Friday, December 4, 2009

13 year old white girl, Hope Witsell, commits suicide due to be humiliated and degraded sexually after an image of her is sexted throughout her school

[portrait photo of Hope Witsell is from here]

Cara's post on her blog, Curvature, about this tragedy is what led me to the article about this latest teen suicide to make national news. Please see her commentary and analysis of the context and causes of this girl's death.

Questions abound and rage seeks to find a target. What or who is to blame, if anyone, for this tragic loss? Technology? A girl who sends a boy an image of her? The boy who, without her permission spreads it around school? The kids in school who then call her all manner of misogynistic names? Yes, and much more.

Let's first see how the story gets reported. I have modified any misogynistic terms as they don't appear fully written on this blog as a rule. This story, as Cara notes, could be triggering for many different reasons. It's about a suicide, bullying, sexual harassment, boys' sexual exploitation of a girl--the list goes on. I'll offer my own commentary and analysis along the way. What follows is from here, plus my comments added in bold.

RUSKIN — At the end of the school year at Beth Shields Middle School, the taunting became so bad that Hope Witsell's friends surrounded her between classes. They escorted her down hallways like human shields, fending off insults such as "wh*re" and "sl*t." [Why don't school systems have effective anti-sexual harassment policies and anti-bullying policies in place that would have stopped the abuse of a girl right then and there?] A few days before, Hope had forwarded a nude photo of herself to a boy she liked — a practice widely known as "sexting." The image found its way to other students, who forwarded it to their friends. Soon the nude photo was circulating through cell phones at Shields Middle and Lennard High School, according to multiple students at both schools. [This is just one of many strategies girls have picked up from boys about how to get attention, how to get noticed, how to be valued and sought after romantically or sexually. The old version of this is she'd have written him an explicit note and he'd photocopy it and pass it around school. Another older version was pornographic drawings of a girl being passed around by boys. Another is a story, often made up, by a boy about how he "scored" with some girl, and that story makes the rounds among boys who seem to want to have shared sexual experiences with each other without claiming to be in any way gay. Homosocial boy-bonding through the heterosexual abuse of a girl or woman and the pornographic sharing of stories is commonplace among heterosexual males. What makes this story unique is that the tormented girl and everyone else, had the latest teen-accessible technology for turning girls into pornography for boys, and that she took her own life.] "Tons of people talk about me behind my back and I hate it because they call me a whore!" Hope wrote in her journal. "And I can't be a whore i'm too inexperienced. So secretly TONS of people hate me … " [This would be the same reaction many girls have had over the decades when boys spread rumors about them being sl*ts, or embellish their own dates to give the teller more sexual status among his brethren.] School authorities learned of the nude photo around the end of the school year and suspended Hope for the first week of eighth grade, which started in August. [So who is the stupid administrator who decided to punish a girl for doing something boys do all the time in school: pass around drawings, Polaroids, processed print images, images from pornography magazines, and now "sexted" images or images downloaded by cell phone or other hand-held communication devices designed to make pornography far more accessible to younger and younger people. And did anyone check in with her about the ABUSES she endured from having a boy friend who can't keep an image to himself, thereby respecting her? Does the crime of misogynistic retribution, sexual harassment and bullying, defamation of character and slander not factor into deciding who to punish for what? To punish her for going through grade school hell was, in and of itself, cruel.] About two weeks after she returned to school, a counselor observed cuts on Hope's legs and had her sign a "no-harm" contract, in which Hope agreed to tell an adult if she felt inclined to hurt herself, her family says. [What sort of policy or agreement is that?! If someone is demonstrating self-injurious behavior, isn't that warning enough that suicide is a possibility? How trained was this mental health care person? Because the whole family should have been on the same page with what she was doing, how she was feeling, and what decisions needed to be made to keep her from harming herself further. That might have simply meant making sure she wasn't alone for the next few days. It might have meant the parents rejecting their daughter being punished by the school at all and demanding they apologise to her for not protecting her from all she'd already been through. She was, obviously, punishing herself, was emotionally in great distress, and was not finding constructive ways of coping.] The next day, Hope hanged herself in her bedroom. She was 13.[I think the most guilty parties in this are the boy, the administrator who gave out the punishment, and the counselor who didn't come up with a more comprehensive plan to ensure she'd be safe.]

Her death is the second in the nation in which a connection between sexting and teen suicide can clearly be drawn. [But not the first, or even the ten thousandth, of a girl being assumed to have "a reputation" or to be "a nympho" or a "h*". This isn't the first time who schoolyards of kids have spoken shamelessly and viciously about a girl in school who does something with her sexuality that boys do all the time without negative consequence, internally or socially. I am reminded of the parental freak-out over the Beatles, and how a bit earlier there was a similar puritanical overreaction by parents to Elvis, and back the story goes, where boys get to be sexual, including using prostitutes as the Beatles did, including dating a teenager as Elvis did, and not suffer any negative consequences. "Sexting" isn't the problem. The pressure boys place on girls to be noticed only when they turn themselves into pornography for boys and men IS the problem. We've all heard about the parties where teen girls wear different colored lipstick and the boys' try and collect a rainbow of colors down their dicks. There's no fancy technology there. Nor is there technology involved in the phenomenon of girls giving boys oral sex in the back of school buses and in school restrooms. (Guess who isn't getting oral sex? So this isn't about "sex" exactly. It's about sexualised sexism. The common denominator is how men and boys control girls' sexuality and emotions by being manipulative and withholding affection, by asking girls to perform oral sex when the boys have absolutely no intention of reciprocating, and by turning girls into genres and deciding which girls are hot and which are not. That the standard for "hotness" requires being pornographising  in some way. So now internet porn-junkie boys now have greater manipulative power over girls who know the boys can look at pornographic images of incested and raped girls and women whenever they want to. They don't need girls to know what the female body looks like, and girls know that turning themselves into those sorts of images will at least garner some attention from a boy she likes. And if the boy is often the one to be a dickhead and mass distributes an image, why is SHE to blame? If girls and boys distribute the image, they're the one's lacking a conscience or capacity to demonstrate compassion. That heterosexual boys have managed, all these decades, to avoid the stigma slapped on girls in a second only means this society is just as male supremacist and misogynistic as it has always been, and is only made worse for having pornography delivery systems in many working, middle, and upper class homes. Hope didn't do anything wrong. Let's at least be clear about that. She did something unwise. There's a big difference. The boy did something egregiously wrong, as did everyone else who sent the image to others.]

"This is very important, because it shows that sexting-related suicides are tracking the same way cyberbullying-related suicides are," said Parry Aftab, a nationally known "cyberlawyer" who has appeared on Good Morning America and the Today show.

A 2009 Harris online poll shows that one in five teens admits to having sent naked pictures of themselves or others over a cell phone. But even that number may be low.

Implicit in this narrowing down of focus to technology is also a tactic of blaming the victim and not even considering what the perp do to be actionable, punishable, or just socially wrong within male peer groups.

Hope grew up in Sundance, an isolated rural suburb 6 miles off U.S. 41 in south Hillsborough County. Her parents, Donna and Charlie Witsell, met in the post office where they both work. They married in 1995. Hope was their only child together. They took her to church every Sunday. This is  the requisite "but she was a good girl, not one of those skanky bad girls" media statements. As if "bad" girls deserve to be abused to the point of killing themselves. The message is loud and clear: if you're a teen atheist and love sex, and are female, and seek out sexual partners, male or female, you will be blamed for whatever negative things happen to you, while also being stigmatised in humiliating and degrading ways het boys never are.

Hope wasn't a troubled girl. [And what are the girls who are"troubled" supposed to take this to mean? For example, some "troubled" girls are troubled by their fathers coming into their rooms and raping them at night. Some of that population of girls act out sexually starting at an early age so by the time they are in junior high school they've already got "a reputation". If a boy is sexual since the age of ten, for whatever reasons, there's no stigma attached to his early sexual history, unless he's having sex with boys. So what are we telling girls who are incest survivors, whose father showed them pornography, or who just found their father's pornography at an early age and started pornographising themselves? What are we telling the thirteen year old girls who are already being pimped? The hidden moral to this story is good girls don't deserve to die, or be harassed, or have pictures of their chests passed around school populations, if they go to church on Sunday. (And we know there are stigmas for every other girl out there: for Jewish girls, for Muslim girls, for girls of color. The only way for a girl to be good is to be white and nice and polite to everyone and never angry or rude or offensive in her behavior. To every girl who isn't as good as Hope was, the message is "you deserve what you get, because you brought it on yourself. "She was an "A" and "B" student in all subjects but math.Are we going to learn next she started a charity for starving children somewhere in that vast continent of Africa?] She had many friends, whom she liked to give bear hugs. She often went fishing with her father in her big, white-framed sunglasses. On mornings when she was running late to school, Hope carried her cereal and milk in a coffee cup and ate on the bus. [These are heartbreaking details, because it brings home that this was a particular girl, not some generic cut out of a girl. She had specific ways of being. She had a good life. But if she didn't have a good life, and wasn't cheerful, and didn't eat breakfast at all, and instead yelled "fuck you" to her parents every morning because dad was assaulting her at night, and if she was having sex with lots of boys and didn't really care one way or the other, and was using drugs to push down the pain of what she was enduring at home, then how do we hold her in our imaginations? Can she be unique and special and good if she's Black or Chicana? If she's poor and comes from a home with love but not much more? What if she's rich and receives no love in it at all and acts out all through prep school, but no one says a thing because her parents are major donors to the school?]

Hope knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life: attend the University of Florida and major in agriculture. Then she would start a landscaping and nursery business. [She had a future laid out before her. I'm glad, and it makes the story sadder and sadder because it drives home how she is gone far too soon. And what if she was planning on being a high school drop-out? Would we still care about her? Wait... there's more: one of the most important facts is about to be reinforced, in case anyone missed it:]

Like many other girls her age, she was boy-crazy. [We had better establish her as, well, not, you know, THAT WAY. For what if she had sent the pic to a girl she had a crush on? What would the press story be then?]

Tacked to her bedroom door beneath a Twilight poster of the vampire Edward Cullen is a piece of notebook paper folded in quarters. It is a note from a boy, one line written in faint pencil:
"U still like me?"
This is so sad a story. It's a story of how boys can destroy girls with callousness, with gross insensitivity, with all the ethics of a pimp or a pornographer, mass producing her image so other boys could see it too.

• • •
Accounts vary, but many students describe the chain of events this way: The last week of school in June, Hope forwarded a photo of her breasts to the cell phone of Alex Eargood, a boy she liked. So? Again, not wise, but not uncommon and not something boys object to! A rival girl, who was the girlfriend of another boy Hope liked and a friend of Alex's, asked to borrow Alex's phone on the bus. That girl found the image and forwarded it to other students. Ah, yes. The viciousness of girls who are taught to fight over boys, as if boys are some prize. The violence of heterosexism and misogyny as it plays out cruelly in girls' lives.

Alex, now 16 and a freshman at Armwood High School, told the St. Petersburg Times last week that he deleted the photo. [Right. And money grows on trees.] He does not remember whether he deleted it before or after the girl borrowed his phone. [Well, I think we can assume that given that it was sent out by her the answer to that would be "after", if at all.] The mother of the girl told the Times that her daughter would not comment for this article.

Within hours, the image had gone viral at Shields and Lennard High. Misogyny is and goes viral; that's what it does. It infects everyone, boys and girls.

"People were getting it at school and sending it at school," said Lane James, 14, a friend of Hope's at Shields Middle. "The hallways were not fun at that time." No. They were predatory and ugly, filled with boys and girls who sought to punish Hope for not doing anything many of them have also done, via webcam or through other means.

Lane, who shared four classes with Hope last year, called the atmosphere around school that week "brutal."
"She'd walk into class and somebody would say, 'Oh, here comes the slut,' " Lane said. Yes, brutal is an accurate word to use.

At the same time, friends say, Hope knew that the biggest mistakes made were her own.  Straight boys win again. I'd adamantly disagree with Hope, if I were her school counselor. I'd tell her she didn't do anything wrong and doesn't deserve to be mistreated for any reason, and that they are just showing themselves to be capable of gross inhumanity at her expense, and that she can take comfort she isn't like them--utterly mean and malicious in intent and effect. wasn't that.

"She didn't blame it on anybody," said Rebecca Knowles, 14. "She realized it was her fault for sending them in the first place." [She should have been warned by her female friends not to do that, ever. But doing it doesn't make her act shameful. It makes it normal.] Let they who are in no way striving to be normal cast the first stone. They had no business judging her, needless to say. The social problem is with their actions, not her actions. Her actions didn't make her want to die. The actions of others' did.

Sexting, defined as the sharing of nude or seminude images over a cell phone or a computer, is growing among teenagers, including young teens. The Harris poll showed that 9 percent of 13-year-olds admitted doing it — even though most teens polled believe it is wrong to send nude bphotos of minors to others. Wrong only for kids? Because adult men do it all the damn time, and have national and international networks set up so they can all watch the rape of a girl "live".

Aftab, who in April led a town meeting on teen sexting with Good Morning America's Diane Sawyer, noted that teens who participated in the Harris poll needed their parents' consent. She believes the real number of teen sexters to be much higher. Well, duh.

A poll conducted by her organization, WiredSafety, found that 44 percent of boys in co-ed high schools had seen at least one naked picture of a female classmate. Overwhelmingly, they shared the images with others. So they admit to not just being curious, but being pricks. Prickdom is starting earlier and earlier.

Early adolescents like Hope face the biggest psychological risks, Aftab said. An 11-year-old doesn't have as many hormones, while a 16-year old may have developed enough of a social network to cushion the blow. That's all bullshit, but whatever. We need a theory. Plenty of eleven year old girls are pubescent, for one thing. And girls who have been sexually abused are often compulsively acting out their abuse at age five or six. And just because you're sixteen doesn't mean you have the capacity to endure what she could not endure. Hell, there are people of any age who could not endure that level of social ostracism and humiliation.

"The real risk is the 12- and 13-year age," she said. Girls of any age are at high risk if men and boys are around. Infant girls are at risk. So are toddlers. So are girls about to enter college.

The speed of the Internet and the ubiquity of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook make it that much harder to escape the embarrassment. [And who ever escaped it in the past?] It also means the photos may never go away.Which is the main point I try and make to any teenager I speak with about this stuff. You can overdrink, get sick, feel shitty the next day, and then go on as usual. Not so easily done with images and sexual acts that aren't respectful and self-respecting.

"If they are sexting images that are being made public, they are going to be tagged forever as a slut," Aftab said. "So they don't see a future. And if they don't see a future, they (think they) might as well end their life. We are seeing a lot of that in this age." And clearly the "they" is girls, not boys!

The social consequences can be even worse for high-performing teens who consider themselves "good kids," said Yale psychiatrist Robert King. Uh-oh. Here comes another bullshit theorist.

"There are some kids who are very self-critical and very demanding of themselves, and see any kind of setback or embarrassment as just a humiliating catastrophe," said King, a professor of child psychiatry at the Yale Child Study Center and an expert on teenage suicide. "It sort of sounds like that's the flavor of kid she was." How gross to refer to her as "a flavor". How utterly disgusting and dehumanising. And this so assumes that type B personalities and girls who are not "succeeding" are not at risk for suicide should something like this happen to them. Or maybe it's just that he works more with "good girls" because the bad girls won't set foot in his office, and if they did they'd tell him to keep his stupid theories to himself.

Those types of kids also are more likely to keep their deepest emotions hidden from their parents, experts say. That was the case with Hope. When she was feeling down, she wrote about it in her journal but did not confide in her parents. That would be what many teens do, Mr. Expert. That's what all survivors of sexual abuse, of incest, do. That's what parentified children do, because they have to take care of their drunken parent and so have no one to go to who is capable of listening.

"Hope certainly did not let on that something was wrong," said Charlie Witsell, 46. "She never really said anything to us." And we need to get why that is and not blame her, or any other girl, for keeping secrets from her parents.

• • •
Two weeks after school let out, the school learned of the nude photo and called Charlie and Donna Witsell for a conference. Officials issued the one-week suspension for the fall. A very stupid thing to do.

The Witsells confiscated Hope's cell phone and computer and grounded her for the summer. They were dismayed, but also thought it could be a learning opportunity. I can understand that reaction, but I'd hope in that time they built up more trust and honesty between them.

"In a strange way I was glad she got caught, because at least that way we got to see what's going on," Charlie Witsell said. I would hope parents would want to know sooner than later.

Hope said she was sorry for her actions, which she could not explain. She vowed to undergo her punishment and start the new school year afresh. So the passing around of the image was punishment, the demonising of her was punishment, and then she faces a whole summer of being punished. That's an unwise move on the parents' part, I believe.

Hope would, however, be allowed to attend the annual FFA convention in Orlando, less than two weeks after the end of the school year. The convention rewards students for their work in statewide agriculture competitions.

An FFA student adviser for her school before the incident, Hope was due to pick up at least two awards: a first-place team award for nursery and landscaping, plus her individual trophy for the highest test score in the state for her age group in that category.

No one knows how Hope met a group of boys staying across the hall. Rebecca Knowles, who is the FFA president, saw Hope talking to the boys by the hotel pool. Gee, do you think maybe they instigated it? What with boys assuming they should have "all access" to girls?

tThe boys were in their late teens and were not there for the FFA convention. They insisted she send a nude photo to them.
Perps. Selfish, callous, misogynistic perps.

One of the boys was especially aggressive and called the room repeatedly on the conference's last night, asking Hope for a photo of her breasts. So the truth comes out: she was coerced and manipulated by older boys. Why am I not surprised?

"They kept calling and they kept bugging her," said Rebecca, 14, who said she was in the room but asleep. "I think she was just scared. One of our roommates was scared as well and said, 'Oh, my God, just do it.' They were scared and wanted to get it over." So this is now sexual coercion and teen males aggressively pressuring her to do something she didn't want to do.

The boy calling didn't have a cell phone. So Hope used Rebecca's phone to take a picture of her breasts, then slipped it outside her door.

The phone, which Hope had left outside for the boy, was still in the hallway when an adult found it and saw the photo. And did what with it, exactly?
• • •
After the incident in Orlando, Charlie and Donna Witsell decided to take Hope to a Christian counselor. After the third visit, the counselor told Donna that Hope didn't want to be there. Forcing her to come wouldn't do any good, the counselor said. Reluctantly, Hope's parents agreed. Yeah. That's a no-brainer. There are other forms of support than church and state, but you'd never know it, would you?

Just the same, the quiet, introspective summer seemed to be doing Hope some good. The parents made a few exceptions to her grounding — a sleepover with a friend, a family vacation in Sanibel. I'm glad they put in a "good behavior clause".

Hope fretted that there would be further consequences over her actions in the spring. She especially worried that she might lose a chance to run again for FFA student adviser. Knowing how boys and girls can be.

"Making mistakes &/or stupid choices doesn't necessarily make it impossible for you to give advice and lead people in the right direction," she wrote in her journal. "Do you think people ever told Elvis Presley he couldn't lead people to be singers & give them advice because he had made some bad choices with drugs & alcohol? … I don't think so!" Exactly. This country will forgive any white hetero man's crimes, as long as he doesn't deny doing them.

While serving her suspension week at the end of August, Hope and her mother stopped by Shields for a status update. There her mother learned that the school would not allow Hope to run for student adviser that year.

Lane James, who was in the office at the time, remembers seeing Hope after that meeting.

"She was in the corner, just bawling and bawling," Lane said. "She wouldn't talk to anybody."

• • •
About a week after Hope's suspension ended, she and Rebecca found three boys seated at the cafeteria table the girls had always claimed as their own.

The ringleader, Rebecca said, hectored Hope about the photo that had made its way through the school in June. Another boy joined in. How completely inconsiderate.

Hope left the table in tears. She spent the rest of the day in the office talking to counselors, her mother said.
Hope stayed home from school the next day. While her parents were at work, she cleaned the house top to bottom. Not a good sign, unless that's what she often did.

What happened at school on Friday, Sept. 11, remains an open question. Samantha Beattie, Hope's aunt, gives the following version of events she said Hope gave to her.

Hope met that day with Jodi Orlando, the school's social worker. Another staff member had noticed cuts on Hope's leg and become concerned.

The social worker quizzed Hope, then had her sign a "no-harm" contract [kind of as useful as a restraining order, I guess]  in which Hope agreed to talk to an adult if she felt an urge to hurt herself. Both Orlando and Hope signed the undated contract, which her parents found in Hope's bedroom trash can after her death.
Hope's parents say no one from the school called them to say their daughter might harm herself. That alone is seriously messed up.

The Hillsborough County School District, through spokeswoman Linda Cobbe, declined to comment on Hope Witsell's interaction with school officials or her suicide, saying officials were prohibited by law from discussing student discipline matters.
• • •
Donna and Charlie Witsell both worked Saturday, Sept. 12. Hope stayed home and cut the grass.
On his way home, Charlie stopped by the grocery store for shrimp and crab legs. The family ate seafood that night.
At 8:30 p.m., the phone rang. Hope sprang to answer it. When her parents asked who it was, she answered, "Theresa."
The caller ID, which appeared on the television screen, said "Michael," the name of a 15-year-old boy Hope liked.

Donna heard a boy's voice on the extension. Because she had lied, Hope's parents grounded her from the phone for a week.

At 9:10 p.m., Donna checked on Hope in her room to see if she was all right. She found the girl lying on her bed, writing in her journal. Hope said she was fine.

But Hope was not okay. She wrote in her journal:
Sept. 12, 2009
I'm done for sure now. I can feel it in my stomach. I'm going to try and strangle myself. I hope it works.

A few minutes after 10 p.m., Donna checked in again to see if Hope wanted to come downstairs and watch television with them. Hope declined.

About an hour later, Donna eased open Hope's door again to kiss her good night. She saw her daughter standing a few feet away — her head lowered, her hair was hanging over her face.

"Hope, what are you doing?" Donna said.

Then she saw that a pink scarf was knotted around the canopy of her queen-sized bed. The other end was wrapped around Hope's neck. How horrendous. And how completely sad.

Downstairs, Charlie was about to let the dog out when he heard Donna's voice.

"Call 911!"

An ambulance arrived and took Hope to a local hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office ruled Hope's death a suicide. The doctor who examined her body found a "zone of shallow cuts" up to an inch or so long on her right thigh. There always has to be an extra tidbit about the deceased's body. It's the "CSI"ing of reporting.

• • •
One Hillsborough School District official agreed to speak generally about how schools handle students who may be suicide risks. And that would involve a call to the parents if the threat of suicide seemed real.
"If it's felt that students are at risk for harming themselves, there is a followup with parents," said Tracy Schatzberg, the psychological services supervisor for Hillsborough schools. "We would involve parents depending on the level of risk."

Said Donna Witsell: "They dropped the ball big time." Uh. Yeah. I'll say. That should be criminally prosecutable neglect.

As for sexting, the school district said it routinely presents information to all students about the perils of the practice. They need slightly older peers to talk to them about this stuff, not adults.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has finished its investigation into Hope's death, but a sheriff's spokesman said they are still at work on another aspect of the case.

"The whole issue of the nude photograph being distributed through cell phones, we're still looking at," said spokesman J.D. Callaway. I won't even go there. But you know there are sexual perps in police forces, right?

Florida law considers the possession or distribution of nude images of minors to be child pornography, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Yeah, well, that ought to be the law for adults distributing child pornography, not the teens themselves.

Hope's case is the second known sexting-related suicide in the country. The first received national attention.
Jessie Logan was an attractive high school senior in the Cincinnati area who forwarded nude images of herself to a boyfriend at his request. And we need to know she's "attractive" why? And by who's standards?

After they broke up, the boyfriend forwarded the photos to others. The images spread through her high school. Logan, 18, tried to tackle the issue head-on, going on a television news program and urging other teens not to repeat her mistake. She should have shot the prick.

She found it harder to endure the humiliation of walking the halls at school, where other students called her a "porn queen," dumped drinks on her and threw her out of graduation parties. A bunch of assholes. Home schooling, anyone? I don't know if I could put my child in one of those sorts of hostile environments. And most of us don't really have any choice, because we're working while the kids are in school.

Two months later, her mother found her hanging in her bedroom. How dreadful. What a terrible story this is, for never naming the boys as the perps and exploiting the girls' suicides.

• • •
After Hope's death, Charlie and Donna Witsell retraced their steps many times, looking for clues they might have missed.

"Should I have been more careful about what I allowed her to watch?" Donna, 48, said. "Should I have been more careful about what I allowed her to read? Should I have been more careful about restricting her relationships with the opposite sex? There's a fine, fine line, especially when our kids become adolescents. They are maturing way sooner than they used to." I don't think there's any easy answers there.

Whenever the Witsells asked Hope how she was feeling after the sexting incident, she always said she was fine. [That should have been a big sign. If you know to look for it. Teens saying things are "fine" that aren't at all fine, well, they're harboring their feelings.] It was only after her death that they found the no-harm contract, deeply despairing diary entries and complex pencil doodlings drawn in class that referred to death and suicide. That is to say, NOT fine.

The Witsells are coming forward because they feel Hope's sexting incident is a just a symptom of a larger problem: the hyper-sexualization in media aimed at young teens, which they believe forces young minds to contend with ideas of lust and love that they have trouble understanding. "Hyper-sexualisation" is not the right term, although it's part of it. The pornographisation of the culture and media is more the issue, because that's what tells girls to give up themselves, their boundaries, their dignity, to statused boys and men. "Hypersexualisation alone doesn't explain why it's only boys who are getting oral sex on the buses, and why het boys don't suffer the way hope did for sending out pictures of their dicks. If we're not going to name the problem accurately, then all the solutions will likely miss the point and not help.

They hope other teens and parents can learn from Hope and avoid the same tragic end.

"Have you been reading these teen magazines lately?" Donna asked. " 'How many ways can you turn your boyfriend on? How sexy can you kiss?' We want to think our child is going to learn and grow and develop the skills to make the right choices. They don't have a chance in hell. These kids are bombarded." Yeah, with heterosexist, misogynist messages. Not with "hypersexualisation" exactly.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or

Steps to prevent your child from sexting
1. Take an inventory. Ask your children to show you all of the gadgets in the house that can take or store photos or videos. These can include cell phones, Webcams, video game consoles and iPods. [Ask the males in the house to not assume they have a right to access images of raped women. Make sure computers are set so such images can't come through. Point out how disrespectful it is to every girl and woman to look at those images in the house where females live, and want to be safe and regarded as human beings.]
2. Ask them to show you images they have stored. Promise you won't hit the roof if you find something bad — then keep your word. [Oh, yeah. That'll work. NOT.]
3. Have a talk. This should be a conversation, not a lecture. Be sure to mention a range of unintended consequences, which could include criminal charges that would jeopardize admission to college. [The talking about respect and gender and sex needs to start WAAAY before adolescence. And "the talks" must in part be about misogyny and sexism in society, and all the ways boys don't respect girls, and what boys REALLY think of girls who give them oral sex in the backs of buses. How about having THAT talk.]
4. Watch what you buy. Think twice before purchasing devices that can take or send images. Drop the image-sending capability from your child's cell phone service. Duh.
Source: WiredSafety, an Internet safety education resource

[Last modified: Dec 03, 2009 12:48 PM]



There was so much wrong with that hyper moralistic article which conveniently omitted to state it is not teen boys routinely sending naked photos of themselves in sexually submissive poses to girlfriends but girls are the ones sending naked photos of themselves to boys.

Thank you Julian for analysing this appalling self-righteous article and yes I totally agree it is the mainstreaming of pornography, together with popular culture's co-option of 'female sexual empowerment' which is sold back to increasingly younger and younger girls by telling them their sole value lies in being 'sexually hot' to heterosexual (predominantly white) boys. Even female babies are being represented as 'sexually hot to males!' Apparently females can never be too young before they must be sexually hot to the het male gaze.

Yet teenage girls and adult women must not enact any form of sexual autonomy or even be perceived as - horrors - sexually active - because this automatically means they are sluts/whores. Yet when heterosexual boys enact the same behaviour we are told it is normal innate male heterosexual behaviour. In other words the male heterosexual double standard is still very much alive.

The teenage girls who callously subjected Hope to such vitriolic hatred are themselves not safe from similar attacks because this is how male supremacy operates, by using girls and women to police and control other girls and women. Meanwhile heterosexual boys and adult men look on, knowing they will never be held accountable for their sexual predatory behaviour towards girls and women.

The psycho babble nonsense quoted by Aftab Parry was another strand being used to deflect attention away from the issue of why so many girls believe it is sexually empowering to send sexualised images of oneself to boys. Our pornified culture is responsible, together with increasing women-hatred.

I'm not surprised Hope like so many other teenage girls thought it was okay to send a sexualised image of herself to a boy, because there is a total lack of information challenging this dehumanisation of girls and women.

We do not need pseudo moral articles such as this one which once again reduces girls and women to either virgins or whores. Instead we need to take a long and hard look at how our society is teaching heterosexual boys, it is their right to treat girls and women as sexualised service stations, because unlike heterosexual males - women and girls are not human.

Julian Real said...

Yes, Jennifer.

There's a deeply misgynistic pattern to mass media reporting on male supremacist victimisation of girls, and the double standards become glaring, about expectations on boys' vs. girls' sexuality... and humanity.

Boys get to be sexually inhumane and yet are considered "innocent" and "healthy". On the other hand, girls don't ever get to be or do anything without being harshly judged by boys--whether they are expressing pimp and perp-created male supremacist sexxxuality or something closer to their own non-heterosexist desires and feelings.

No matter what, whether sexually active and expressive or not, she is never innocent and never healthy, because boys and men define those terms in relation to their own experiences, also shaped tremendously by pimps and perps.

When the term wh*re, should it need to exist, is only associated with the sexual behavior of het white males, and is not a stigma anyone else is branded with... well, that will be a new day for women and girls.