The story behind the story

By now, many of you have heard about the tragedy regarding Amanda Todd, the teen who took her life after severe cyberbulling. Her video, posted on this article about her, gives her own account of what happened, just days before she took her own life. I encourage you to watch it and “listen” to her story unfold.

What I believe may happen is a flurry of stories much like the one I posted above: the stories that talk about all the evils of the internet and how it is a dangerous place. What happened to Todd is horrible, but I want to highlight the two things that I hope are stressed and the ones I hope that are NOT brought to the front:

1. Media people — please see that this young woman was groomed by online chatters. It took her a year before she took off her top. What was shaping her life during that time? Who was (and wasn’t) in her life? Don’t just focus on the fact that she fell prey to an online stranger. Take a deeper look into how her situation was the result of a slow progression.

2. All of us — especially youth — why did you follow her from place to place? It was bad enough to bully her, but she moved several times to get away from it all. What, inside of you, possessed you to keep harassing and stalking her after she had left? This lack of humanity frightens me.

Things I don’t want focused on:

a. People figured out who she was. Yes, somehow, she was identified. But please don’t make this a scare-tactic story about stranger danger.

b. What she did was illegal. While it’s true that she could have been guilty of creating child pornography, I hope that the focus is on all the harm the other people did.

What’s going to happen now? Unclear. But I hope her story can be used to create dialogue about what can happen when harassment goes too far. There needs to be more forgiveness and understanding taught here. The basic lessons of being a good person.

Sexual Harassment Just as Harmful Online

Depressing but interesting read from the New York Times about the prevalence and harshness of the sexual harassment in online gaming. I wish I could say I am surprised, but not sure I can. It’s a “man’s world” in many of these games that involve violence, war, adrenaline. Add to that the disinhibition effect, and the rules seem to fall by the wayside. Fortunately, the article discusses how online gaming companies are trying to fight back. It also acknowledges that games that are more “clan” oriented seem to experience this issue less.

The desexualization of bullying

I was going to try to come up with a fancier more accessible title, but I can’t right now. But I sure better by May! I’ve been invited to speak at an bullying awareness event in Austin Texas this May. While I jumped at this opportunity to share my work (and support my friend who is organizing the event), I quickly realized that I am no bullying expert. But, for better or for worse, not being a total expert on a topic as not stopped me before…

I am an expert on adolescent sexuality and sexual development. I also have a pretty good handle on youth and technology and how that impacts their development (hence, this blog). So, how to use my strengths in the context of this upcoming event? Tie all of these issues together — sexuality, technology, and bullying. I have found my comfort zone!

What’s odd is that while so much of bullying has a sexual undertone or is blatantly about sex or sexuality or at least gender, most bullying curricula, anti-bullying campaigns, etc., do not acknowledge this important association. Bullying is seen as harassment, teasing, isolation, and assault. But under no circumstances should one put the word “sexual” in front of any of those terms and call it bullying.

Why this separation? Why not discuss sexual harassment while discussing bullying? Where is the conversation about sexual respect and self-worth in curricula that addresses the need to be nice to others? Are (anti) bullying experts afraid to talk about sex? Does it complicate things too much? Does it narrow their message?

Whatever the reason, I think it’s important to accept the fact that a lot of bullying has to do with sexuality. An obvious example is about name-calling due to sexual orientation and/or gender expression (and the “Think Before You Speak” campaign does a good job of calling this out). But what about sexting under pressure? Spreading rumors? Calling someone a ho or slut? These are unfortunately very common ways to bullying another, but where’s the conversation about the sexual components?

I hope to be able to speak more eloquently about this topic in the future. For now, I will continue to explore this rift and see if I can’t begin to bridge the gap between my interests and the important work done to decrease bullying among youth.

Texting or stalking?

OK, after a REALLY long break, I am trying to start writing again. I still care a lot about this issue, but so many others have been grabbing my attention, that it has been difficult to get back into the swing of things. I shall do my best, but perhaps I will be expanding what I write about, as different things related to youth catch my eye…

That said, I have had this story open on my desktop for some time. This Washington Post article addresses “textual harassment,” to harass or stalk someone through text messages. Texting, frankly, makes it easier to experience abuse in a relationship. A person can constantly write messages — threatening or not — to their “significant other” to the point of where they are constantly reminded of the relationship. A person can feel controlled, followed, or lose their individuality if enough messages come through their phone on a daily basis (some of the stories featured allude to more than 100 a day).

This is one of the ways that technology has changed relationships for the worse. Before texting, it would have been nearly impossible to stay in such close touch with someone without physically being there. Now, with just a few button pushes, a person can infiltrate someone else’s life constantly.

Understandably, little has been done to more thoroughly investigate the repercussions of such behavior. But the perspective of the stalker has been examined even less. Given the young ages of these textual harassers, do they really realize what they are doing? Is it possible that their lack of perspective really doesn’t allow them to see how much is “too much?” While not wanting to defend their behavior, it would be interesting to see how the harassers themselves explain their actions.