Sexting Can Lead to Death
This morning I appeared on the Today Show with Matt Lauer and a very special mother, Cynthia Logan, to discuss what lead her daughter (Jessica) to suicide. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29546030/
Jessica was a bright, funny, great teen who lived in Ohio. When she turned 18, 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 16-year-old girl who sent it to others. (He now claims that the 16-year-old took it form his cell phone without his knowledge.) 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. (Cynthia said that the SRO is now claiming that he gave Jessica the choice between his contacting the other girl and pressing charges, but denies that his claim is true.)
“No one would help!” When Jessie’s mom told me that, I had chills. Cynthia’s simple words and her soft tone (muffled by her trying to hold back tears) remind us that “there but for the grace of God” go all of us. Jessica didn’t want her mom to contact the other parents. (Targets of cyberbullying never do.) They didn’t know 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 last year to help educate other teens about the risks of sexting.
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 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 call with her brother when she walked down the upstairs hall. She passed Jessie coming out of the shower. She had no sense that anything was especially wrong.
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. 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.
Now Cynthia wants answers. What are the laws? How can she hold the school accountable? Can she make the teens responsible for this harassment apologize before their peers? How can she make sure that Jessica did not die in vain?
As soon as I heard her story, I knew this was something that would change the landscape in cybersafety. Like the story of Megan Meier and her suicide following the harassment of a neighborhood mom posing as a cute sixteen-year-old, Jessica’s name will mean something to teens and preteens.
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 we 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 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.
Your daughter could be next.
Beginning immediately, I will be working with Cynthia and her husband Burt to spread awareness about Jessie and the consequences of cyberbullying and the risks of texting. We will be working with Jessie’s friends and my Teenangels to develop a campaign to reach teens and change behavior.
The new StopCyberbullying Coalition will bring individuals, companies, policymakers, educators, healthcare and mental health professionals and media together to address these issues. It will explore all aspects of cyberbullying and how sexting increases the risks of harassment and personal humiliation.
Interested in helping this become the last cyberbullying-related suicide? Want to help us spread the word about sexting and risks to young people online? Join us at WiredSafety.org. We need your help. Help us make sure your child won’t be next.