The XX Factor

Why Aren’t the Bullies the Ones Punished in Sexting Cases?

Sexting paranoia has bubbled up again, with news of 13-year-old Hope Witsell , who hanged herself after she was tortured by her peers for sending a nude photo to a boy she liked. Certainly, this is a cautionary tale for teen girls looking to woo lunkheaded boys. But I still don’t understand how it’s different from old-fashioned bullying. It’s the same awful teen behavior, just in a different medium. I could not find statistics that said that teen suicide has markedly increased since cell phones came into wide use among the under-18 set, nor could I find evidence that bullying was on the rise overall.

Earlier this year, Dahlia Lithwick explained why the criminal justice system is not the best place for adressing the sexting “crisis .” Hope Witsell’s family and friends used the mass media to address sexting instead: They went on the Today Show earlier this week in order to raise awareness about sexting-related bullying (clip below). But what they don’t mention is that Witsell was the one punished for the widespread dissemination of that sext. Hope was suspended for a week, according to the St. Petersburg Times . And the tone of the Today Show coverage was really about what Hope did wrong. Perhaps more punishment on the bullies, rather than the sexually misguided adolescent girls, would have been a more successful approach.

Photograph of cell phone by Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images.