Cyber SWAT

By Len Stevens, June 12, 2019

Psychology professor helps create school program to protect youth from online predators

For Dr. Janet Brown, it was a long and painful road that led her to Liberty University and the job she now holds and cherishes as a psychology professor in the School of Behavioral Sciences. And she credits one person with saving her from a lifetime of sorrow: Liberty University’s founder, Jerry Falwell Sr.

“There’s not a doubt in my mind that God picked me up and set me down outside Dr. Falwell’s office, and my life has not been the same since,” Brown said.

After tragedy left her depressed, listless, and barely able to get out of bed, it was Falwell who encouraged her to come work for him. A year earlier, on July 25, 1997, Matthew Brown, the only child of Janet and her husband, Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown, died in a car wreck two miles from their home. He was two months shy of his 18th birthday.

“He was the love of our life,” she said.

The job Dr. Falwell offered her, assisting with office work mostly, helped in so many ways, she said. It gave her a routine, a reason to leave the house. Eventually, it led to a Liberty education, a doctorate in psychology, and a teaching role at the university. All under the watchful eye of Dr. Falwell.

“He said, ‘Did you think you’d ever be a professor?’ and I said, ‘Doc, I never thought I’d go to college,’” Dr. Brown recalls.

Just as Brown began working at Liberty, her husband received a grant to start the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force — an effort to educate children and teens about the dangers associated with online technology. Awareness is crucial at a time when studies show that one in five children who regularly go online is approached by strangers for sex (Source: Crimes Against Children Research Center).

Brown, whose research interests include internet safety, cyberbullying, and social media behaviors, found that one of the most effective ways to reach young people is through their peers. She researched social cognitive theory (a means of education through which others observe and imitate peer behavior) and created the Cyber S.W.A.T. program, a joint initiative between the National White Collar Crime Center and the Safe Surfin’ Foundation (a community education program that operates out of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office). A pilot program for Cyber S.W.A.T. was launched at Jefferson Forest High School, a few miles from Liberty’s campus. There, team members receive training and design their own presentations to classmates about internet and social media threats. The group’s first project was a movie about the dangers of sexting.

“The principal told me the entire student body was riveted,” said Dr. Brown. “She told me that she thought it was so successful because it was kids talking to kids.”

Liberty’s Center for Research & Scholarship is supporting Brown as she takes time from the classroom to do her research and travel to more schools. As the project grows, Liberty students will have opportunities to join her in her research and implement programs at other locations.

Janet and Mike Brown are welcomed to the Global Security Network 2019 conference by Monsignor Sanchez, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences for the Vatican.

Cyber S.W.A.T. is already well on its way to being recognized as a program that can save lives. In April, Brown had the amazing opportunity to promote it when she spoke at the Global Security Network 2019 conference at the Vatican, attended by security agency leaders from around the world.

Now, the Browns are really thinking big.

“First, we were thinking that we’d like to see the Cyber S.W.A.T. program in every school in the United States. Now, we’re saying we’d like to see it in every school around the world, or as many as possible. Mike and I are convinced; we see God’s hand in this.”

Through a new partnership with the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), students taking approved courses at the center can translate those credits directly into undergraduate and graduate degrees in criminal justice, cybersecurity, and government with Liberty’s online programs. NW3C provides a nationwide support system for law enforcement and regulatory agencies tasked with the prevention, investigation, and prosecution of economic and high-tech crime.

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