Both girls went to house parties with friends. Both got drunk. Both were then gang raped by teenage boys from their schools. Both groups of attackers took a picture of the sexual assaults on their phones. Both groups of perpetrators shared these photos with friends online and through text messages. Both images went viral. Both girls felt humiliated and demoralized by the photos.
Both girls also committed suicide.
Last week two more cases of suicide provoked by shaming hit major headlines: 15-year-old Audrie Pott and 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons.
The Story of Audrie Pott
Audrie Pott’s story begins in September 2012 when she went to an unsupervised party and passed out after drinking too much hard liquor. While she laid on a bed unconscious, she was allegedly assaulted by three of her fellow high school students.
Eight days after the gang rape, on September 10, 2012, Audrie hung herself.
After the suicide Audrie’s parents and investigators learned more about the rape and the photos taken by the perpetrators. Robert Allard, the family’s attorney, says, “Based on what we know, she was unconscious, there were multiple boys in the room with her. They did unimaginable things to her while she was unconscious.”
Just last week on Thursday, April 11, three boys were arrested by a Northern California sheriff’s office on the charges of sexual battery—seven months after Audrie’s suicide.
Unquestionably, the photo that went viral was a leading contributor to Audrie’s sense of hopelessness. The day she killed herself she wrote on her Facebook page, “The whole school knows…My life is ruined.”
The Story of Rehtaeh Parsons
Rehtaeh’s sad story begins on November 12, 2011, when she was gang raped by four teenage boys at a house party near her home in Nova Scotia. In her inebriated state she remembered only bits and pieces of that night: being led upstairs, boys taking turns, vomiting, the photo being taken.
Fifteen years old at the time, Rehtaeh was mortified when less than a week later the photo started to circulate at her school. The next day she had a nervous breakdown and she never again returned to her school.
As the weeks passed, both the photo and her ensuing reputation haunted her. Hundreds at her school had seen the smiling image of her rapist assaulting her while she vomited out a window. And then the Facebook messages and texts started coming. “Sluts are not welcome here.” “Everyone knew exactly what you have done.” Men kept contacting her, asking to have sex with her, so she eventually closed her Facebook page.
Even when she transferred to another school, she could never quite regain her focus, so she eventually dropped out altogether. Still, as old friends passed her on the street, she heard their harassing words.
After a 17-month campaign of bullying, Rehtaeh hung herself at the beginning of this month, April 4. Her mother took Rehtaeh off life support on April 7.
When Shame is Compounded by Social Media
Attempting suicide after rape is common. According to the journal of Child Abuse & Neglect, half of youth reporting both dating violence and rape also report attempting suicide.
Rape, of course, is a heinous crime. But when the brutal moment is shared with others, it compounds the psychological trauma.
Cases like this involve a violent collision of many online safety issues.
- Cyberbullying – Deliberately using digital media to communicate false, embarrassing, or hostile information about or to another person is called cyberbullying. A third of today’s online teens say they have been targets of a range of annoying or potentially menacing online activities, ranging in severity.
- Sexting – Sending nude or otherwise provocative images of yourself or others online or through a cell phone is called sexting. These images can easily spread to others. About 1 in 7 teens have shared a sext with someone other than the one it was originally meant for.
- Slut shaming – When someone spreads or speaks about a girl’s (or boy’s) photos, videos, or private information to brand that person as “a slut” is called slut shaming. When done online it is a severe form of cyberbullying.
- Child pornography – Images or videos that depict sexual activities involving a child are considered child pornography. In many states, instances of sexting can be prosecuted as the dissemination of child porn. In many ways, child porn is a misnomer: these images might more accurately be called “crime scene images of child rape.”
Rehtaeh’s and Audrie’s suicides might have been prevented if the bystanders who saw these atrocious photos took immediate and compassionate action.
Teens in our schools are already on a slippery slope. According to the Journal of Family Violence, 77% of female and 67% of male high school students endorse some form of sexual coercion, including unwanted kissing, hugging, genital contact, and sexual intercourse.
Where is this sexual coercion learned? Sexual media and pornography continues to harden teen consciences. By the age of 18, 83% of boys and 57% of girls have seen group sex online. By the time teens get to college, two-thirds of young men and nearly half of young women say viewing porn is an acceptable way to express one’s sexuality, and among young men, 64% use pornography every week. (Learn more about this in our 2013 Pornography Statistics.)
With the dust barely settled in the media after the Steubenville rape trial, the stories of Audrie and Rehtaeh serve as a powerful lesson to all parents of boys. Our sexually insane culture is training up a generation of voyeurs: young men who love looking at naked women online, and when opportunity knocks, love sharing their own sexual exploits for others to see.
We pray to live long enough to see a new sexual revolution, one that reverses the tide and treats sex like the sacred thing that it is, not as the plaything for drunk teenagers with cell phones.
Pure Minds Online | Issue 31 | More in this issue: 5 Sure-Fire Ways to Motivate Your Child to Use Pornography | Discussion Guide for Accountability Partners