In the era of wireless communication, flirtation has taken on a new form. Sexting is the practice of sending sexually explicit text messages or images to a romantic interest. While it’s a fun form of communication for many adults in intimate relationships, the practice has made its way into the world’s schools, and now students are taking part in this risky practice.
While sexting definitely has its place in a mature relationship, once it crosses the borders of children and teenagers that are too young to know the extent of their actions, it becomes risky business. Sexting can lead to humiliating bullying if it gets out of hand, and once the content goes viral, there’s little that can be done to rein it in.
If the wrong person gets ahold of these messages or images, it’s incredibly easy for them to be shared and resent without the original senders knowledge. Before the victim knows it, what they thought was a private message has become public knowledge, and there’s no going back.
Sexting is something of a wild and indulgent behavior for adults, but in the hands of kids who are just navigating the complexities of romantic relationships, it can wreak havoc and cause them tremendous stress.
There have been two documented cases of sexting gone wrong in the US in which the victims of the harassment wound up taking their own lives.
Hope Witsell was a beautiful 13 year old girl who fell prey to bullying after images she had sent to a boy in school were shared. When she shared a photo of herself with her boyfriend at the time, a bully found the image on his phone, and immediately shared it elsewhere.
When Hope saw the photo had been posted online, she tried to contain the damage, but it was too late – the image was everywhere. There was taunting, endless teasing, online harassment, and goading from her peers. On September 12th, 2009, Hope hung herself from her bedroom canopy.
Her parents had sat down with the principle at one point to discuss the problem, but they had no idea the extent of which their daughter was hurting. During all of the bullying and teasing, Hope remained silent and endured it. The result was the loss of a girl who just wanted some peace.
The other case of sexting-fueled cyber bullying that ultimately led to the suicide of Jessica Logan was one that fueled some major legislation changes with the roles schools play in bullying prevention.
Like Hope, Jessica had sent nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend at the time. When they separated, he sent the pictures to other girls in their school, and they quickly went viral. After she began having the problems with the ramifications of the pictures, Jessica Logan actually went on a local Cincinnati news station anonymously to tell her story, and warn other girls of the risks of sexting.
Her hope was to share her experience with others, and let them know what could happen if the pictures made it into the wrong hands. Even as she faced the hardships from her classmates, she was trying to prevent it from happening to others.
Jessica’s mother started to realize something was going on when she began receiving letters from Jessica’s school that she had been skipping class. However, when she started driving her to school and it was still going on, her daughter told her that there was more to it, and that pictures were involved.
Ultimately the harassment of her classmates was too much for her. Two months after her interview, Jessica ended her own life.
In 2012, Governor Kasich of Ohio signed into law the Jessica Logan Act – a bill inspired by the teen’s heartbreaking story. This law is specifically designed to prevent cyber bullying, and ensure that school’s further enforce the policies that are already in place.
It’s an absolute tragedy that these girls lost their lives because of the cruelty of their classmates. As teens stumble into puberty and find their sexuality, sexting can be a tempting way to explore this new part of their lives.
However, if these stories show us anything, it’s the delicacy with which we have to teach our children to handle electronic communications. Even at the hands of an adult, sexting can be a risky practice, but in an environment where children are more lax about the security of their devices and data, it’s an even bigger risk that the information and photos won’t remain private.
If you haven’t talked to your kids about sexting and the dangers of it, it’s time to start now. This is an extremely common practice, and one that carries substantial risks for the senders. Educate them, share these stories with them, and ensure that the messages of children like Jessica are still heard.