Sunday, October 24th, 2010 | security
Hope Witsell, a girl from Florida, USA, was only thirteen years old when she committed suicide by hanging herself in September 2009.
Why did she do that? She was the only child of her parents, and enjoyed a happy home life – but four months before her death she did something, which had far-reaching consequences.
She met a boy and developed a liking in him. Hoping to attract his attention she sent him a picture of her exposed breasts.
“Shocking,” you may say. True, but not uncommon.
An increasing number of children, some even in primary schools, engage in sexting – a practice of sending sexual messages by electronic means. Sexting may be done in plain text format, but in many cases include pictures. These messages can be posted on social networks such as Facebook, but the most common way of transmitting them is by means of cell phones.
When Hope sent the message to the boy it was not the end of the matter. Somebody saw the picture while using his cell phone and it was sent on to others. Like a wild fire, fanned by teenage hormones, the image spread throughout Hope’s school, as well as neighbouring schools.
You can imagine what this did to her reputation! As she walked along the school passages she had to endure taunts such as “whore” and “slut”. She was disciplined at school and grounded by her parents, but her downward spiral could not be stopped. Eventually the mess she was in was simply too much for a thirteen year old girl to handle.
What do we learn from this sad account? Sexting is a serious practice with harmful consequences. The moment you put a sex message out in cyber space, you become vulnerable. Your reputation is at risk and this one thoughtless act can change your life forever.
“But that is America,” you may say. Don’t be fooled! Sexting is a reality in South African schools.
We must learn to deal with the practice of sexting, its consequences and – most importantly – its prevention.
For more technology tips for teachers click here.