As the sexting trend continues to grow, girls find themselves tortured to death over private photos gone public.
Hope Witsell, 13, sent a topless photo of herself to a boy she liked -- but the photo was forwarded all over town, and classmates began calling her a whore and a slut.
Her parents grounded her for the summer over the photo. School administrators found out about the photo, and she was suspended from school for a week. The school informed her that she could no longer serve as a student adviser to the Future Farmers of America (FFA).
In early September, Hope hanged herself in her bedroom. When her mom came in to kiss her goodnight, she discovered Hope's lifeless body. She shared her story this morning with the "Today" show.
This is the second known "sexting" suicide in the U.S.
In March, we told you about Jesse Logan, the 18-year-old who committed suicide after nude pics she'd sent to a boyfriend were forwarded to hundreds of students. She too was incessantly harassed by classmates, and eventually hanged herself in her bedroom, just like Hope.
These two stories are heartbreakingly tragic -- and just might be the tip of the iceberg, as sexting gains popularity. Last fall, a National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy survey found that 39% of teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages, and 48% reported receiving such messages. The numbers are staggering.
It's more important than ever that you talk to your tween or teen about sexting. Below are some discussion starters to help you have the "sexting talk" with your child, courtesy of NetSmartz.org:
• Have you ever received a sexual message or naked picture on your cell phone?
• Has anyone ever asked or pressured you to send a nude or sexual picture?
• Do you think it's OK to send "sexy" messages or images? Why?
• What could happen to you if you send or forward a sexual text message or naked picture with your cell phone?
• How likely is it that images and messages intended for one person will be seen by others?
Make sure to review your house rules for online conduct with your children before giving them access to new Web-enabled technologies. Along with discussing your expectations for their behavior, discuss the consequences for failing to meet those expectations, such as limited access to Web and texting functions. If children ignore the rules, consider removing cell phones altogether; however, this should be your last resort. Technology is not going anywhere, and it's important that children learn how to use it appropriately.
Talk to them early and often about how digital information and images may travel very far, very quickly. Make it absolutely clear to youth that the moment they send a digital image of themselves from their cell phone, they completely lose control of what happens to it next.
Here are some tips to prevent sexting to share with your child:
THINK ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES of taking, sending, or forwarding a sexual picture of someone underage, even if it's of you. You could get kicked off of sports teams, face humiliation, lose educational opportunities, and even get in trouble with the law.
NEVER TAKE images of yourself that you wouldn't want everyone -- your classmates, your teachers, your family, or your employers -- to see.
BEFORE HITTING SEND, remember that you can't control where this image may travel. What you send to a boyfriend or girlfriend could easily end up with their friends, and their friends, and their friends ...
IF YOU FORWARD a sexual picture of someone underage, you are as responsible for this image as the original sender. You could face child pornography charges, go to jail, and have to register as a sex offender.
REPORT any nude pictures you receive on your cell phone to an adult you trust. Do not delete the message. Instead, get your parents or guardians, teachers, and school counselors involved immediately.