JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - The recent cases of teachers and students interacting on social media then engaging in sexual affairs has led some to argue that digital platforms make it easier for instructors to prey on children.
According to the group Grandchild, 85 percent of parents with children between the ages of 13 and 17 say their child has a personal social media page. The organization also says that 67 percent of teenagers surveyed hide their online activity from their parents.
Keeping online interactions a secret is what Jefferson Parish investigators say a 16-year-old Destrehan High School student was doing with former teacher Shelly Dufresne. She was found not guilty for her actions in Jefferson Parish, but her defense attorney admitted that the two were sexually involved in St. Charles Parish.
In court, the teen testified that the relationship began one day when Dufresne asked him for a kiss after class. Prosecutors said Dufresne then created an alternate Facebook account under the name, "Madison Mexicano" with a cover picture that said "I love Mexican boys."
"Social media makes it so easy. All you need to do is have somebody accept a friend request or get a phone number and you have lots of access to them," Metropolitan Center for Women and Children Executive Director Rebecca Rainey said.
She believes social media gives all types of sexual predators an avenue to prey on students.
According to a study by Drive West Communications, 35 percent of inappropriate relationships between students and teachers start on social media.
There are social and educational benefits when teachers and students interact on social media, but victim's advocates argue that parents must monitor those interactions.
"If you have somebody that is teaching you and coaching you, you should not be exchanging text messages with them. It's just not normal," Rainey said. "You have to think, 'If I was a teacher, would I ask my student for their number?' Probably not. So why is it ok for them to ask my kid for their number?"
"Although social media is changing the way relationships are being built and fostered, it's not to blame for all of society's ills," Social Media Consultant Tiffany Starnes said.
Starnes also believes the responsibility to monitor a child's online activity falls on parents. She argues that social media sheds more light on the issue of inappropriate relationships but does not necessarily create them.
"I think that there's responsibilities for schools and for teachers to understand boundaries and to really understand social networks and how they work and where those boundaries are," Starnes said.