Did anyone else see this segment on the Today Show last week? Jesse Logan, a high school student, sent nude pictures of herself to her boyfriend. Said boyfriend spread the pictures around via cell phone after the pair broke up. Jesse slipped into a depression as a result of being harassed and bullied at school. Other kids taunted her with slurs like “slut” and “whore” and even threw things at her. Jesse eventually hanged herself.
Now her mother, Cynthia Logan, is crusading against the dangers of “sexting” (i.e. sending sexual photos via text). She said she wants to caution teenagers against “sexting” their boyfriends and girlfriends “without fully understanding the ramifications of their actions.” The results of a National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy survey revealed that 39 percent of teens reported sending or posting sexually suggestive messages, and 48 percent reported receiving such messages. It’s alarming to think about kids taking part in something that could get so out of hand and haunt them later on.
But did “sexting” drive Jesse to kill herself – as this story reports in its headline – or did relentless slut-shaming and harassment send her over the edge? In all the stories about this incident, the blame is put squarely on the medium (mobile phones) rather than the behavior of Jesse’s peers. Slut-shaming has been around a lot longer than text messaging. Yet Cynthia Logan is not railing against the misogyny hurled at her daughter, just the “sexting” trend that presumably led to the harassment.
The moral panic about “sexting” does not get to the root of the problem: boys using girls’ sexuality against them, and a general culture of slut-shaming among people of all sexes. Yes, “sexting” makes it a lot more convenient for lovers to share sexy photos with each other (and the rest of the world), but the technology did not create the hostile atmosphere Jesse Logan faced. Furthermore, the language used by Cynthia Logan and the writers who’ve reported on the story (“ramifications of their actions”) suggests that severe harassment is the natural consequence girls will face when they “sext” someone. In other words: boys will be boys.