Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Teen suicides linked to disturbing trend: online images of sexual assault (+video)

Audrie Pott, 15, from California, and Canadian Rehtaeh Parsons, 17, killed themselves, their families say, after images of their being sexually assaulted were posted online.

(Page 2 of 2)

Teens have a huge awareness gap, Cox and others say, when it comes to understanding both sexual violence and the impact of spreading related images through social media. Some of the young witnesses in the Steubenville trial, which Cox attended, did not realize that a rape was going on or that the images they were sending would be harmful, while others “said they knew something wasn’t OK, but they didn’t know what to do.”

Skip to next paragraph

When Aftab talks with teens, most of them are shocked when she explains to them that photos and texts on their phones and social media sites can be used in legal cases against them.

More than a quarter of middle- and high-school students in dating relationships experience physical dating violence or cyber-based dating abuse, according to an Urban Institute survey that included just over 5,600 teens, the largest to date to look at the role of technology and abuse among teens.

The survey found that teens being abused and harassed online are two times as likely to be physically abused, two and a half times as likely to be psychologically abused, and five times as likely to be sexually coerced as peers who are not experiencing the online problems.

Schools have a responsibility to create a safe environment for teens, free from sexual harassment and abuse, and that extends to students’ online behavior if it can impact the school environment, says Fatima Goss Graves, vice president for education and employment at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington.

The US Department of Education has “stepped up in important ways,” to enforce this aspect of Title IX, which prohibits gender discrimination, Ms. Graves says.

It has recently circulated a reminder to schools about their responsibilities related to responding to and preventing sexual harassment and assault, for instance. Just this week the Framingham, Mass., school district received notice that the Education Department is investigating a complaint that the district did not respond properly to complaints that a student raped two younger students at Framingham High School, The Boston Globe reports.

One prevention approach with middle-schoolers that has been shown to reduce harassment and sexual violence is a curriculum called Shifting Boundaries, which involves classroom and schoolwide activities to teach kids about everything from personal space to legal definitions of harassment and sexual consent.

In a study of 2,700 middle-schoolers in New York City, the combination of the classroom and schoolwide activities had reduced sexual harassment by about one-third, physical and sexual dating violence by half, and sexual violence among peers by more than a third, six months after the interventions.

School activities included mapping hotspots where students, particularly girls, felt less safe in schools. Administrators would then post more monitors or re-route students between classes to cut down on harassment or potential violence.

Kids also learned they could ask for “respecting boundaries” agreements, the school equivalent of a restraining order, says Nan Stein, a senior research scientist at the Wellesley Centers for Women and an author of the study.

One 13-year-old went to talk to a counselor after her boyfriend, who wasn’t getting the message that she was breaking up with him, tried to corner her in a remote part of the school playground. She had seen one of the posters put up as part of the schoolwide harassment prevention strategy, and “she was able to resolve this without any harm coming to her,” Ms. Stein says.

Teens are often hesitant to talk to parents about either sexual issues or cyberbullying, Aftab says. By the start of the 2013-14 school year, the Stop Cyberbullying program she’s involved with is planning to have a North American helpline set up, staffed by teens guided by mental health professionals.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month awareness month in the United States, and tools for teens, parents, and educators can be found at the National Sexual Violence Resource center website

Associated Press material was used in this report.


  • Weekly review of global news and ideas
  • Balanced, insightful and trustworthy
  • Subscribe in print or digital

Special Offer


Doing Good


What happens when ordinary people decide to pay it forward? Extraordinary change...

Danny Bent poses at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, Mass.

After the Boston Marathon bombings, Danny Bent took on a cross-country challenge

The athlete-adventurer co-founded a relay run called One Run for Boston that started in Los Angeles and ended at the marathon finish line to raise funds for victims.

Become a fan! Follow us! Google+ YouTube See our feeds!