The Tampa BaySt. Petersburg Times has printedthe truly gut-wrenching, tragic story of a 13-year-old girl named Hope Witsell,
who committed suicide after a photograph of her breasts, which she sent
to a boy’s cell phone, was forwarded all over the school.
And whileeveryone sure as hell seems to be worried about What! We’re! Teaching! Our! Girls! that they send the photographs, no one seems to be saying a goddamn peep aboutwhat we’re teaching our boys when they think that non-consensual sexual conduct is okay.
Yet again, apparently consensual female sexuality is seen as a bigger
threat to society — and to girls themselves — than non-consensual male
sexual behavior perpetrated against them.
And no matter who is the perpetrator, victim-blaming is still
victim-blaming, which is something else Hope was made a victim of.
First, she was a victim of cultural messages that told her that what
her classmates did to her was her own fault:
At the same time, friends say, Hope knew that the biggest mistakes made were her own.
“She didn’t blame it on anybody,” said Rebecca Knowles, 14. “She realized it was her fault for sending them in the first place.
Secondly, she was a victim of attitudes like ones in that quote right
above: attitudes that confirm and refuse to contradict this false
belief. Even after she died because she couldn’t cope anymore, the
newspaper is sitting there telling her that she was the one to blame.
Hope didn’tbelieve that she made the biggest mistakes. She didn’tthink it. Apparently, sheknew
it, because who could ever question the idea that if you send a nude
photograph of yourself to another person, you’re obviously a slutty
slutty slut slut who deserves whatever is coming to you?
display of these kinds of attitudes went beyond words, though; they
were also shown in actions. Hope Witsell was punished severely for
taking the photograph. She was grounded for the summer. She was
suspended from the first week of school. She lost her position as
student adviser. And when another boy coerced her into sending another
photograph, and she complied out of fear, she was again treated as a
culprit rather than a victim:
No one knows how Hope met
a group of boys staying across the hall. Rebecca Knowles, who is the
FFA president, saw Hope talking to the boys by the hotel pool.
The boys were in their late teens and were not there for the FFA convention. They insisted she send a nude photo to them.
of the boys was especially aggressive and called the room repeatedly on
the conference’s last night, asking Hope for a photo of her breasts.
kept calling and they kept bugging her,” said Rebecca, 14, who said she
was in the room but asleep. “I think she was just scared. One of our
roommates was scared as well and said, ‘Oh, my God, just do it.’ They
were scared and wanted to get it over.”
The boy calling didn’t
have a cell phone. So Hope used Rebecca’s phone to take a picture of
her breasts, then slipped it outside her door.
The phone, which Hope had left outside for the boy, was still in the hallway when an adult found it and saw the photo.
As for the boys who demanded the second photo, the girl who originally
forwarded the first photo, the girls and boys who harassed Hope in the
hallways, chased her, taunted her, and made her life a living hell …
there is not a single word indicating that they faced any consequences
for their actions.