13-Year-Old Girl Commits Suicide After Classmates Spread Nude Photos

by Cara on December 2, 2009

in education and schools, media, misogyny, objectification, patriarchy, sex and sexuality, sexual exploitation and harassment, slut-shaming, violence against women and girls

Trigger Warning for discussions of suicide, descriptions of non-consensual sexual conduct, victim-blaming and slut-shaming

The Tampa Bay St. Petersburg Times has printed the truly gut-wrenching, tragic story of a 13-year-old girl named Hope Witsell, who committed suicide after a photograph of her breasts, which she sent to a boy’s cell phone, was forwarded all over the school.

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 “whore” and “slut.” 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. …  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. 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. The next day, Hope hanged herself in her bedroom. She was 13.

Her death is the second in the nation in which a connection between sexting and teen suicide can clearly be drawn.

I recommend that you go read the full article, because despite the many problems with it, there is a lot of information there, some of which I will not have the time to discuss here.

As Veronica Arreola said on her Twitter, while the media insists on calling this a “sexting-related suicide,” it’s much more accurately referred to as a “slut-shaming suicide.” Because the photograph she sent is not what drove this poor girl to kill herself — the non-consensual spreading of the photograph, and the subsequent reaction that her classmates and all adults in positions of authority had to it seems to absolutely have been what drove her to despair. And that is a truly vital distinction to make if we actually care about the fact that a 13-year-old girl is dead, and why.

The set of circumstances here are increasingly common ones — and by “set of circumstances” I do not mean “teenage girls sending sexual photographs of themselves to others” but “the non-consensual spreading of said photographs.”

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.

And while everyone sure as hell seems to be worried about What! We’re! Teaching! Our! Girls! that they send the photographs, no one seems to be saying a goddamn peep about what we’re teaching our boys when they think that non-consensual sexual conduct is okay. Yet again, apparently consensual female sexuality is seen as a bigger threat to society — and to girls themselves — than non-consensual male sexual behavior perpetrated against them.

But it’s also important to note that while boys appear to overwhelmingly be the ones to receive these types of photos and then spread them, in Hope Witsell’s case, it was another girl who was the culprit:

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. 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.

Alex, now 16 and a freshman at Armwood High School, told the St. Petersburg Times last week that he deleted the photo. He does not remember whether he deleted it before or after the girl borrowed his phone. The mother of the girl told the Times that her daughter would not comment for this article.

Non-consensual sexual conduct is no more consensual, no more right, and no less devastating when committed by a girl against another girl. Bullying is no better when committed by girls — and anecdotal evidence seems to show that while boys are more likely to spread the photographs in the first place, girls are more likely to attack the victim afterward. Sexual harassment and slut-shaming does not magically turn into something else when it’s not boys doing it. And while a partial explanation, internalized misogyny is no more of an excuse for girls and women who commit such acts than rape culture is an excuse for boys and men.

And no matter who is the perpetrator, victim-blaming is still victim-blaming, which is something else Hope was made a victim of. First, she was a victim of cultural messages that told her that what her classmates did to her was her own fault:

At the same time, friends say, Hope knew that the biggest mistakes made were her own.

“She didn’t blame it on anybody,” said Rebecca Knowles, 14. “She realized it was her fault for sending them in the first place.

Secondly, she was a victim of attitudes like ones in that quote right above: attitudes that confirm and refuse to contradict this false belief. Even after she died because she couldn’t cope anymore, the newspaper is sitting there telling her that she was the one to blame. Hope didn’t believe that she made the biggest mistakes. She didn’t think it. Apparently, she knew it, because who could ever question the idea that if you send a nude photograph of yourself to another person, you’re obviously a slutty slutty slut slut who deserves whatever is coming to you?

The display of these kinds of attitudes went beyond words, though; they were also shown in actions. Hope Witsell was punished severely for taking the photograph. She was grounded for the summer. She was suspended from the first week of school. She lost her position as student adviser. And when another boy coerced her into sending another photograph, and she complied out of fear, she was again treated as a culprit rather than a victim:

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.

The boys were in their late teens and were not there for the FFA convention. They insisted she send a nude photo to them.

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.

“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.”

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.

As for the boys who demanded the second photo, the girl who orginally forwarded the first photo, the girls and boys who harassed Hope in the hallways, chased her, taunted her, and made her life a living hell … there is not a single word indicating that they faced any consequences for their actions.

And while the article rightfully goes on at length about the certainly awful way that the school dealt with their knowledge that Hope was self-harming and in danger, there is no mention of how the school’s actions also contributed to her being in danger in the first place. The fact is that they punished her — they told her over and over again that she was being called a slut and a whore because of her own actions, that being a “slut” or “whore” are very, very bad things that deserve punishment and bring reason for shame, that sluts and whores deserve to be taken out of school and to be used as an example of what happens when girls display any form of sexuality (with their consent or not), and that sluts and whores cannot be trusted to advise other students, because apparently they have no moral compasses. And the fact is that they apparently failed to punish the other slut-shamers, sexual harassers, bullies, and sexual perpetrators for whom they were responsible.

Hope Witsell made the decision to end her own life. A whole lot of other people seemingly decided that keeping women in their place was a lot more important than protecting a 13-year-old girl, and than stamping out sexual misconduct. A whole society backed that second decision up.

And so while Hope Witsell made her decision, that decision rests not only on her, but also on the head of our misogynistic, victim-blaming, rape culture. And we can either wash our hands of the whole business, blame teenage angst, and say “you know how kids are,” or we can accept responsibility, and do our damnedest to try and change that culture and prevent this from happening again.

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{ 53 comments }

1 Shiyiya December 2, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Oh gods that is so heartbreaking and horrifying. That poor girl.

2 Prudence December 2, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Jesus! Straight away I thought that this was an unbelievably cruel thing to do, to spread pictures like that. Why could no-one else see that? It’s like she was put in the pillory for all the townsfolk to point and laugh, no wonder she felt so mortified and invaded. She was stripped in public at the hand of others and the fact that the bullies didn’t suffer any punishment is shocking!

3 Spilt Milk December 2, 2009 at 4:18 pm

This is devastating. Thank you for such a measured post on this really tragic story.
Lately I have come across a lot of commentary about how unfair it is to label a teenage boy a sex offender for sexting, and how the impact it can have on his future is disproportionate to the offense. In many cases that is perhaps true (I’m thinking of boys who receive images without asking for them, or boys who receive images from their consenting girlfriends but do not forward them to anyone else.) But oftentimes there seems to be an eagerness to turn the perpetrators of nonconsensual sexual behaviour, when they are caught and severely punished, into victims. Which of course silences the actual victims. Not that the victims need Dr Phil et al to silence them – their peers will do a fantastic job when left to their own devices.

4 SunlessNick December 2, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Straight away I thought that this was an unbelievably cruel thing to do, to spread pictures like that. Why could no-one else see that?

Yeah. How is this not obvious? Unless it really is obvious, but they want to pretend it isn’t – the goal being really to forgive the bigger crimes so that your (generic you) own smaller crimes can be forgotten – in this case, ignore the distribution of the picture, taunts and coercion, and your abandonment and victim-blaming magically disappear. Pretend they didn’t violate her and you can go on pretending you’d care if they did.

5 CableGirl December 2, 2009 at 7:59 pm

Why not just tattoo the letter ‘A’ on her chest before tarring and feathering her. That poor girl!

6 pamsong December 2, 2009 at 10:47 pm

Good insight into the REAL problem behind Hope’s suicide. I hope the people in question and those in authorities read your piece on the matter.

7 Brianna December 3, 2009 at 3:22 pm

That is just horrible. The shame from her parents and her embarrassment is enough. at which point does it become the responsibility of the school, her classmates, the media, and the rest of society to punish her and make her believe she is a horrible person or that she is a total disgrace. Since when is it society’s job or responsibility to stereotype her or judge her. aren’t we all about “not judging people”? We learn from our mistakes, and i wonder how many of those taunting kids had done the same thing and just not gotten caught. and why is it that none of the boys, the taunters, or the girl who forwarded the photo do not receive any sort of punishment? are they not just as guilty for asking for and looking at the photo? are they not just as guilty for spreading nude and sexual images? last time i checked it was against the rules in a school or bus to send naked photos to eachother, porn, posses or look at them on computers so why does this rule not apply to the girl who forwarded the photo?

8 the fat nutritionist December 3, 2009 at 4:25 pm

I could have been this girl so easily.

What a fucking shame.

9 Jenn December 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm

As enraged as everything in this sorry state of victim-blaming affairs makes me, I really makes me want to smash things when I realize that her suicide is going to be lionized as the consequences of being a slutty mcsluttersons instead of the horrible consequences of bullying and undeserved slut-shaming.

10 EKSwitaj December 3, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Thank you for posting this.

11 Cara December 4, 2009 at 10:28 am

Hey folks! I can only assume this would be clear to my regular readers, but this post has gotten a lot of traffic from all over the web. So, I’m going to make it explicit, so that I don’t have to keep hitting the “spam” button. Comments which blame Hope for what happened to her and/or admonish her for sending the photograph(s) will be deleted. Also, if you leave one of those comments, you will be banned.

And thanks to all of those who are linking to, commenting on, and engaging with the subject intelligently.

12 Paul December 4, 2009 at 11:46 am

Cara,

I personally find the practice of “sexting” strange but then i haven’t been a teenager for over ten years

It’s a tragedy that this happened and Hope is in no way to blame for her suicide

Rest in Peace, Hope

13 Reasonable December 4, 2009 at 11:47 am

You spent your time laying blame, which won’t do a damn thing to help future Hopes. How about you focus on a solution? When another Hope comes along, how should the school and her parents deal with the situation to keep this from happening again? Please take another attempt at writing a blog entry, but this time trying to find a solution. And a simple “change the culture” won’t help. That takes a long time and is an unrealistic response to the girl this happens to a month from now. Speak to her about how to handle this situation.

14 Cara December 4, 2009 at 12:30 pm

Hey, “Reasonable,” did you just skip over the part where I wrote about not punishing victims and treating them as though they are to blame for their own harassment and the slut-shaming against them, and not showing tolerance for perpetrators and victimizers? Or did you rightly realize that in order for that to happen, we need a shift in culture first, and therefore there is no solution without changing attitudes — and then decide to write your comment anyway?

15 SunlessNick December 4, 2009 at 3:27 pm

Are you going to take your own advice, Reasonable?

16 Lisa December 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Thank you for this post.
So often in episodes of bullying of any type the victim is blamed. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps because one goal of education is to create a more homogeneous group and bullying serves to do that. Perhaps because punishing just one student is the best way to paperwork reduction. Perhaps because it is way less work to punish the person in front of you rather than to go out and find the bullies.

17 mollie December 4, 2009 at 6:31 pm

As a mother of two teenage girls, this worries me. And the reason it worries me is that I can recognize the bullying of my own teen-years, and see how it is enhanced by the new media.
In my peer-group, we kept a distance from those girls who would be “easy”, even if they had been our dearest friends when we were all children. However, it couldn’t escalate to this extent. I’m not proud of the judgemental views I held when I was 13. But today I realize the parents have all the responsibilty. Not poor Hope’s parents, but all the other kids’ parents. My parents ought to have explained that my old friend wasn’t at all “cheap”, or whatever we imagined in our teen-brains. We need to keep an eye on our childrens’ attitudes, and we need to react when something is wrong.

18 Moody Springs December 4, 2009 at 10:46 pm

I had not heard this one yet…damn. I’m sort of glad that my parents and I were away from home while Mike Galanos was on just in case he talked about it; somehow I think his take on this situation would give me a lot of stress…

19 Madd Maxx December 4, 2009 at 11:00 pm

This is a tragedy. But, I wonder how many of the people that have posted on here would have ignored the photo and not joined in with the remarks, if still a young teen. Kids can be cruel and the technology that is available to them only helps in that quest. I think this is a clear message that children should not be allowed certain technology until they are old enough to use it responsibly. And that goes for Hope, the girl who sent the pic out and everyone else.

20 abyss2hope December 5, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Cara, thank you for highlighting that the response to this girl’s sexting was a far bigger problem than this girl’s original actions. Too many people ignore or excuse harassment of girls who are seen as causing people to focus on them.

Worse many people applaud this sort of cruel treatment because they view that cruelty as a means of teaching girls important lessons. But the lesson they end up teaching is that sexuality is bad while extreme cruelty related to sex or sexuality is good.

The harassment and bullying of this girl wasn’t caused by her sexting. It was caused by the toxic acceptance of cruelty.

Reasonable, what are you doing to help prevent this from happening again? The emotion in your comment makes me wonder why Cara’s laying blame irked you. Did her blame hit too close to actions you’ve taken against others who could be labeled in the way this girl was labeled?

21 Judith Bandsma December 5, 2009 at 12:16 pm

This sounds like the American version of an ‘honor killing’. Except they didn’t do it to the girl, they convinced her to do it to herself and then sat back smugly, sure that their hands were clean.

22 Rita December 5, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Even if the only thing that had happened was Hope’s nude photos getting distributed, I find the response by the school officials to the entire situation to be the most unsettling aspect of this event. What could have been a great teachable moment about bullying, privacy and sex and sexuality, ended up being more of a conversation which further stigmatizes girls who get caught doing the “bad” deed. So, really, the lesson inferred from the kids’ reactions to Hope “sexting” (which is such a stupid word by the way!) as well as the punishment dealt by school officials is, don’t get caught and you won’t be sexually harassed or get barred from academic activities that will enrich you as a person and student.

23 Heather December 5, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Another tack to take with our daughters is to make them resilient to slut-shaming. I had a fair amount of trouble with that when I was in high school, and by that time I discounted the opinions of others as ill-informed.
Still poor girl.

24 Jennifer Drew December 5, 2009 at 4:14 pm

Sadly the misogynistic and utterly callous sexual insults Hope Witsell suffered by both male and female peers is not new or unusual. Anyone remember the male sexual double standard? Because it is still operating only now teenage girls are supposed to be ‘sexually hot’ to teenage males whilst simultaneously maintaining a ‘virginal aura.’ Teen boys are commonly allowed to engage in sexual harassment and sexual assault of teenage girls because it is supposedly ‘just boys being boys.’ But reality is, it is deliberate male control and policing of any expression of female sexuality.

But, now we have a new dimension – one wherein popular culture sells mainstream pornography back to teenage girls and tells them ‘it is sexually empowering to send naked images of themselves to boys.’ I’ve yet to learn of teenage boys engaging in similar activities and sending sexually submissive images of themselves to teenage girls.

Hope did nothing wrong, but sadly our culture has turned a blind eye to the now common popular culture’s deliberate mis-representation of young girls and adult women as men’s and boy’s sexual service stations. Selling the myth to teenage girls and women that being ‘sexually hot and always sexually pleasing men is somehow empowering is utter nonsense. What is though is patriarchal control of women and girls.

No I am not calling for a return to ‘female modesty’ what I am saying is our culture is virulently women-hating and expects women and girls to be sexually available to men and boys 24/7 but woe betide any girl or woman who is perceived as being ‘sexually active’ because she will automatically be condemned and labelled a ‘slut.’ Male sexual activity is never condemned as ‘sluttish or ‘whorish’ but instead is perceived as normal male sexual behaviour. Back to male-defined sexual double standards again – and of course scapegoating women and girls, whilst men and boys’ accountability continues to be ignored.

There is still too little education concerning how the media operates and it is imperative that all girls and boys learn how the media operates because without a critique of the media, misogynistic messages such as it is supposedly empowering to teenage girls to send naked images of themselves to teen boys is empowering. But which group is empowered? Certainly not teenage girls judging by the vicious and misogynistic onslaught which was directed at Hope.

The school authorities too, deliberately walked away from this issue and instead scapegoated Hope. The school authorities did not ‘nip this latest female-blaming in the bud’ but instead scapegoated Hope and punished her for a crime she did not commit.

25 notemily December 5, 2009 at 5:54 pm

Madd Maxx, trying to ban “technology” from kids’ use would not only be a futile pursuit, but it would do nothing to teach them how to use that technology responsibly. Kids are going to make mistakes and do foolish things, but that’s part of growing up, and I think the best thing we can do is teach them skills to deal with the situations they encounter, rather than keeping them from those situations.

26 Camila December 5, 2009 at 7:27 pm

We had a recent problem very similar to that here in Brazil… The girl was actually a woman at the university, who was called things like “slut” and heard a crowd of men (pigs, maybe??) saying that she “had to be raped” – all that because she went to class with a very short dress. Thankfully, she did not kill herself.

Really, I fell hurted by what happens to women on our society… As it was already said, I could be the one judged like that.

27 Terence December 5, 2009 at 11:54 pm

I feel terrible for that young woman, and I want to thank you for a very well written and smart article.

28 Steve December 6, 2009 at 5:12 am

People can be so distressedly cruel! This is such a sad and truly tragic story, especially in what is supposed to be a cheerful and festive season! No wonder I have the Christmas “Blues”! R.I.P Dear Hope!

29 jessica December 6, 2009 at 9:04 am

This saddens me but Thank You. This is very well-written and thought provoking.

This WILL be something that I will discuss with my teenage son. I am a single mom trying to raise a son and teach him to be respectful of ALL human beings, not just women. This is another extremely valuable lesson in that teaching.

30 RosieRed23 December 6, 2009 at 8:19 pm

Thanks for writing about this.

The article says “Her death is the second in the nation in which a connection between sexting and teen suicide can clearly be drawn.” I believe the first happened in my city, when an 18-year-old hanged herself after photos she sent to her boyfriend were forwarded on by him, and she endured months of name-calling and harassment. Actually, the details of that case and this one sound eerily similar.

This HAS to be a discussion.

31 Sandra December 7, 2009 at 8:18 am

Good article. I have to run off so that’s all i can say at the moment but seriously good article.

32 Annie December 7, 2009 at 3:58 pm

She became a victim not one, but several times: when society fed her the lie that she must portray herself as a sex object to be lovable; when her photo was forwarded; when she was pressured to do the second photo; when she was punished at school (schools blame the victim so often, I’ve been there…), when she was made to believe it was her fault… became a victim again and again AND STILL NOBODY CARED. What fucked up world is this.

Even the counselor shook off responsibility.

Rest in peace, Hope. May you find a better world than this one.

33 Emi December 7, 2009 at 4:55 pm

this article made me cry :(

34 Heather December 7, 2009 at 9:34 pm

It’s very sad that children were that cruel to her and it’s a tragedy that such a young girl killed herself, felt that she had no other choice but to kill herself. As the mother of a young girl, (she’s 2.5 now but 13 any day now lol) I hope that I am able to impress upon her not to feel pressured to conform to peer pressure, but I know how difficult it can be; I was in high school just 10 short years ago so I remember how horrible it was being teased by others and hearing phrases like, “I triple dog dare you.” I feel for this girl’s family and I hope this unfortunate incident is a lesson to other young girls out there about not falling to the pitfalls of peer pressure.

35 Nordette aka Verite December 8, 2009 at 12:51 am

I thought the same thing when I read the first quote from the Florida article: It wasn’t a sexting suicide but a shaming suicide.

Horrible.

36 Roy December 8, 2009 at 8:24 am

This deserves a documentary

37 Nine Deuce December 8, 2009 at 1:02 pm

I’m pretty sure the people passing this around have broken federal law. Isn’t this child pornography?

38 Tiffani December 8, 2009 at 4:34 pm

I hope that whoever sent the picture out feels like crap.This world is going to shit so when does it get to the point to were enough is enough. The adults punished her for this kids at school made fun of her and called her horrible names and the adults did nothing. They didn’t stop and take her into consideration. This is a shame and its too bad it happened but we all know that she won’t be the last. That boy who she sent the photo too acted innocent to the whole thing and the girl who used the phone wouldn’t even comment the article. That to me sounds pretty guilty.

39 markgelo December 10, 2009 at 6:22 am

Sighs….

40 Thealogian December 10, 2009 at 10:20 am

As someone whose worked in education policy, I think that the failures of the school to address the extreme bulling and slut-shaming have quite a bit to do with the gender divide in educational administration vs. teaching.

Principals are overwhelmingly male, authoritarian in philosophy and practice and, well, assholes. Women make up the majority of teachers and have minimal input as to disciplinary policies and practices. Also, the salary divide is significant–often cowing teachers by providing economic stress and the seven years until job security standards really prevent teachers from being advocates until they are well into their careers and have set patterns of involvement.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I know some excellent administrators, but I’ve met far more assholes; and yes, there are outspoken teachers, but they tend to be older and more seasoned.

Anyway, the authoritarian impulse relies on these caste systems “to keep the peace” by offering up sacrifices, often female sacrifices, to the pillowry. Its not just a failure of school administrators, its a tactic of systematic hierarchy that feeds the dysfunction that serves the interests of the masters. Bulling isn’t just an issue of student cruelty, but a symptom of the dangers of hierarchy itself. Its modeled at the administration level, filtered down to the freaks and geeks.

Education reform requires more democratic leadership and the reason we have so much school violence comes down to modeling schools on prisons, not a functional society.

So, non-assholes, consider becoming a principal!

Peace

41 melanie December 11, 2009 at 4:07 pm

It’s time we start making the bullies feel ashamed. The worst part of that original article is that it gives parents tips on how to prevent your teen from ‘sexting’. Really, it should be giving advice on how to prevent your teen from becoming a bully or how to respect other people’s privacy.

I wrote my own blog about it too!

how do i pingback?

42 AmandaLP December 15, 2009 at 12:49 am

I know this is late, but I wanted to reply to Reasonable up there.

There are Many steps that a school can take when faced with student to student harassment. First, teachers must be aware of what is happening, and stop the behavior. (One article said that kids were saying “here comes the slut” when Hope walked into the room, why did the teacher not stop that?)

Secondly, counseling should be given to all parties involved. The boy who received the photo, the girl who passed it around, everyone who was doing any sort of harassment, and Hope herself. I wish schools had enough staff and social workers to do this.

The school should not have given out punitive measures to Hope without equal measures given out to the students doing that harassment.

Lastly, schools must be proactive in creating a safe and welcoming environment when it comes to sexual harassment and bullying. If discussed early, if there is an institutional policy in place, and if the teachers *and* administrators are all of one mind about this, then harassment can be addressed.

43 Levi December 15, 2009 at 3:10 pm

I had a sick day a few weeks ago when I caught an episode of Dr Phil on “Sexting”. He berated the young man for sending the text on, and his father was obviously horrified at the actions of his son. What I don’t understand, is where these young men get the notion that it is OKAY to send these things along. And I think a massive issue is the sexualisation of younger and younger kids through the media and society.

I feel as if there is massive misunderstanding of sex between these teens. Girls seem to be competing for sexual attentions of boys who have not the maturity to respect it, let alone appreciate it.

I went to catholic school, and so while I have the trademark catholic guilt after any sexual exploit, it became easier for me to accept my sexuality after coming to respect it as something personal and also, biological. I think it matters that girls understand that they need to appreciate their own sexuality first, before they can find someone to appreciate it with them. In this day and age we can choose who to share that sexuality with, without being persecuted(in most cases, obviously, not in Hope’s case). And being given the right to choose doesn’t mean we have to sleep around, and exude sex in everything we do. Which seems to be the opinion of many young women. We can choose to share it with someone who respects it, and won’t take advantage of what we share. That sex is special, if not spiritually, than definitely physically and emotionally. And especially, that we are more than sex because we are human beings. We have personalities and brains and we can use those to be just as sensual as when we use our sexuality.

This poor girl was dealt cards in a game she didn’t understand. And this is noone’s fault if not the fault our society’s sexualisation of these girls (and boys) without the explanation. The tutorial.

TV can show them sex, but it can’t tell them what to do with it.

Also, I just read Theologian’s response, and I wholeheartedly agree. When I was in school we studied Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and it was surprising how many similarities we could draw between Big Brother’s totalitarian society and the school yard. How can we expect kids to be involved in society when their first experiences in public is under the autocratic rule of principals. A petition signed by most of the co-ed student body could not convince the (male) prinicipal of my school to introduce an alternative to skirts and dresses in the uniform code. It became impossible to participate in sport at lunch time, and forced us to sit on our hands and gossip for hours on end. Which most likely caused more bullying than ‘ladylike’ behaviour.

44 Athonwy December 16, 2009 at 12:16 am

If our society did not have such a bizarre body-negative and sex-negative attitude this would not have happened at all. Why was her nudity a big deal? Because society MADE it a big deal. Let’s get to the real root of the problem people.

45 David December 18, 2009 at 3:49 pm

I was uphauled at a similar scenario depicted in the Documentary “American Teen” – there needs to be punishments enforced when digital information can so easily be exchanged. If someone printed out private naked photos of a minor and posted them on telephone poles around town or in the public square, there would be criminal consequences.

46 Anna December 20, 2009 at 5:58 am

David – unless you post them on the internet! A picture of me with few clothes on (I was fourteen) eventually got posted, along with my home and email address, on one of the biggest messageboards on the web. The moderating staff knew I was underage, as was pretty obvious from the photo – they locked the thread but didn’t ban the poster or delete the link to the imageshack in it. As far as I know the image is still up on imageshack, despite me pleading with them to take it down for weeks.
Nothing was ever done about it by anyone.

47 SunlessNick December 20, 2009 at 7:16 am

@Anna: Unmitigatedly and unacceptably shitty of them. And, yes, they did deserve legal consequence for it.

48 Anna December 20, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Definitely agree – I guess the point I was trying to make is that as with every other form of non-consensual sexual activity, sometimes it’s just not seen as worth prosecuting. This is, of course, totally wrong.

49 jill January 7, 2010 at 8:15 am

I am not a teen, I am middle-aged, but I could definitely use a human shield. (I also have a psychiatric diagnosis so this makes me more vulnerable since it is easy to discount my story as craziness. Since I have been labeled, the doctors have turned abusive towards me.) My heart goes out to Hope and I am an older version of Hope. I have been labeled. I know this because out of nowhere strangers have called me a whore when I am trying to do daily activities, minding my own business. Strangers outside actually push me down. I now have a cane because of it. I am set up regularly because people are trying to kick me out of my home, and out of stores. I think they want to put me in jail. People want to paint me as violent when actually they are being violent towards me. The people who set me up are very good at it. No one has told me to my face what info is out there about me but on a minute by minute basis, if I am outside, people threaten to walk into me and people pass me from too close behind me when I am walking down the street. One time on a walk, I stopped for a moment and I found someone on a bike with their front bike wheel right up behind me and a group of people around me. It was humiliating. People have “petted” me like I am an animal. This has happened on public transportation with the person seated behind me petting the hair on my head. I have been picked up off the street by police and ambulances because I was set up. I know it sounds paranoid but many police seem to be in on it too so they go along with the person who has set me up. I wish to emphasize that I have not injured anyone however I have been injured and the police do not seem to care about that. I think they are after me again. People are attempting to set up a situation where I am picked up and either arrested or brought to a hospital. I know this sounds crazy but this is some of what has happened. I feel very suicidal and I do not know what to do.

50 jane January 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm

poor girl
sad
sad
oh dear
dead is not good

51 melee 000 February 21, 2010 at 5:28 pm

poor girl hope rip her friends betrade her she probley would of been thretand or not she was in so much pain so she killed her self rest in peace hope sweet hope … way upset rip hope

52 jenscudder March 10, 2010 at 1:10 am

Thank you so much for seeing what no one else sees! This girl took a picture and shouldn’t have, yes, but I totally agree that she suffered enough and that it’s terrible the way people throw all the blame her way. . . even after she has already taken her life! She was punished so severely by everyone and it never stopped. Shame on the school and the community and everyone involved! This poor girl was tortured for one mistake and it drove her to suicide! And if anyone at all can say that she deserved what she got then they need to take a step back and see just how much they’ve messed up in their lives, and also consider themselves lucky for not being tormented like this girl was. Great article and argument.

53 David March 16, 2010 at 7:49 am

Oh my god!!!Those fucking bullies and the girl who sent the photo to everyone should be ashamed of themselves!!!

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