Sexting Hysteria Leads to 13-Year-Old Hope Witsell's Suicide

| by Reason Foundation

Yet more evidence for teens that "sexting" really can ruin your
life. Not because of the dirty pictures, but because of the
horrible things adults will do to you when they discover them.
For your own good, of course.

heartbreaking example
is Hope Witsell, a 13-year-old Florida
girl driven to suicide after she was caught sending a topless
cell phone photo of herself to a crush. When her school
administrators learned of the photo, they suspended her, even
though her sending it had nothing to do with the school.

Witsell's classmates harassed her, calling her "whore" and "slut"
in the hallways, apparently with little notice, interest, or
intervention from school officials. Witsell's parents also
administered some tough love, grounding her for the summer and
banishing her from the Internet and her cell phone. The poor kid
showed her boobs to a boy, and she was banished from her school,
her friends, and the outside world.

With all due respect to Witsell's parents, who are obviously
grieving, it's the adults in Sylvia's life who need the tough
love here. These overblown reactions to what's really little more
than a technologically enhanced version of the age-old game of
"I'll show you yours if you show me mine" really do ruin
kids' lives, be it by saddling them with a criminal record,
securing them a spot on a sex offender list, instilling in their
heads that they're some sort of outcast pervert, or in Hope
Witsell's case—Jesus—driving them to kill themselves.

I found this story
via a link to the blog
Sylvia Has a Problem. The blogger,
"Sylvia" I presume, points to coverage of Witsell's death

on the Today Show
and rightly points out the most
infuriating and disheartening part of all of this: Media coverage
of the case has put the brunt of the blame on the 13-year-old kid
herself, and her "impetuous move" to tread in the dark
netherworld of "sexting."

That of course means the likely take-away narrative from
Today Show viewers learning of Witsell's death last week
will be that we need to crack down harder on kids who
engage in sexting. You know, "to prevent more Hope Witsells."
Which really only increases the odds we'll see more Hope

Kids make mistakes. It's up to the adults in their lives—from
parents to school administrators to law enforcement
authorities—to show some sense of proportionality and perspective
in reacting to those mistakes.

It's a dubious proposition that sending a couple dirty pictures
to a boyfriend is going to ruin a young girl's life. But the
hysterical, puritanical reactions of the authority figures around
her sure as hell can.

Be sure to read
Nancel Rommelmann's terrific report
on another outrageous
case of adults persecuting sexting teens from our July 2009