially the mother that we just heard from here live who is joining us of this daughter who committed suicide doesn`t feel she`s gotten justice, Greg Mathis.
JUDGE GREG MATHIS, HOST, "JUDGE MATHIS": Yes, well let me say that I see where there could possibly have been a charge of involuntary manslaughter that could have been successful. And that that describes an action that is taken which is known to have been risky and she knew she was being risky by disguising who she was. And it led to the death of another.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tina Meier, have you sued or are you considering a lawsuit?
MEIER: No, we have not. And at this time, you know, we have gone through so much. It has been three and a half years and it has been a complete up and down struggle to get through this.
You know, what I finally decided was at the trial no matter what the outcome was, that if there was not going to be justice set that way, then I would use the foundation to go out and spread the awareness and education and move on forward in a positive note instead of going backwards. That --
VELEZ-MITCHELL: You know I have to applaud you for that. I really have to applaud you for that, because we have to start coming up with solutions and prevention.
The whole theme of tonight`s show is that we`re covering these horrific stories and we need to learn from them. And prevent them from happening again.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: And I really applaud you for having that attitude.
Now, I want to move on to another similar tragedy. This is the story of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince from South Hadley, Massachusetts. And maybe it`s Hadley, I don`t know -- this story has been described as a real life "Mean Girls".
Cops say she was the victim of an onslaught of cyber-bullying by a group of girls who used Facebook and text messages to torment her.
They apparently had an argument over a dating situation. The cops won`t give details.
The girls allegedly confronted Phoebe in person. Tragically, Phoebe, who had come from Ireland to experience America and was just enraptured with America became so despondent, she hanged herself two days before her winter cotillion.
And it gets even worst. Even after her death the so-called "Mean Girls" reportedly left insulting messages on a Facebook page created in her memory. Two students were suspended. More face possible discipline.
Thomas Krever (ph), executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute home of the Harvey Mill School, we were talking earlier about how do we stop this hostility?
You know, they say high school is the cruelest time of life because you`re entering puberty, you`re emotional, you`re feeling self- conscious, you`re feeling vulnerable and insecure and then you have these mean girls or mean kids who are -- seem to exist in every school. And yet, we do not teach kids with -- let`s say group therapy that`s available in your school.
How do you get in touch with their feelings because underneath the hostility of a bullier is usually depression and an anger. They`re sick too.
THOMAS KREVER, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HETRICK MARTIN INSTITUTE: That`s right. That`s absolutely right. And there`s nowhere for them to go with it. And so if there`s no positive outlet where young people can emote and under supervision responsibly with adults, they`re going to vent, as we see, they`re going to vent somewhere and often it`s negatively with drastic or dramatic repercussions.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes and with the group therapy they get to sit around and talk about their feelings. Why is that such a radical, crazy idea? Why is everybody so afraid of having kids, just like adults do in recovery programs, just like adults do in group therapy, sit around and talk about their feelings? Because if they could talk about their feelings they might not hit somebody over the head with a two by four.
We`ll have more --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEIER: As a mom, absolutely I think she needs to be punished for the charges. And if, you know, jail time, I absolutely that`s what I would like. I would like the maximum three years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: That was Tina Meier talking about throwing the book at her daughter`s tormentor.
We have to raise the question about the culture. Does Hollywood, for example, glorify teenage bitchiness? That`s really what it is.
Check out the movie "Mean Girls". Here is a clip from Paramount Pictures posted on YouTube.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, I remember this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I haven`t looked at that in forever.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Check it out, Katie. It`s our burn book. We cut out girls` pictures from the yearbook and then we wrote comments.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) is a gross little biatch.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Still true.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dawn (INAUDIBLE) is a fat virgin.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Still half true.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amber (INAUDIBLE), she made out with a hot dog.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Tina Meier, your daughter committed suicide after being cyber-bullied. Do you think the culture -- the Hollywood culture encourages the sense of there`s the tiny elite that get to terrorize everybody else?
MEIER: I don`t necessarily know if it`s Hollywood. Certainly I mean TV today, kids see so many more things than they ever used to, but it is -- honestly the girls are the most vicious. From going to schools across the United States, speaking to other students in middle school and high school, it is honestly, it`s the girls that are extremely vicious.
They want to get back at another girl, they will exclude them, they will spread rumors, they will do whatever it is. And if it`s over a boy, many of the times they will make sure that they make the other girl`s life miserable, in any way, whether it`s texting, whether it`s spreading rumors through the Facebook, whatever it may be, that`s what they`re set for.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. And this is -- sometimes, Parry Aftab, this goes tragic in another direction. I`ve talked to experts who say the gun is the great equalizer. And that a lot of the school shootings you have, kids had been tormented and they`re tormented and tormented and one day they wake up and they get daddy`s gun. They come in and say, "I`m not going to be tormented anymore." So this is a very sick situation.
Do you think the schools are doing all they can to get a handle on this, since basically the reason why they know each other, the commonality, is the school?
PARRY AFTAB, INTERNET PRIVACY & SECURITY LAWYER: Well, there are two problems. A, the U. S. Constitution which prohibits schools from dealing with what happens off school premises after hours and the schools just don`t know what to do.
So Wired Safety next month will be issuing $1 million free tool kit called the Stop Cyber Bullying School Kit for schools. Everything they need from start to finish, K through 12, parents, law enforcement, everything they need to deal with it and it`s totally free. We`ve been working on it for two years.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Judge Mathis, what do you think about group therapy in the schools?
I know when I was in school I would have had loved to have a safe place to sit down and talk about my feelings, talk about what was going on.
MATHIS: I think that`s absolutely necessary. I think you need the conflict resolution, which could be done in that setting. We need anger management. And, you know, the approach we see in schools now is a zero tolerance. So a person gets into a fight, the kids are kicked out, yet they go to another school and they get worse and worse.
They never get the treatment or the therapy that we`re talking about now. They never get to the root of the problem. They never find out how to resolve conflicts peacefully so we need that in the schools. I think you`re right on target, Jane.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: We`ve got to change how we deal with things. Go from punishment to prevention to save lives.
Thank you, fantastic panel.
You`re watching ISSUES on HLN.
KREVER: Thank you.