The same images posted by Houston partygoers of the sexual assault of a girl named Jada, 16, will likely be instruments in capturing those who carried out the assault.
Meanwhile, support builds for Jada, who publicly came forward to report her assault, both through the #iamjada hashtag, or similar tags like #justiceforjada started by actress Jada Pinkett Smith.
According to Houston Police Department Public Affairs Officer Kese Smith, those pictures are the best instruments to find justice for the teen victim.
“You’re just not as anonymous as they might think,” Mr. Smith said in a phone interview. “In the age of social media it’s very likely that if you commit a crime and then post about it on social media you will get caught.”
According to Mr. Smith, this incident is currently under investigation by the HPD Juvenile Sex Crimes Unit. He is certain that justice is coming to both those who commit a crime and post evidence of that crime on social media, and perhaps those also present at the crime scene who post about the incident instead of turning to authorities.
“While the incident took place June 1st, we weren’t notified until June 22nd. We have been actively investigating since the moment it came to our attention,” Mr. Smith added. “Of course we are actively investigating the images posted to social media in this case. It’s always a big mistake to post images of this nature.”
According to reports, at a party Jada was given a drink she believes contained a drug. She was then undressed and sexually assaulted as the attackers videotaped and photographed the incident. The perpetrators took pictures of her in different poses.
The teen said she did not know what had occurred until pictures and videos started showing up online.
However, instead of allowing her tormentors to prevail, this teen took the offensive by openly telling her story and reversing the polarity of social media and turning it on her attackers.
Part of the result is a growing support campaign online for the girl with the use of hashtags including #iamjada and #justiceforjada, started by Ms. Pinkett-Smith on her own Facebook page.
“This could be you, me, or any woman or girl that we know. What do we plan to do about this ugly epidemic? #justiceforjada,” writes Pinkett-Smith
Unfortunately, support builds only after hecklers online mocked the images of her assault by posting similar photos and using the #jadapose hashtag.
“The bottom line to anyone thinking about committing a crime and posting it online is - don’t,” Mr. Smith advises. “Don’t do the crime. Don’t post it. Don’t.”
As the mother of a 15-year-old son I wondered about the consequences of being a bystander at the party who shot photos or video of the incident.
“What did you do with that image,” Mr. Smith asks hypothetically. “Did you shoot it and then immediately turn it over to law enforcement, or did you put it on Facebook and other social media sites? That’s the question the district attorney will be asking you after the fact.”
That’s also the question parents of teens may want to pose to their kids when talking about this story.
I would like to think that if something like this happened in our community that my sons would not ignore it – or worse, mock it – but instead tell me about it.
However, I am concerned that they might not, considering the breadth of spoofs and gags online that can desensitize us to serious content we see.
The FBI is not currently involved in the case, but according to one FBI community outreach specialist, when investigators are called in by local law enforcement agencies to trace social media postings back to perpetrators, it’s often quick work to find the suspect.
“We can’t say what all our methods are, but your IP address is as good as a fingerprint in most cases like these,” says Vanessa Torres, a FBI community outreach officer in Norfolk, Va.
She also offered and FBI resource web site that educates parents about a wide variety of Internet-based crimes and how to get assistance if your child or teen becomes a cyber crime victim.
This story isn’t just about one party, one girl’s life, or one social group.
It’s about our kids and young adults seeing images such as these and making the choice to either re-post it with an emoticon in place of real emotional content, or alert someone to the crime.
In light of this case, parents might want to sit down with teens and review safety precautions about going to the homes of those they don’t really know.
It’s also the time to help our kids be more socially aware of what they are seeing, posting, and sharing online during free time when we may not be able to police their activities.
While our own teens may have been thousands of miles away when this incident occurred in Houston, if they re-post the images, or think the poses in which Jada was placed and the resulting memes are funny, then they are part of the growing problem of desensitization to crime.
Parents can be part of the solution by letting their kids know that #iamjada has a connection to all of us, and justice in this case can be served if we focus on not assisting in the ongoing social assault of crime victims via the Internet.