Sexting Hysteria Drives Teen to Suicide. Media Blames Sexting, Fuels More Hysteria.

Yet more evidence for teens that "sexting" really can ruin your life. Not because of the dirty pictures, but because of the horrible things adults will do to you when they discover them. For your own good, of course.

Today's heartbreaking example is Hope Witsell, a 13-year-old Florida girl driven to suicide after she was caught sending a topless cell phone photo of herself to a crush. When her school administrators learned of the photo, they suspended her, even though her sending it had nothing to do with the school. Witsell's classmates harassed her, calling her "whore" and "slut" in the hallways, apparently with little notice, interest, or intervention from school officials. Witsell's parents also administered some tough love, grounding her for the summer and banishing her from the Internet and her cell phone. The poor kid showed her boobs to a boy, and she was banished from her school, her friends, and the outside world.

With all due respect to Witsell's parents, who are obviously grieving, it's the adults in Sylvia's life who need the tough love here. These overblown reactions to what's really little more than a technologically enhanced version of the age-old game of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" really do ruin kids' lives, be it by saddling them with a criminal record, securing them a spot on a sex offender list, instilling in their heads that they're some sort of outcast pervert, or in Hope Witsell's case—Jesus—driving them to kill themselves.

I found this story via a link to the blog Sylvia Has a Problem. The blogger, "Sylvia" I presume, points to coverage of Witsell's death on the Today Show and rightly points out the most infuriating and disheartening part of all of this: Media coverage of the case has put the brunt of the blame on the 13-year-old kid herself, and her "impetuous move" to tread in the dark netherworld of "sexting."

That of course means the likely take-away narrative from Today Show viewers learning of Witsell's death last week will be that we need to crack down harder on kids who engage in sexting. You know, "to prevent more Hope Witsells." Which really only increases the odds we'll see more Hope Witsells.

Kids make mistakes. It's up to the adults in their lives—from parents to school administrators to law enforcement authorities—to show some sense of proportionality and perspective in reacting to those mistakes.

It's a dubious proposition that sending a couple dirty pictures to a boyfriend is going to ruin a young girl's life. But the hysterical, puritanical reactions of the authority figures around her sure as hell can.

Be sure to read Nancel Rommelmann's terrific report on another outrageous case of adults persecuting sexting teens from our July 2009 issue.

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  • mark||

    Yet more evidence for teens that "sexting" really can ruin your life. Not because of the diry pictures, but because of the horrible things adults will to you when they discover them. For your own good, of course.

    I'm going to let you take another stab at that, RB.

  • mark||

    Good post, otherwise.

  • mark||

    Almost got it. "diry" pictures?

  • The Chad||

    I had to reread the sentence several times to figure out what you're talking about.

  • Mark A Tarnowski||

    THIS:

    When her school administrators learned of the photo, they suspended her, even though her sending it had nothing to do with the school.
  • ||

    Preach it, Balko. Amen.

  • Jeff P||

    I just tried to post a joke in texting slang and was bounced as spam.

    Ah well.

  • ||

    I LOLed, if that helps.

  • Abdul||

    Hell, they're are a lot of dumber mistakes middle-schoolers make than sexting. Don't teenagers get knocked up anymore?

  • Kyle Jordan||

    Believe it or not, that's more acceptable to many people. Or at least it seems that way.

  • LarryA||

    Our local high school has a day care center, in part for student's children. Some of the parents are junior high students.

    But cellphones are banned.

  • ||

    Well, that's something at least.

    Not that they ban cellphones, but that they let those girls finish their education instead of shunning them.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Get the parents' names! The principal/vice principals are on this site here. I would NEVER suggest giving the school a call if you have a free five minutes just to let them know, by the by, that they are murderers:

    Beth Shields Middle School
    15732 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin, FL 33573
    Phone: (813) 672-5338 / Fax: (813) 672-5342

    Anna Voida, Principal
    Marilyn Cook, Assistant Principal for Curriculum
    Jason Spahn, Assistant Principal for Administration

  • Abdul||

    TAO,

    C'mon, the girl's passed on. I doubt anyone there feels happy about this situation. What do you want the school now, take the suspension off her permanent record?

  • ||

    Perhaps TAO wants them to recognize what they have done and why their actions are so bad so they STOP doing it, rather than ramp it up.

  • Piltdown Man||

    I assume you mean metaphorical murderers TAO.We wouldn't want to trample their civil liberties or anything rash like that.

  • Slut Bunwalla||

    Whoa whoa whoa. They're not murderers. No more so than Lori Drew (or whatever her name was, the Myspace bully lady).

  • Piltdown Man||

    Much less so actually

  • Piltdown Man||

    Still, Hope had a very trying summer. A student adviser for the local Future Farmers of America chapter, Hope was allowed by her parents to attend the FFA convention in Orlando. But in a display of just how prevalent teen pressure is when it comes to “sexting,” Hope gave in to incessant badgering from a group of boys staying across from Hope and her friend in a hotel room to provide them with a picture of her breasts.

    This was at least the SECOND time Hope did the digital boob flash,this time to all the guys at the FFA convention.
    The second time as far as her parents and Today Show viewers are aware of.I suspect Hope's personal problems were far more complex than her propensity for serial digital boob-flashing.

  • Medic001||

    What was that movie...heathers?

  • kinnath||

    Covered by Slate last Tuesday:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2237706/

    The author floats the idea that the problem is not sexting but bullying.

    So one in the "not the teen's fault" column.

  • ||

    Well, perhaps it goes in the "not this particular teen's fault" column, but still lands squarely in the "the other teens at her school fault" column. There's no blaming the adults who are acting like children.

  • kinnath||

    No doubt the author dances around the "what should be do" question.

  • ||

    Yeah, but what that article comes down to is how important it is to prevent kids from sexting -- because they'll be bullied (and authorities won't protect them), rather than because they'll be kicked out of school and labeled Sex Criminal.

    Tied together with Pop Psych stuff about kids' mental and emotional development and how poor impulse control synergizes with photo-emails from your phone.

  • kinnath||

    Radley Balko focusses on the terrible things the adults did -- true, but not a complete view of the problem.

    Emily Bazelon focussed on the stupid things kids do and that technology makes it easier -- again true, but not a complete view of the problem.

    Schools have been "talking" for decades about how to deal with bullying in schools while mostly failing to do anything about it.

    Nearly every boomer walking around today is terrified that their kids are going to do all the stupid things they when the were young (and proud of it at the time).

    The list of failure in this specific case is extremely long.

  • CaptainSmartass||

    The girl was 13. Her parents weren't boomers, they were Gen-Xers. Who are even worse as parents than the boomers were because, gee, who do you think taught them how to be parents in the first place?

  • kinnath||

    I'm 52. I have co-workers my age that have children the same age as my grandchildren.

    So while it may be probable that the girl's parents are GenX, it is not certain.

    However, we can be certain that the boomers started most of the hysterics leading up to zero-tolerance policies in schools and stringent laws on child porn and sex offender registries.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    However, we can be certain that the boomers started most of the hysterics leading up to zero-tolerance policies in schools and stringent laws on child porn and sex offender registries.


    Boomers did not start zero-tolerance policies.

    The service academies have had zero-tolerance policies against lying, cheating, and stealing for over a century.

  • kinnath||

    not particularly relevant

  • Old Mexican||

    It's a dubious proposition that sending a couple dirty pictures to a boyfriend is going to ruin a young girl's life.

    Isn't sending photos of underage girls through a network a Federal crime, regardless of who's the sender?

    I remember a time when just being flirtatious was enough to ruin a girl's life - or her reputation, maybe.

    Since WHEN is ruining one's reputation the same as ruining one's LIFE? Those parents are guilty of ONE thing all right: teaching their kid totally screwed-up priorities!

  • claude||

    When it pushes them to suicide.

  • Old Mexican||

    It takes a screwed up mind to think that a reputation is worth a life. Again, this girl's parents did not teach her to set her priorities straight.

  • ||

    Old Mex--Do you have kids? If so, do they do every last thing you tell them to do and don't do everything you tell them not to do? They never argue with you and refuse to listen to reason?

    You never did anything against your parent's wishes as a teenager, or do something you know they would kill you over if they found out?

    Kids have minds of their own and will pretty much whatever the hell they want to do, if the the payoff is greater than the perceived punishment, if they perceive any chance of punishment to begin with.

    Or they'll do something just out of spite, just to get back at a parent. All parents can hope to do is mitigate the worst behaviors of their kids and teach them right from wrong, instilling some moral code in them.

    That doesn't mean they'll always do the right thing. Some kids take to what their parents tell them; most don't.

  • claude||

    U r aware we aren't speaking of an adult, but rather a 13 year old girl? Perhaps the parents didn't have their priorities straight? Same with the school.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    However, we can be certain that the boomers started most of the hysterics leading up to zero-tolerance policies in schools and stringent laws on child porn and sex offender registries.


    In some cultures, people who dishonor themselves are honor-bound to commit sepukku.

  • ||

    Shouldn't be that way when the sender is the underage girl, if she were not coerced, of course. It should be chalked up to something the parents scold her for and that is all.

  • ||

    "Isn't sending (nude) photos of underage girls through a network a Federal crime, regardless of who's the sender?"

    for anyone older than legal adult age, indeed it should be and indeed they should be labeled as sex offenders. but, in the innocence of youth, the mind has not fully developed nor has it learned how cope with the intensity surrounding such behavior. this is precisely the reason why this poor girl killed herself. children simply can't be treated like adults, and more delicate tecniques need to be deployed when teaching them the difference between right and wrong. you seem to overlook the fact that the picture was taken by her of herself out of innocent sexual curiosity... not by some creepy adult pervert of a child knowing full well the sexual desires it will arouse in an adult audience. the girl didn't even intend for adults to see it. this hardly grounds for considering this as child pornography.

  • ||

    Such stories make me regret that I don't believe in hell.

  • oncogenesis||

    +1

  • JB||

    It doesn't need your belief to exist.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    TAO,

    C'mon, the girl's passed on. I doubt anyone there feels happy about this situation. What do you want the school now, take the suspension off her permanent record?

    Oh, well, then I guess we'll just live and let live, eh?

    Sorry, but the adults bullied a girl into killing herself. That fact does not suddenly alleviate their guilt.

  • kinnath||

    from the slate article

    Last week, Hope's suicide became the second with a clear link to sexting and the peer torture that can follow from it. At the end of seventh grade last spring, Hope sent a photo of her breasts to a boy she liked, and the picture went viral at her school. "Tons of people talk about me behind my back and I hate it because they call me a whore!"

    I would argue that the grown-ups involved are largely responsible because they failed to mitigate the consequences of the sexting episode. But it appears the suicide was more influenced by her peers than her superiors.

  • ||

    The question is, how many of her peers knew about this because of the actions of the administration? Obviously it's possible that the guy she sent the sext to told people about it, but it would be interesting to see if that's the case here.

  • Peder||

    The guy must have sent them on, otherwise the school would never have known about them.

  • ||

    Actually, the Slate story says that there are "rumors" that a rival girl borrowed the guy's cell on the bus and sent the picture to all her friends.

    Not sure if that's the truth, obviously.

  • DRATER||

    Her peers pushed her to suicide; the adults helped clear away any obstacles.

    The bullies may someday develop a conscience, and come to regret their actions (or not). The adults have no excuses. None.

  • Johnny Longtorso||

    The parents just did what all good citizens should do - get caught up, unthinkingly, in the latest scare campaign.

    If only the Climategate emails had topless pics of the scientists. Then the media would be interested.

  • Mad Max||

    Now I've lost my appetite - thanks a lot!

  • ||

    So long as I can choose the scientists...

    http://media.mcclatchydc.com/s.....ate.91.jpg

  • ||

    Eew.

    This one's a better choice:
    http://www.thesciencebabe.com/

  • ||

    +10000

  • Kevin||

    Started to type a response, but this is so wrong on so many levels, I'd be typing all day.

  • ¢||

    If only the Climategate emails had topless pics of the scientists. Then the media would be interested.

    ...in relentlessly demanding prosecution and/or bullying the "hacker" into killing himself.

  • Old Mexican||

    what's really little more than a technologically enhanced version of the age-old game of "I'll show you yours if you show me mine"[...]

    Maybe kids ARE stupider today. In my time, kids were PRUDENT enough to play those games IN PRIVATE. I mean, phones may have cameras, but back when I was a teen, Polaroids were still available and plentiful.

  • ||

    Nope. Teenagers are just as stupid as ever. The technology and ease of transmission has just made it public.

  • Ska||

    And everyone went to school with their polaroids, and you could discreetly send the intangible image to someone of your choosing.

    It's not comparable, and with the advent of myspace and facebook, and the technological advancements in both communication and image storage, the concept of privacy has been completely altered. What's private to you isn't the same as what's private to me, and what's private to the generation or two younger than me is also different. It ends up becoming get off my lawn, stupid kids these days.

  • Old Mexican||

    The point I was trying to make using the Polaroid example is that kids in my teen years ALSO had access to technology, and yet were not using it to pass photos of themselves naked around - at least, not where I lived (maybe somebody DID.)

    But it is true, the technology makes it easier to pass around photos. it is just that kids totally underestimate how this technology spawns copies ad infinitum and the high dissemination rates the networks provide.

  • ||

    We're now in the era where making a sex tape is how many stars break into the big time.

  • ||

    kids in my teen years ALSO had access to technology, and yet were not using it to pass photos of themselves naked around

    They were using it where I lived, at least. I doubt we were the only ones.

  • ||

    I'm sure this girl thought the text message she sent would be kept private, too.

  • ||

    That's naive, but after all she was only 13...which is why this was all over blown, like she was supposed to fully understand the consequences of her actions or some unrealistic crap.

  • Atanarjuat||

    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.

    That boy she liked is an ass. In certain circumstances it's ok to show a good friend nude photos of your woman for proof and your friend's enjoyment, but forwarding them to other students is just wrong.

  • Atanarjuat||

    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.

    Maybe I spoke too soon. Well whoever sent that picture around should be hit with multiple counts of distributing child porn.

  • ||

    Well whoever sent that picture around should be hit with multiple counts of distributing child porn.

    Dude, come on. A topless self-portrait of a 13 year-old is not child porn by any definition.

  • ||

    except the U.S. federal criminal code's definition...

  • ||

    ...which is half of Radley's point.

  • Abdul||

    If Roman Polanski could yank one out to it, it's child porn.

  • kinnath||

    That makes the Sears catalog child porn. That's not actually snark -- it's an indication of the craziness of current child porn laws and enforcement.

  • Steve||

    The photo was forwarded along by another 13 year old. The entire point of this post is that 13 year old kids do dumb stuff.

    Stuff that isn't that big of a damn deal, and certainly shouldn't be prosecuted by well meaning nebishes such as yourself.

    If the forwarder was your child/sister/niece, do you think you'd want her prosecuted?

    Think. It's not that hard.

  • kinnath||

    I recommend reading the slate article. It has a few more details than Balko's post. This would say you the need to apologize for making an erroneous post.

    According to other students at Hope Witsell's school, the picture she sent of herself topless was forwarded from the phone of the boy she liked by another girl.

  • kinnath||

    damn it, too fucking slow again. my apologies

  • BeesInTheBrain||

    I am baffled as to what business of the schools is it what she did on her private time. If she took the photos away from school time and sent them away from school then the school is vastly overstepped its' bounds.

    Also, when did it become ok for school administrators to view naked photos of their underage students. In the linked story by Nancel, the "dean had requested the images in an effort to sort things out—but that made him a suspect". Once again the images were taken and sent during non-school time and as such were none of his business.

  • Old Mexican||

    Also, when did it become ok for school administrators to view naked photos of their underage students[?]

    It became OK the moment they figured out they could use a good excuse to avoid Child Pornography charges while looking at dirty pictures of underage girls.

  • Atanarjuat||

    "dean had requested the images in an effort to sort things out—but that made him a suspect"

    That is fucking creepy.

  • ||

    Kids do stupid things. Those stupid things shouldn't made into a federal crime.

    The school administrators are f-ing retarded. Who could possibly think that making it public was the correct course of action?

    Call the girl's parents, and let them deal with it.

    Any word on who she sent them to? Is he on the sexual predator list yet?

    Damn shame.

  • ||

    ok, apparently the boy was a douche and is responsible for making it public...

  • ||

    Media coverage of the case has put the brunt of the blame on the 13-year-old kid herself, and her "impetuous move" to tread in the dark netherworld of "sexting."

    I strongly doubt that this "impetuous move" had anything to do with her suicide. It would not surprise me to find out that just like in the Megan Meier/Lori Drew case Hope Witsell had other emotional issues.

    N.B. that none of this excuses the idiotic reactions by the adults in her world. I just hope most children are of sturdier stock than to resort to suicide over something like this.

  • ||

    "this "impetuous move" had anything to do with her suicide."

    Really? Obviously, her parents could have raised her to not care so much about other people's opinions, but to say that it had nothing to do with her suicide is stupid.

  • ||

    The "impetuous move" I was referring to is her taking the picture and immersing herself in the "dark netherworld of sexting" by giving it to her boyfriend. That is the only thing she even did.

    Presumably she killed herself because of the stress generated by the reactions around her. But even given that her response seems extreme. I think it is highly likely there is more to her emotional health than this.

  • ||

    As the father of a 14 year old girl, I generally agree with Radley here, but with one dissent.

    The difference with "I'll show you mine..." is that it was played in private and was not reproducible. The picture of the topless teen, once sent, is now available for the recipient to distribute at will. Having one's half-naked picture potentially distributed all over school or widely on the Web is a significant difference from two kids in a bedroom or the bushes (even with a Polaroid).

    None of this excuses the behavior of the girl's peers or the school, but I'm a little bit more sympathetic to the parents' strong reaction about closing off her access to the Net. The mistake the girl made here was choosing to expose herself to her boyfriend in a form that could be spread everywhere and, in fact, do some damage to her.

    As a parent, the talk with her would be mostly about making better choices around technology, rather than her being some sort of pervert. I'd have the same conversation if she posted something on her MySpace page that had nothing to do with sex but that could be spread around and make her very embarrassed or look foolish.

  • Lester Hunt||

    I had the same thought. Though the reproducibility of the picture only enhances the degree to which the girl has harmed herself. In my book, that's reason for a talking-to, not punishment. (See J. S. Mill.)

  • ||

    +1

    I have a seven year old daughter, and I see a new angle here to keep her from getting involved in this stuff. Any picture of her could potentially fall into the hands of an enemy. Better not to give them the ammunition.

  • ||

    And when that cute boy is manipulating her to get into her pants, she'll forget every last word that you and everyone else has said.

  • ||

    Having now seen it was another girl, apparently, who forwarded it after finding it oh the bf's phone, I'm even more sure of my take on this. Even if the boy wasn't an asshole, once you have the picture out there and easily shared, you are asking for trouble from anyone.

  • kinnath||

    We can't even teach adults that technology means that every private email, or photo, or whatever is just one click away from being published to the entire world.

  • robc||

    I think the climate scientists have learned it.

  • kinnath||

    ;-)

  • ||

    A friend of mine is going through divorce, and in the course of some legal searching of her children's names, she found that videos of her children that her ex-husband had put on Facebook were being hosted on russian child porn sites (with their names intact in the filename). Law enforcement had to get involved, and they found that many more copies of her children were being hosted by the same sites with changed filenames. How fucking sick to know that images of your children--with their real names--are out there being traded around.

    Her ex-husband is a fucking idiot.

  • Robert||

    But did the parents think the videos were pornographic? If I were to copy the content here to a porn site, would that embarrass everybody here because Hit & Run comments had thereby become porno?

  • Abdul||

    Another unintended consequence of Hope's picture is that her crush could have caught a possession of child porn conviction.

    Hell, what if the parents had her cell phone with the saved "SENT" file? they could've been charged, investigated by DHS, etc.

    Sorry angel, but if your actions can bring that much heat down on innocent folks, you need to sit offline for a while and think about it.

  • ||

    All of which points to a distinct lack of common sense on the part of the law enforcement hysteria as well as the girl and the rest of those involved in this case.

    Irrationality across the board.

    Thanks Balko for transmitting a sane message.

  • ||

    here here

  • No, it's||

    hear, hear

    /just sayin'

  • ||

    I saw this story on the Today Show last week. The mother was being interviewed, while an "expert" on internet safety sat next to her, holding her hand.

    According to the mother, the girl didn't say anything to her mom about the teasing she was dealing with at school - I think it happened in march, and she killed herself on September 12.

    Anyway, she shared her story and then the "expert" spoke a little bit about how terrible it all is. Then, uncritically, she rattled off the law.

    "Oh yes! If you send, receive, or are in possession of sexting material, you are guilty of child pornography and you will be sent to jail and put on the sex offender registry!"

    She said it as if, "ah hah! Solution!"

    Followed up with a knowing, concerned nod by the hostess... cut to commercial. No critical evaluation of the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of such measures, no comment about how the law would not have saved this girl - and in fact would likely have made her apt to kill herself even sooner than she did.

    Fucking sickening.

  • ||

    This is why I don't watch these shows. My TV would be riddled with bullet holes.

  • ||

    Yeah, I had to stop myself throwing my coffee at the screen.

    I even said, aloud, "the one fucking time I tune in to this stupid fucking show, I see THIS! FUCK!"

    Never again, I swear it.

  • ||

    Wasn't The Today Show the third Anti-Christ predicted by Nostradamus?

  • ||

    But the internet's not even involved in this case.... argh.

  • Zeb||

    This is why it is a shame that Polaroid cameras are not still around. The reactions of the school and parents was awful, but how can you think that a teenage boy is not going to share this with all of his friends. At least with Polaroids, there is only one copy to pass around.

  • LarryA||

    Uh, there's this little thing called a photocopier? And a scanner? And you can take a picture of a polaroid with a cellphone? I'm afraid the cat is truly out of the bag on this one.

  • kinnath||

    It was hard enough raising a boy and a girl during the aftermath of the McMartin preschool debacle.

    I don't know how my kids are going to get their two boys and two girls through the coming teenage years.

  • Atanarjuat||

    I have a feeling that the most important talk I ever have with my son (who's far from a teen yet) will be how to avoid getting wrongly thrown on a sex offender registry.

  • kinnath||

    My father had to do the "always where a rubber son" conversation. I had to talk to AIDS and other diseases. My son will have to cover electronic recording devices and criminal law.

  • VM||

    RIP Ms Witsell.

    sad.

    but typical coverage on GMA. when will our culture get over its fear of sex???

  • ||

    Never? Is never good for you?

  • VM||

    just you wait until we take all abba and vrooowwwsch to the moon!

  • Highway||

    It's not 'good', but it's probably true.

  • VM||

    As long as I can still bate in the supply closet every afternoon at three, I'm good. (hour and two minutes to go)

  • Ska||

    How do you keep the eels fresh?

  • VM||

    just avoid the "bicycle grip" syndrome, and you're fine.

  • roguepatriot||

    This story broke my heart and drove me to tears.

    Great article, nonetheless.

    That poor girl.

  • Youngster||

    but back when I was a teen, Polaroids were still available and plentiful.
    What's a Polaroid?

  • Old Mexican||

    It's like a camera that prints its own photos, except the printer is integrated to the camera...

    ;-)

  • ||

    Polaroid? BAH!

    In my day, we used daguerreotypes!

  • Methuselah||

    Well, in my time, we used to chisel our porn out of limestone!

  • ||

    Well look, youngster, not all of us had access to these high-tech "chisels". We made do with colored earth and crushed berries smeared on rock walls. On the plus side, that stuff isn't so durable, so it didn't linger to cause embarrassment.

    What?

  • ||

    If the School authorities would just look the other way about so many private things, they might wake up to discover that their positions at the school are a non-essential part of the operations; the taxpayers could save so much; I taught at a Catholic High School who hired many non-Catholic teachers; the adminstrative costs are about 1/10 of public schools. Most school administrators are busy bodies with non-essential functions.

  • Crusader||

    Bottom line is how stupid could the girl be to send such a compromising picture of herself to a boy? Obviously teens are that age have no brains whatsoever and she paid the ultimate price...

  • The Angry Optimist||

    try not to let your joy at a death come through too much, eh wot?

  • ||

    Yes, death is the apt punishment for sending a boob shot to a boy.

    I hope you die cold and alone.

  • ||

    About as stupid as your average teenager. Lots of ideas popping into their heads. Little to no risk assessment.

    That's what you were trying to get across, right? Not callous indifference to a possibly preventable tragedy.

  • ||

    Yes, it was a stupid thing to do. That doesn't make it criminal, and it certainly doesn't equal the "price" of suicide.

    The government and the school getting involved was unnecessary and only exaggerated the situation.

    The fact that the picture was somehow distributed publicly is bad enough for a 13 year old girl to deal with.

  • oncogenesis||

    I'm comin' for ya, Crusader.

  • ||

    This is a serious problem with kids having access to technology that can seriously screw up their lives.

    As an adult, if an adult woman sent me such a picture, I would immediately make sure to either delete it or save it somewhere where I knew no one would find it. This teenage guy obviously didn't have the wisdom to do that, failing to foresee the possibility it would end up in the wrong hands.

    There's a reason we don't let kids drive and fly planes and such. They don't have the wisdom to avoid dangerous situations, so they shouldn't be put in positions where they can easily get themselves in serious trouble through sheer naivete. If I ever have kids they're not getting a camera phone till they're 16, that's for damn sure.

  • ||

    According to the badly written article, she borrowed a friend's camera for a 2nd topless shot.

    At least, I think. I read that butchered slop of a story 3 times and couldn't figure out the timeline.

  • the other JB||

    really?
    When a chick sends me pics of her tits, I usually forward it to my friends, just as I expect them to forward that shit to me. As my dad said in his famous birds and bees chat "parts are parts". Who cares, unless its underage stuff, then delete, but beautiful tits are beautiful. Now if I'm in a relationship, I usually don't have some other chick sending me tit pics, but if I'm not I'm gonna click save. Whats so dangerous and scary about sex, just wrap it up or make sure she's on the pill and by make sure I mean watch her swallow and check her mouth. Also avoid skanks.

    I'm not saying this to brag rather to make a point, I've slept with over 100 women and at 8 guys and I've never once not enjoyed sex and at least 80% of the previous numbers were casual sex. I suppose it might shock you to know I've never cheated, my life's not fucked up and god has not smote the shit out of me yet. Nor do I have any baby me's out there. Nor do I use drugs or drink or have anything which anyone might consider to be harmful effects of having many sex partners.

  • Warty||

    Wait, I didn't catch all that. You and your friends show each other porn while you're fucking each other?

  • the other JB||

    sometimes...

  • ||

    I want to read more comments like this.

  • Atanarjuat||

    He lost me at "avoid skanks".

  • ||

    Actually, that's where I thought the whole thing was satire.

  • Atanarjuat||

    Good point, I guess I should have realized when he was bragging about bedding 100 women and 8 guys...

  • Grandpa Whithers||

    Actually, they can fly planes. They just can't drive themselves to the airport.

  • Some dude||

    This article has more to do with the general dysfunction of the peculiar institution called "school" than anything else.

  • ||

    Everyone seems to be lamenting this girl's death. Well, though I certainly think its a tragedy, what ever happened to our whole libertarian "personal responsibility" thing? The girl took her own life for what, being grounded from cell-phone and interwebs usage and a few snide comments from peers at school? Her parents did what I think is an acceptable punishment and her peers teasing should've been a lesson learned for her. But instead of dealing with the unintended consequences of her actions, she took her own life. Sorry, but I'm not crying for little Hope. She took her own life for silly reasons while children all over the world go through much worse than losing internet access and a cell phone without resorting to suicide. Forgive my lack of sympathy for the girl, my sympathy is reserved to the parents who will live out their lives in constant doubt and second guessing despite enforcing what I see as a reasonable punishment.

  • ||

    Never had children, eh? Have one. A girl. You'll get it then.

  • ||

    Even if you make the concession that the parents' punishment was "unreasonable" and excessive, I think its ridiculous to fault them for Hope's suicide. The girl, in a fashion that is probably typical for early teenage girls, overreacted and was melodramatic about a punishment she had to suffer through. But she took her own life, no one else. The fault for her death lies on her squarely and no one else.

  • ||

    It seems clear you're not a parent, but regardless, you're missing the point. Of course, she bears some blame, as do all the other people involved. But the fault of the SUICIDE does fall MOSTLY to the parents, but it has nothing to do with the punishment. If you're not communicating well enough with your kid that you don't know that level of torment at school is happening, then you're not doing your job.

    Guaranteed they're blaming themselves right now.

  • ||

    I agree with JW.

    My biggest criticism about this is that school and government involvement made the situation 100 times worse.

    It was bad enough that she had to deal with her peers teasing her, her social life ruined, and her parents being disappointed in her. Then the school has to step in and insure that the whole story is made public and the media covers it thoroughly.

    Once the picture became public, it wasn't just a mistake, the girl was wearing a scarlet letter.

  • ||

    Forgive my callousness then. I thought from a tertiary browsing of the comments here that people were getting all pissed at the parents. The schools involvement should have been completely discrete and private. I can see them having a case for saying something to her, and even a slight reprimand, but it didnt have to blow up into a huge ordeal. I guess my knee-jerk defense is the parents, who I think are suffering the most from all of this. With all that said, I still maintain that the ultimate suicide should be laid at the feet of the person who chose that path, mitigating circumstances surrounding that decision notwithstanding.

  • ||

    I guess my knee-jerk defense is the parents, who I think are suffering the most from all of this.

    I agree with that statement.

    Finding one of my kids dead is a recurring I-don't-want-to-be-having-this-thought-now-or-ever thought that just pops in when you read things like this. It's too much to bear even thinking about.

  • VM||

    "my knee-jerk defense is the parents, who I think are suffering the most from all of this."

    you mean after Ms Witsell's suffering, of course.

  • ||

    Ahh... boys don't get it.
    The things girls do to eachother in middle school are 1000 times worse than a punch in the face.

    Destroying a girl's reputation is pretty much the ultimate acheivment for a middle school girl, and that other girl was a rival for another boy's attention on top of it.

    Girls in middle school are all about social status and acceptance. Getting called a whore every day for motnhs would drive any of them to suicide.

    When you're a girl geek, you get called name, you get ostracized. You get called a "loser" or a "nerd" or a "dork". You don't get called a "whore".

  • ||

    +1, HM. It's also very easy to forget what it's like after a few years. You get older and you build up your confidence to the point where you can deal with that sort of thing, but you don't have those defenses a when you're that young.

  • ||

    Well, though I certainly think its a tragedy, what ever happened to our whole libertarian "personal responsibility" thing?

    "personal responsibility" doesn't extend to minors, bub. You might have noticed that few libertarians will tell their crying baby to shut up and get a job if they want to eat.

  • Ted S.||

    Libertarians, no. Objectivists, I'm not so sure.

  • ||

    Don't give them cell phones, or get one you can disable the camera on.

  • LarryA||

    Education* always works better than prohibition.

    *Education as in talking to your kids and teaching them real stuff, not what happens in public school.

    "Daughter, your cellphone has a camera. Sit beside me while we cruise this website where all the teen boobshots are posted by boyfriends and other friends the girl thought she could trust. I know, I'm embarrassing you, but do you get the message? And as usual, no matter how bad you mess up, we still love you!"

  • zoltan||

    And make sure the female parent does that.

  • ||

    I don't fault them, nor do I fault the girl. This was a tragedy of epic fucking proportions. Yes, she started this whole thing with an incredibly stupid decision, but what all the adults, who were not her parents, did afterward verges on criminal.

    She was a child, not an adult, with adult-levels of reasoning. She was 13. That's about as irrational, emotion-ridden and unprepared for life as you get on this planet. Trying to get a teenage girl to not act out rashly on her emotions is about as fruitful as teaching quantum mechanics to a walrus.

    What was foreseeable to you and I is beyond the scope of most teenagers to see. They see the moment, little else. Have you already forgotten?

    Good luck with that empathy thing.

  • ||

    That was to Sudden above.

  • Grandpa Whithers||

    "She was 13. That's about as irrational, emotion-ridden and unprepared for life as you get on this planet."

    What? Tony's only 13?

  • Tony Non-Crony||

    Now that you mention it, I can't shake the suspicion that he is.

  • laurie||

    you know, everyone keeps saying that 13 is such an irrational stage, I say it depends on how their enviroment has been up to that age.

    Ever since I was 9 my life quickly change and I lived in some really dangerous areas, I had to fend for myself at home a lot and seeing all the concequences of others especially girls really made me extra coucious.

    now living in an area were it seems boredum is rampent (boredum can seriously make people do stupid things, even adults) my brother is doing a lot more irrational things because he hasnt been exposed to what could go wrong.

    My parents never gave me the sex talk though they do answer questions if I ask. At age 13 (9 really) I just knew enough to know that if I dont know something and that everyone avoids telling like it is (except for my parents and I learned about BS really early) then I know they have something to hide. Sex is not the problem, its people that over complicate a natural function.

    School should have nothing to do with it other then let the parents know, but its not fully the schools fault since for a long time now, parents keep blaming schools and media for 'corruption' of their kids.

    Even if her parents had isolated her, its obvious that they were passive in interacting with her cause then should wouldnt have had the alone time to kill herself. I think they were being highly selfish in the punishment as though they never did anything mistakes. So she sent some breasts through the phone that was a stupid thing to do but to punish her like an 'irrational' young girl instead of treating her like a being able to learn new things is far worse.

    This started around march (?) and happened in september, I think there was a missed opportunity.

  • girls made me extra coucious||

    I grew up in Algeria too!

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Why is everyone so genial here? The behavior of the parents amounts to (not legally) negligence. Having a tough time at school because of a mistake, my daughter? Well, you're friggin' grounded!

  • ||

    RTFA. They did that.

    Oh, and it's NEVER that simple.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    I know they did that, and I am mocking them for it. RC wants to know who is not a moron here? The 13-year-old, because, even though they are, by definition, morons, they are so because they haven't had experiences yet and they have crazy hormones. Adults were responsible for this from top to bottom.

  • ||

    I'm guessing that the (probably) 20-something reporterette might have missed in the article some of the subtle data, nuances and unseen transactions of the parent-child relationship.

  • BeesInTheBrain||

    Ok explain how you as a parent would react to your daughter sending nude pictures of herself. Also as a parent explain how you would have handled the school's actions.

  • VM||

    the typing on your post is so beautiful, could you, pretty please, enter it again?

  • LarryA||

    Ok explain how you as a parent would react to your daughter sending nude pictures of herself.

    “Look, daughter, you messed up. We still love you but we don’t like what you did. This isn’t just a morality ramble. Read these stories by that Balco guy. If you send pictures like this there are retarded adults that will ruin not only your life, but the lives of anyone even accidentally involved. Yeah, I know your boyfriend might be completely trustworthy, but sometimes that isn’t enough.

    “Now, kids at your school are calling you names. Remember your friend what’s-her-name, and what she did that you dissed her about? Well:
    1. This is how she felt.
    2. No one’s talking about her anymore because newer stuff has come up, right? Soon everyone will forget that this happened, too. Yes, it hurts, but it will end and you’ll have learned something.

    “Now come give me a hug or you don’t get any supper.”

    Also as a parent explain how you would have handled the school's actions.

    “Mr. Principal, you know I’ll back up any reasonable action you take with my children. This isn’t reasonable, so I’ll give you a choice. I stand here and watch while you unsuspend my child for an incident that was obviously none of the school’s damn business, and which we will handle at home. Otherwise I’ll take out my cell and call my attorney, who is my daughter’s godfather and a lot more pissed off than I am. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Fi... Thank you.”

  • BeesInTheBrain||

    Ok explain how you as a parent would react to your daughter sending nude pictures of herself. Also as a parent explain how you would have handled the school's actions.

  • VM||

    what are you trying to say?

  • ||

    Let's try a different angle:

    Is that a single person involved in this whole episode who isn't a complete fucking moron? If so, I can't spot 'em.

  • Piltdown Man||

    No,there's not.That includes the dead girl too.After all she supposedly went through she was still sending out new boob shots at the Future Farmers of America convention.That was the summer AFTER her school suspension.Apparently she was a serial jailbait digital boob flasher.

  • Some Guy||

    That is very sad. Being 13 years old makes her a minor, right? Then how does cracking down on minors with felony charges and sex-offender registrations help the situation at all? It's not like they're trafficking gigabytes worth of kiddie porn to adult sex offenders. I know, let's put them in jail and kick them out of school in order to save them, right? Zero tolerance policies really mean zero judgment policies IMHO, but I'm just preaching to the choir.

    Not to nitpick, but in the third paragraph, it says "with all due respect to Witsell's parents, who are obviously grieving, it's the adults in *Sylvia's* life who need the tough love here." Shouldn't that be *Hope's* life?

  • Sam Grove||

    We live in a country where even libertarians call cell phone pics of boobs "dirty".

  • MJ||

    Libertarians are not necessarily libertines.

  • zoltan||

    cell phone pics of UNDERAGE boobs

  • ||

    I am beginning to think the vast majority of the above comments are from folks who have never been a parent and have completely forgotten what it's like to be a 13 year old. Don't you all remember the delights of middle school?

  • ||

    The thing that infuriates me the most about it is the school's unwillingness or inability to do anything about the peer harassment the girl was subjected to.

    Anyone with half a brain who is aware that a nude photo of a girl has been forwarded around the school has GOT to know how humiliating that had to be for her.

    And they HAD to know what kind of effect that kind of peer treatment is going to have on a 13 year old girl.

    If it had been me, I would have gotten the girl into counselling immediately, and I would have threatened to arrest any student caught with a copy of the photo. You might think that would make things worse for her, but at least the counselling would help her deal with it, and she would have some assurance that the photo wasn't still in circulation.

  • zoltan||

    Being both the victim and perpetrator of bullying, I completely agree. Most bullies are cunning enough to know when the bumbling, ignorant teacher isn't looking at them and their cruel plans. But most importantly in my experience, it was the teachers who deliberately would not pay attention or even anticipate the bullying.

  • MJ||

    Reading the article, it does not seem like what the parents did or what the school did punishing her about the photo had much to do with her suicide, but rather the merciless taunting from her schoolmates. It is the overblown reaction of her fellow students to the photo that drove Hope down, not the reaction of the adults. The school did not seem to contribute to that because the photo was already out to the other kids before the school found out (the school probably found outbecause of the disruption in class the gossip was causing).

    I question how the school justified suspending her for the photo and I suppose you can criticize the parents' punishment, and perhaps the adults should have seen the deep seated emotional problems she had, but Balko seems to be suggesting that the parents should not have done anything as punishment at all.

  • ||

    I'm not a parent myself, but I really question how much good any kind of additional punishment levied by the parents is going to do. She's already facing the consequences of being taunted at school.

    And this is from a guy who thinks parents are too reluctant to punish these days.

  • MJ||

    I think it's fair to criticize the ffectiveness of what the parent's did, it is not fair to blame the parent's disclipline method for their daughter's death as Balko does.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    If an underage person engages in sexting, what is to stop the picture from ending up on some Russian web server (the same kind that hosts phishing sites ), making pictures of underage persons publicly available?

  • Chelle B. (offendedblogger)||

    This is, indeed, a sad story. I recently did an in-depth investigation into just how prevalent sexting is, and believe me, it is universal.

    Also, am I the only one who is afraid to drive on the highway during the peak hours when inexperienced teens may be sexting and driving?

  • Max D.||

    We have to destroy the village to save the village. It's the same thing Congress is doing to save America.

  • IceTrey||

    Parents are morons if they give any child under 18 a phone with a camera. Not only should kids' phones not have cameras they also should have texting disabled.

  • independent worm||

    It's up to the adults in their lives—from parents to school administrators to law enforcement authorities—to show some sense of proportionality and perspective in reacting to those mistakes.

    Well that's never gonna happen. Our society has gotten way too overblown, overhyped, zero-toleranced and everything else for any sense of proportionality to be had. Hopefully some day kids will actually be helped by people screaming on talk radio shows and at PTA meetings. Until then, the kids are doomed.

  • ||

    The matter is in that people need to face the fact that the World finds young people attractive. Refer to Mr. Cullen’s revolutionary report on the issue. Mr Cullen is the World authority on that. Mr. Cullen’s report is found under the Suns Winnipeg thread under the Editorial Beware of Ignatieffs Common Touch. (Click the 2nd or third post) If you want to leave a comment click the Battle for free speech post and put one there. Read only the first 41 pages

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