A few months ago, young teen Hope Witsell was found hanging in her bedroom. Her suicide was apparently a response to relentless bullying at school following an incident in which she sent a topless photo of herself to a boy, who showed it around the school.
Witsell was punished by her parents and by school administrators for her “crime”, and the taunting by her classmates continued unabated into a new school year.
Was this death by sexting?
Get real. As blogger Sylvia at Sylvia Has a Problem so eloquently points out, this kid did not die because she “sexted” a topless picture.
This is just another example of our frenzied fear about keeping kids safe doing them more harm than good. It’s awful and stupid that this young woman is dead. Blaming her sexy cell phone pics for it just makes it more likely that this tragedy will repeat itself, with another young girl being shamed to death over her emerging sexuality.
According to CBS, a “shocking” 20 percent of teens will admit to “sexting” when asked about it by adults taking a survey. The only thing shocking about that statistic is that CBS can report it as “shocking” with a straight face. These are teenagers. With cell phones that take pictures. What did we all expect them to do?
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that a lot more than 20% are doing it and not fessing up. Most of those kids don’t wind up dead. Most of them probably don’t even end up regretting that they used their phone camera to flirt.
I think we need to look beyond technology to get at why Hope Witsell killed herself. The article describing her suicide tries to lay the blame on her and on the “dangerous game” she played when she took that photo.
My money is on the same causes that lead to so many tragic teen suicides: a crack in her support system big enough for her to fall through, changing body chemistry that causes depression and a lack of perspective that made her think her whole life would suck as much as 8th grade.
Instead of fighting a losing war to police teenagers’ flirtations, let’s try to support them in developing healthy self-esteem and sexuality. It’s not “sexting” that’s the problem here, it’s a culture that labels any sexually aware girl a slut and any teenager caught taking naughty pics of her own body a criminal.