Ihlenfeld brings Project Future program to Weir

WEIRTON – U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld continued his tour of Northern Panhandle high schools Tuesday, with a stop at Weir High where he met with student-athletes and their families to discuss dangers affiliated with drugs, social media and sex-related crimes.

In recent weeks, Ihlenfeld, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of West Virginia, has been visiting area high schools to present his Project Future Two-a-Days program. The program focuses on student-athletes, providing an inside look on the challenges and pressures faced by today’s teens.

Also part of the presentation Tuesday were Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Vogrin and Linda Reeves, executive director of the Upper Ohio Valley Sexual Assault Help Center.

“In the end, it’s all about decisions,” Ihlenfeld said.

Ihlenfeld focused on the dangers existing on the Internet and social media, saying the online world provides new avenues for bullying, peer pressure and criminal behavior that wasn’t available 20 years ago.

Citing recent local events and other national examples, he warned the students to think carefully about what they put online.

“Don’t assume anything you send out there is going to remain private,” he said, reminding the audience once something goes on the Internet, it will stay there.

Ihlenfeld noted statistics which said one out of five teenagers has sent nude pictures of themselves via smartphones or social media, but also informed students possessing and distributing such materials is a federal crime.

“These are felonies,” he said.

Reeves added to the presentation, by discussing aspects of sexual assaults and the programs her organization provides for victims.

“Rape is a crime,” she said. “How it’s defined in each state may be a little different, but it’s still a crime.”

She said any kind of unwanted sexual contact is included in such crimes, whether it is committed by a male or female.

She also warned against alcohol, drugs or other items which might incapacitate someone or otherwise alter their abilities to make decisions.

“Sexual assault among teens is much higher than most people realize,” she said, noting some of the highest numbers of sexual assault incidents are among those between the ages of 16 and 24.

Vogrin, meanwhile, discussed explained West Virginia has the second-highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation, saying the state’s location provides easy access for drug dealers, especially from areas such as Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cleveland and Chicago.

“We’re in a central location of all of these big cities,” Vogrin said.

Vogrin said Hancock County alone has seen a 700 percent increase in the number of drug overdose deaths in the last 10 years, going from zero in 2001 to 15 in 2010.

“It can happen to anyone at any time,” Vogrin said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen when you put these drugs in your body.”

Each presenter provided various real-life examples to back up their information, including discussions on local drug overdoses, comments made on social media by professional athletes and others.

The Project Future program was held at Oak Glen High last week. A presentation at Brooke High School is being scheduled.

(Howell can be contacted at chowell@weirtondailytimes.com, and followed via Twitter @CHowellWDT)