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My reaction to Nina Burleigh’s "Sexting, Shame & Suicide"

In the September 26, 2013 issue of Rolling Stone there is an article that caused me to immediately put pen to paper after reading it. It is an article written by Nina Burleigh entitled, “Sexting, Shame & Suicide.” It is not an easy read, but one that I think is worthwhile to anyone who has children of any age at home or those who are curious about the issues facing adolescents right now. It was the rare article where I finished reading and was silently outraged. I sunk further into my chair and just thought for a moment about the wasted life of the young girl, and the issues we face if we want to prevent further tragedy.

The article follows the story of Audrie Pott, a 15 year old at Saratoga High School in California. Like many teens she wanted to fit in and wanted to belong. Audrie gravitated away from the group of friends that she had belonged to since middle school. Alcohol became a bigger element of her weekend plans as she attended parties. At one of these parties she became so inebriated that she was unable to stand on her own. Audrie was helped to a bedroom by three boys that she knew addition to another girl. Up until now it sounds like any party on a Friday or Saturday in high school. It also sounds like something that happens any Thursday, Friday, or Saturday on a college campus in America. This party for Audrie wasn’t like any party.

Passed out on a bed Audrie was not able to consent to what happened next. Apparently the boys thought it would be “funny” to remove her clothes and take pictures. They thought it was hilarious to use a marker to draw on her body and to violate her body with that marker. While Audrie had no knowledge of what these boys were doing to her, pictures were taken. Multiple pictures were taken by multiple people. Do we live in an age where this can go on and no one stops it? No girl? No boy takes a stand against his peers?

Following that weekend’s party, Audrie had to piece together what happened through conversations and posts with several people, all putting responsibility on others. It was someone else’s fault. It was all just something to laugh at and Audrie seemed to be the punch line to a school wide joke. The rumors as well as pictures seemed to travel with her in the hallways. Friends that she had known for years called her names and turned their back on her. Guys that she may have thought were her friends now treated what had happened as something to sweep under the rug. She was harassed mercilessly. She was bullied with texts and Facebook posts. And for her, it became too much and she ended her life.

This article broke my heart. As a man I am appalled at so many things in that story. I am not surprised that boys would act in that manner. I am saddened that no one stood up and stopped them. Where is the moral boundary? Where is the respect for not only a female, but a fellow human being? These things don’t disappear when you’re a teen. And we as adults should never allow the argument of, “oh it’s just boys being boys” or “it’s just what they do.” It is a cop out and relieves us of the duty of raising girls to value themselves more than the judgment of their peers. It is a constant battle and is much more a marathon than a sprint. Following Audrie’s death the school tried to turn the story back onto the victim and portray her as an isolated victim in the school district. The district had a history however with behavior like this. In fact just a few years before Audrie, another girl had also taken her life because of this same type of bullying. In addition there seemed to be parents who were never able to believe that their children were capable of something this horrific. And this was horrific. I doubt that one of those boys would have committed that crime without his cohorts, without those people egging him on, using what happened to elevate his status. What was missing within them to do this? Why did they not find their place within the group without harming someone else? I felt not only anger for these boys but sadness.

The other side of this for me was the use of technology to bully Audrie. The acts committed against her were recorded. Once a picture is taken and shown to others, it is out. Out into the world and will be there forever to potentially harm and harass the person in the picture. “Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act effectively means that no Internet provider can be forced to take down content for invading a person’s privacy or even defaming them (Burleigh, Nina “Sexting, Shame & Suicide” Rolling Stone Sept. 2013: 48-55. Print).” These children used technology in the most heinous way. They used it to literally bully a girl into taking her own life.

There was no parent oversight of these Facebook posts. No parent or family oversight of where their child was that night of the party. She was a child much like one we knew when we were in high school. Perhaps we were Audrie. Someone who wanted to be liked. Someone that wanted to belong. Someone who deserved to be and achieve so much more. Someone who should have made it to 16.

I welcome your comments on this article. If you can, go to your local store and pick it up or try and find it online. It is a chilling read.

Every two minutes a sexual assault happens in the U.S.

“Nearly 50% of victims are under the age of 18 according to Katherine Hull, spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest national Network.”