Apr 3, 2007

Miss America: Nelson on LU campus to promote ICAC

by Tory Friedrich, News Reporter
Miss America 2007, Lauren Nelson made an appearance on Liberty’s campus after filming public service announcements promoting online safety for kids in Liberty’s broadcast studio. She was made an honorary deputy sheriff in Bedford County for her work with its Safe Surfin’ Foundation. The program is designed to help educate parents and children on online safety.

Nelson, who was crowned Miss America in January has a personal platform of online safety for children. To Nelson, this issue is much more than just a platform. She was approached by an online predator at the age of 13. Nelson was lucky and emerged from the incident without harm. However, many other children aren’t so lucky.

According to a 2001 JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) report, “19% of the youth interviewed experienced at least 1 sexual solicitation while using the Internet in the past year and 3% reported an aggressive solicitation. Only 10% of sexual solicitations were reported to the police, an Internet service provider, or other authority. Moreover, most parents (69%) and youth (76%) had not heard of places where they could report these episodes.”

The Bedford County Sheriffs Department is doing its part to put a stop to this. They have started two organizations, Blue Ridge Thunder and Safe Surfin’ that will help to educate children, parents, and teachers about how kids can stay safe online.

Sheriff Mike Brown met Nelson when they both attended “Project Safe Childhood” in Washington D.C. They met and began talking about their mutual interest in online safety for children. Nelson was very interested in the work Bedford County is doing and visited Bedford to learn more. The partnership was born and they are now working side by side to help promote online safety programs.

On March 22, Nelson was awarded the title of Honorary Deputy Sheriff and made an appearance on Liberty’s campus. A small reception was held in her honor. Dr. Falwell introduced Nelson to the faculty and guests in attendance and she spoke briefly about her involvement with the Sheriff’s department and the importance of online safety for kids.

Nelson has agreed to become the official spokesperson for the “Safe Surfin” Foundation. It is a non-profit organization that is run solely on fund-raisers and private donations. Their purpose is to teach children, parents, and teachers about online safety. Robin Sundquist, Executive Director of the Safe Surfin’ Foundation and Administrative Officer to the Sheriff expressed the growing safety problems that come with more and more young children chatting online.

 “When children are home and online, their parents think they are safe because they are in the family den or in their rooms. What parents don't realize is, there are strangers coming into their home without them ever knowing it. Children need to be educated on the dangers of revealing too much personal information about themselves and their families. Predators are out for one thing; that is to find, meet and assault an unsuspecting child,” she said.

 In July 2006, Virginia passed a law (House Bill 58) that made it mandatory for all public schools in Virginia, K-12 to teach Internet safety programs. After reviewing several educational programs, the Virginia Department of Education chose the program recommended by Safe Surfin’, “Netsmartz Internet Educational Program”, developed by the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, and the US Dept. of Justice. The Safe Surfin’ Foundation covered all the costs of distributing the program and provided every school system in Virginia with the educational program at no cost to the state of Virginia.

Their goal is to take the program nationwide. They have already been contacted by several states that are interested in the program. Sheriff Mike Brown explains how the idea for the program came about, "It became obvious that we were never going to catch every predator lurking online.  Our best defense is to educate the potential victims, our children."

They are doing just that through Public Service Announcements hosted by Lauren Nelson that will be distributed nationwide, as well as through safety pamphlets and speaking to organizations such as PTA’s. Safe Surfin’ is completely volunteer based and is made up of people donating their time and services.

To learn more about the Safe Surfin’ Foundation or to make a donation to the Foundation or to “Blue Ridge Thunder”, you can visit their websites at www.safesurfinUSA.org,  www.blueridgethunder.com and www.bedfordcountysheriff.org

Contact Victoria Friedrich at vlfriedrich@liberty.edu.

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