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Rape, Suicide and Cyber-bullying

Social-Media, Cyber-bullying, and Suicide Becoming all too Common in Society

Perhaps you’ve read the story of fifteen-year-old Audrie Pott who passed out drunk at a friend's house, woke up and concluded she had been sexually abused.

In the days that followed, she was shocked to see an explicit photo of herself circulating among her classmates along with emails and text messages about the episode. And she was horrified to discover that her attackers were three of her friends, her family's lawyer says.

Eight days after the party, she hanged herself.

"She pieced together with emails and texts who had done this to her. They were her friends. Her friends!" said family attorney Robert Allard. "That was the worst" Sheriff's officials arrested three 16-year-old boys on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie,

Cynics might claim that Audrie is at fault as well. After all, she had been drinking at a sleepover at a friend's house, passed out and "woke up to the worst nightmare imaginable." She knew she had been assaulted. However, blaming the victim because she got drunk is not a defense to sexual assault. In fact, a good person, an ethical person, would take extra measures in such situations to take extra care of the inebriated party.

Audrie’s tragedy is becoming all too common in society. Two additional episodes were recently in the news — a suicide in Canada and a rape in Steubenville, Ohio.

In Canada, police recently received new information and are reopening their investigation in the case of 17-year-old suicide victim Rehtaeh Parsons. Parsons was photographed while being sexually assaulted in 2011 and was then bullied after the photo was shared on the Web.

In Steubenville, Ohio, two high school football players were convicted last month of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl in a crime that was recorded on cellphones by students and gossiped about online. The victim herself realized she had been attacked after seeing text messages, a photo of herself naked and a video that mocked her.

These cases underscore the ethical blindness and mean-spirited actions of some young people who use social media to bully and harass others in the most vicious of ways. To say they are cowards; to say they are without conscience; to say they are despicable are understatements.

A disturbing trend in society is the lack of ethics and personal responsibility of young people. Are these the future leaders in America? If so, we are all in trouble. The question is what can we do about it?

We need a change in the culture of society that uses the anonymity of the Internet and social media postings to mock others and strip away their dignity. It often starts with offensive postings and can lead to videotaping the event that goes viral.

The message to schools is that inaction, or an improper response, is not enough when it comes to dealing with bullies.  Schools need to be proactive in preventing bullying from getting out of control.  It is one thing to have a policy in place prohibiting bullying.  It is more important for schools to actively enforce it and take additional steps to foster a positive climate in which bullying of all kinds is not tolerated  by staff or students. 

Likewise, the ethical standards of our schools need to catch up with the technology. First, teachers and staff need to be sensitized to the signs of cyber-bullying, how to respond to such incidents, and the reporting mechanisms within the school/school district. Just as sexual harassment training has helped to inform men and women in the workplace of  the danger signs of sexual harassment and how it harms others, we need a similar approach to educate youngsters, teachers and staff to the equally egregious offense of cyber bullying.

Students must be taught an Internet ethic just as they should be taught societal ethics in the classroom. Given the amount of time most teenagers spend online each day, accountability and personal responsibility must become part of each school's response to cyber-bullying. There should be zero tolerance for such activities with suspension and ultimately expulsion the penalties for harassing another student in cyberspace. I ask: “Where is the moral outrage? Do we have to wait until a horrific event such as a mass suicide occurs before passing legislation making cyber-bullying a federal crime as are discrimination and sexual harassment?”

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on April 19, 2013