Shaming, not "sexting," was behind Jesse Logan's suicide

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I'm furious about the way this young woman's story is being reported. Jesse Logan killed herself last July not because of the "dangers of sexting" but because of the dangers of sex stigma and "slut shaming." She had sent some naked photos of herself to her boyfriend by cell phone. When they broke up he showed those photos to other people at their high school. Some of those people then visciously shamed and bullied Jesse. But to read this MSNBC story you would think that it was her sending of the photos that was so dangerous.

Slut shaming works because girls are told to be sexy but not sexually active. I don't know whether Jesse had ever even had sex with the boyfriend to whom she sent the pictures. It doesn't matter. What matters is that words like "slut" and "whore" were hurled at her and that those words are understood to be condemnations. They should not be, yet they are, and the same attached to them caused Logan such pain that she began skipping school, spiraled into a deep depression and, after a friend of hers committed suicide, she did the same, hanging herself in her closet.  What a tragically symbolic end for someone whose privacy had been so violated.

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Jesse's mom Cynthia is still struggling with her grief, and that makes it all the more appalling that someone like Parry Aftab, Internet safety guru, would use a moment on national television last Friday to recruit her into efforts to further stigmatize teen sexual activity. Here's the MSNBC report on their exchange :

Aftab said that it is normal kids just like Jesse who fall victim to the perils of the Internet and the easy exchange of information on cell phones.

“We talked about her being a good kid, a normal kid. Those are most of the ones that are sending out those images,” she said. “Forty-four percent of the boys say that they’ve seen sexual images of girls in their school, and about 15 percent of them are disseminating those images when they break up with the girls.”

Aftab asked Logan to join her in her fight against the electronic exploitation of kids. “I’m going to get her involved in a huge campaign to allow kids to understand the consequences of this and allow schools to understand what they need to do to keep our kids alive,” she said.

Aftab turned to Logan to see if she would help.

“Absolutely,” she said.

Jesse Logan did not fall victim to the "perils of the Internet". She feel victim to the perils of cruel high schoolers who used our culture's negative messages about women's sexuality to shame her mercilessly over something that lots of teens do. This was not about the "electronic exploitation of kids." This was about ordinary teenage exploration and unfortunately also about ordinary teenage cruelty.

What schools need to do to keep kids alive is to teach respect and tolerance. They need to respond to bullying. They need to provide real sex education that includes lessons on emotional health and relationships. The exploiting of Cynthia Logan's grief to magnify the moral panic around kids and sex and the Internet is going to help no one.

H/t to Anthony Kennerson via Twitter for a link to this Womanist Musings post that credits this post on Shakesville.