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Tragedy: Second Sexting Suicide in U.S.

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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.


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76 comments so far | Post a comment now
K December 2, 2009, 12:23 PM

Maybe teens should only be given a cell phone when needed(going out with friends)instead of taking naked pics of themselves in their bedroom

chris December 2, 2009, 12:47 PM

This is why I would add picture mail on my 14 yr old sons phone.

Anonymous December 2, 2009, 12:58 PM

Let’s just hope that her death is not in vain and that it becomes a lesson for other teens. That way her memory would be something good for the world.

Anonymous December 2, 2009, 1:19 PM

clothes are hung, people are hanged

talis4 December 2, 2009, 1:25 PM

The thing that needs to be addressed is bullying. Administrators and teachers continue to turn a blind eye to this behavior. I wonder if there have been any repercussions for the boy who sent the picture out. Not likely. The girls who were bullying her are guilty of manslaughter, in my opinion. It isn’t a “sexting” issue. It’s a bullying issue.

Anonymous December 2, 2009, 1:34 PM

She made a mistake. Yeah right.
Kids do not have common sense anymore.

anonymous December 2, 2009, 2:08 PM

men are hanged not hung

Anonymous December 2, 2009, 2:11 PM

The bullying is bad enough, but her parents grounding her and the school punishing her on top of it took away anything she could use for support or distraction. This was mistake on top of mistake on top of mistake.

Mother NAture December 2, 2009, 2:29 PM

I agree 100% talis4. The bullying issue is one constantly over looked in the schools even when they claim a no tolerance stance against it. She did something stupid. There is not one person who reads momlogic (or breathes for that matter) who can claim they have never done something stupid that they shouldn’t have. The further humiliation should have been harshly dealt with and the school should be ashamed of themselves for only punishing her and not the bratty little snot wad boy who basically distributed child pornography.

michelle December 2, 2009, 7:10 PM

This is so sad, and so horrifying. It seems that earlier and earlier in life, when girls are too young to deal with it in a healthy way, they are being forced to internalize this message: “girls are less than human, so you must be overtly sexy to be worth anything, but if you’re overtly sexy, you’re a sl*t and you’re less than human.” How awful that girls feel compelled to go to such extremes to impress boys, how awful that boys think it’s OK to humiliate and objectify girls this way, and how awful that other girls aid and abet this. I really wish there were more guidance on how to raise both boys and girls to prevent these things from happening — I think this type of character education has to start much earlier than just having some talk during the tween years. Maybe that is already too late.

shaai ledama December 3, 2009, 2:41 AM

it is relly very sad 4 somebody to kill herself

Legal Observer December 3, 2009, 8:19 AM

Let’s be real. This poor girl committed suicide after a steady diet of “tough love” and a humiliating suspension from school her first week after the summer. Instead of reaching out and being supportive, the grownups in her life turned and helped make her life a torment until the pressures became too much and she hanged herself in her bedroom.

Without a doubt, sending naked pictures is poor judgment, but she killed herself because of how people treated her.

Anonymous December 3, 2009, 10:27 AM

First of all, why on earth did a 13 year old have a cell phone? Not in my house.

Second - um, did her parents never parent her? Sending naked pics of herself? Really, people, patrol your children.

Briellis December 3, 2009, 10:28 AM

Oh god…her poor mother.

Red73 December 3, 2009, 11:24 AM

This is so sad. I recently posted on truuconfession.com about a friend who caught her daughter sexting. Teenagers are sexual, there is no getting away from it however in this age with all the technology there is more chance for them to be exploited/humilated than ever before.

jen October 7, 2010, 5:30 AM

this suicide is the fault of her parents and the school. grounded your child instead of talking it out with them and not fighting the school’s decision to remove her educational opportunities is insane… a child makes mistakes and doesn’t fully understand consequences, we ALL did foolish things as children that (if you’re an adult now) would probably horrify you now, and there was no reason for this girls parents to not back her 100%. sickening…and sad for the girl :(

Krystyna October 7, 2010, 5:39 AM

I’m with Jen: grounding the girl for the entire summer was way too extreme & for the school to pull her FFA priveleges is questionable too. No wonder the girl committed suicide: everyone in her life was dumping on her. She needed to be talked to & maybe a week or two of being grounded, but no more than that. Kids do not realize the repercussions of their actions all the time & quite honestly, her act was victimless. So, why be so rough on her?

Themes for Vista October 18, 2010, 12:28 PM

@chels I know what you mean, its hard to find good help these days. People now days just don’t have the work ethic they used to have. I mean consider whoever wrote this post, they must have been working hard to write that good and it took a good bit of their time I am sure. I work with people who couldn’t write like this if they tried, and getting them to try is hard enough as it is.

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