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Sexting Can Lead to Death

Jessica was a bright, beautiful and funny teen who lived in Ohio. When she turned 18 in her high school senior year, she was dating a 19 year old and sent a few nude photos of herself to him using her cell phone. When they broke up, he sent it to at least one girl who sent it to others. The image made the rounds of Jessica's school and the other community schools. What had been a private communication became public humiliation. The students were cruel. They called her names and made fun of her. They dubbed her the "porn queen" and she became "that girl." She confided in her mom, but only told her bits and pieces, never the whole scenario of the torment. Cynthia offered to take her out of school and homeschool her until graduation, but Jessica wanted to stick it out. Jessie had sought help from her school's school resource officer (the police officer assigned to her school). But he didn't offer to do anything other than contact the girl who started the harassment and ask her to take down the images and leave Jessica alone. "No one would help!" Cynthia sobs as she tells Jessie's story. Cynthia didn't know what to do when the school refused to help. She offered to call the other parents, but Jessica didn't want her mom to contact them. (Targets of cyberbullying never do.) Neither mother nor daughter knew what to do. Then Jessie came up with a plan. She would recount her story on TV to try and keep others from doing things they will regret. So, she appeared (in shadow with her voice disguised) on the local NBC affiliate in Cincinnati just before graduation to help educate other teens about the risks of sexting and sexting-related harassment. While the TV piece was able to reach so many, the ones who mattered the most ­ Jessica's harassers ­ were unmoved. The harassment continued. The teens were relentless. Cynthia knew that Jessica was hurting, but didn't know how much. The school would send truancy reports home, but failed to share anything about the ongoing harassment. Why? That remains unanswered. But Jessica stuck it out and graduated with her class. To Cynthia, it looked like things would improve. When a friend of Jessica's asked her for a ride to the funeral of a fellow student, Mitch, who had killed himself Jessica became more troubled. "Why," she asked her mother, "would a teen take his own life?" They talked about it. Cynthia said you never know what goes through someone's mind when they

Copyright © 2010 Parry Aftab, All Rights Reserved by WiredSafety. May be duplicated by schools.

consider something like this. Jessie seemed angry about Mitch's suicide. But no one could have known that Jessica had ulterior motives when asking why this young man took his own life. She was looking to see if that was a viable choice for her. The school never offered counseling for the other students after the young man's suicide. They never offered counseling for Jessie. They said they couldn't do anything because she was 18 and that students attended school at their own risk. They took the easy way out. And they failed Jessie. Jessica went to the funeral with her friend, but didn't come right home. Cynthia had to call her to get her to come home for dinner. She held the memorial information about the young man in her hand when she came through the doors and tossed it at Cynthia. She seemed agitated, angry. But Cynthia was used to this when things troubled Jessica and thought it was to be expected after the memorial service. The table was set as Jessie climbed the stairs to take a shower. Cynthia was on a phone call with a family member when she walked down the upstairs hall that evening. She passed Jessie coming out of the shower with a towel wrapped around her still wet hair. She had no sense that anything was especially wrong. Jessie had planned to join her friends for a sleep over. But that was the last time Cynthia saw her daughter alive. Cynthia walked upstairs and knocked at Jessie's door. (She had a knock- and- open- the- door -policy.) When she didn't get an answer, she opened it to find Jessica's cell phone in the middle of the room. She scanned the room looking for Jessica and the closet door was open. She found her daughter hanging by her neck from the clothing rod. Her husband bounded up the stairs at Cynthia's screams, pulling out a pen knife to cut his daughter down. Jessica was already cold and blue. Their attempts to resuscitate her were futile. As soon as Parry Aftab heard Jessie's story while seated next to Cynthia on the Today Show as the show's expert on the topic of cybersafety, she knew this was something that would change the landscape in cybersafety. (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29546030/) It combines cyberbullying and the damage that teens can do to other teens when armed with embarrassing and private images and information. It makes the risks of sexting and cyberbullying real. Sexting is a growing and serious problem. It's when young people take nude pictures or images of them engaging in real or simulated sex acts on their cell phones or webcams and then send them to others by cell phone or webcams. About 20% of the teen girls Teenangels.org polled said they had taken a nude or sexually explicit cell phone picture or webcam shot of themselves and shared it with others (most often their boyfriends). 14% of the boys share these "private" images with others when they break up with their girlfriends. And 44% of the boys polled admitted to having seen at least one of these sexual images of a classmate. 22% of the girls polled said that they regretted whatever they had recorded on their webcam and 71% use them in their bedroom. And older teens and young adults are even more at risk, with almost 40% of

Copyright © 2010 Parry Aftab, All Rights Reserved by WiredSafety. May be duplicated by schools.

the teens over 18 and college students we polled said they had shared a nude or sexual image with their boyfriend or girlfriend online or by cell phone. It's real and it's happening with teens worldwide. And it needs to stop. Taking and sharing nude pictures with someone you are dating isn't new. Generations before used Polaroid pictures and hand delivered them. But the scale of a sexting attack is beyond comprehension. The image can be viewed by tens of thousands of other teens, and be searchable forever. It can come up during a college recruiter's online search, a job application review or even by our children when we have them and they grow up and search for mommy online. A sext is forever!

Copyright © 2010 Parry Aftab, All Rights Reserved by WiredSafety. May be duplicated by schools.

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Microsoft Word - Sexting Can Lead to Death

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Microsoft Word - Sexting Can Lead to Death