Anna Merlan at Jezebel has uncovered a rash of old-school victim-blaming that’s cropped up around a nude photo scandal at Liberty High School in Liberty, Missouri. Eight high school boys have received suspensions of two to 10 days for distributing nude photos of their female classmates around school and online. The girls received a lecture about keeping their pants on. All in all, it’s about the best outcome you can expect from a conservative small-town school, in that the school’s response was focused on the issue of consent.
But no good deed goes unpunished, and people in the town, stoked by provocative news coverage from the local Fox affiliate, are furious that the girls aren’t getting punished alongside the boys.
Fox 4 fired up the controversy by posting a poll asking, among other things, if the decision was correct or if the girls should have been suspended, too. Eighty percent of the thousands who responded said that the girls should have been suspended. Fox 4 then doubled down, with a choice quote from Liberty-based lawyer Eric Vernon: “I think if a young woman was to take a picture of herself, and then send it, that arguably, that’s a worse crime than what the young man did in just receiving it, because she’s the one that produced it, and she’s the one that distributed it, and those things are fairly serious felonies.”
This is missing the point entirely, since the pictures only came to light because the boys shared them. The problem with sexting isn’t that women and teen girls are sexual and want use modern technology to share their sexuality (privately). The issue here is, once more with feeling, consent, and why you shouldn’t share pictures like this without it.
It’s time for a nationwide reckoning on sexting. It’s clearly not a temporary fad but, like oral sex and Rule 34, a permanent part of modern American sexuality. We need to move onto the second phase, which should involve educating people—especially young people—on how to sext responsibly. While some risk reduction should be taught (only sext with people you trust, consider keeping your face out of pictures), the bulk of this education should be focused on respect and consent. While so many adults who should know better are ranting and raving about these girls and their phone pictures, at least Liberty High School is, however imperfectly, modeling the way that adults should address the issue with young people.