The St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Office is speaking out amid a troubling increase in cases involving children. Namely, underage vaping and what deputies are referring to as 'sextortion.'
Sheriff Becket Breaux released a public service announcement in the form of a video posted to the SMPSO Facebook page Monday night. He noted that many vapes obtained by deputies have been found with traces of THC and even fentanyl in them, and no one under the age of 21 should be found with a vape or any other nicotine or tobacco product.
"The vaping is becoming a real issue, it's become a huge issue at the schools," said Ginny Higgins, public affairs commander for the sheriff's office. "Our concerns first and foremost is their health, you know, you've got kids very young, some as young as junior high who are vaping."
As for sextortion, deputies define it as a form of "cyber blackmail" where a child or teen may be encouraged to send explicit images or videos of themselves to a peer they trust.
"It gets to a point where kids send something because they are being threatened with exposure, they're being threatened with a person telling their parents, so we're asking parents to please have a conversation with your kids," said Higgins, citing apps like Snapchat and Instagram as platforms where this activity is often found. "I know it's an uncomfortable situation to have, some kids are uncomfortable with that conversation, but it's important that they do so we can prevent it from occurring."
However, deputies told KATC more cases are showing the aforementioned "peer" to be an adult posing as a child online.
"Find out who your kids are talking to, find out what your kids are doing on their tablets and phones," Higgins said. "The best way to prevent this is just don't send these pictures."
Both the sheriff and deputies want families, specifically, parents, to know they are here to help and are fully willing to open up an investigation into these crimes against children if necessary.
"Like I've said before, I'm a parent, I'm a grandparent, I have kids, I have grandkids," Sheriff Breaux said in the video posted to Facebook. "Let's take care of our children across this parish, let's work together to keep our children and our community safe."
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