A girl taunted mercilessly for sending a nude photo of herself to somebody eventually is driven to kill herself. Hope Witsell forwarded a photo of her breasts to Alex Eargood, a boy she liked, in a practice known as sexting. The image was intercepted by a rival, and found its way to other students, who forwarded it to their friends. After enduring insults, she again is pressured to take a nude picture for boys at a convention in Orlando over the summer. Then came the self-inflicted cuts, and finally suicide.
The nude photo was circulating through cell phones at Beth Shields Middle School and Lennard High School. “Tons of people talk about me behind my back and I hate it because they call me a whore!” Hope wrote in her journal. “And I can’t be a whore i’m too inexperienced. So secretly TONS of people hate me … ” School authorities learned of the nude photo around the end of the school year and suspended Hope for the first week of eighth grade, which started in August. About two weeks after she returned to school, a counselor observed cuts on Hope’s legs and had her sign a “no-harm” contract, in which Hope agreed to tell an adult if she felt inclined to hurt herself. The next day, Hope hanged herself in her bedroom. She was 13. Her death is the second in the nation in which a connection between sexting and teen suicide can clearly be drawn.
Sexting, defined as the sharing of nude or seminude images over a cell phone or a computer, is growing among teenagers, including young teens. The speed of the Internet and the ubiquity of social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook make it that much harder to escape the embarrassment. It also means the photos may never go away. “If they are sexting images that are being made public, they are going to be tagged forever as a slut,” Aftab said. “So they don’t see a future. And if they don’t see a future, they (think they) might as well end their life. We are seeing a lot of that in this age.”