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3/6/13 at 10:56 PM 1 Comments

Slut Shaming: Teens' Sex Lives On Display

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By Luke Gilkerson

It is being called the modern equivalent of the Scarlet Letter. Online “slut shaming” is when someone uses a girl’s (or boy’s) photos, videos, or private information to brand that person as promiscuous or provocative.

Sixteen-year-old Temitayo Fagbenle reports how one of her male friends was arrested in the eighth grade for e-mailing a topless picture of his girlfriend to hundreds of students. He received immediate praise from his male and female friends, but was soon turned over to the authorities. He said he did it because he thought it would be cool. “I regret doing it to her but still, I didn’t have to go to jail. Porn websites do it everyday.”

Recently Temitayo said she saw something come across her newsfeed on Facebook: the picture of a girl, half-naked, lying on a bed. It was tagged with the girl’s name. Within less than an hour, the photo had more than 400 likes and 260 comments, like “your life is officially shot” and “I think she is gonna cut her veins when she see this.” The boy who posted the picture later updated his status to say that he had received 2,000 friend requests because of the photo.

Temitayo says these are “regular occurrences” at her school.

Forms of Slut Shaming

Sometimes a student might find or create an image of another teen that brands him or her a slut, posting it to Tumblr or Facebook. Others create whole Facebook pages or Twitter handles dedicated to this kind of virtual slander. Students might even make online “smut lists” for their neighborhood or school.

Boys have also been known to have sex with a girl and record the act on their phone—unbeknownst to her—only to have pictures and videos eventually uploaded online. These videos and photos can then be tagged with the name of the girl, and thus be viewable to all her friends.

For some, the double standard is infuriating. Boys can hold their heads up high, proud to show the proofs of their sexual conquests, available for all to see. Meanwhile, girls who fall prey to this slander are branded as easy, loose, or a whore.

And while boys are often instigators, girls are also common perpetrators, shaming their fellow classmates and acquaintances online and off.

Slut shaming also more broadly refers to putting down sluttiness in general, even when it’s not targeting any specific female. Facebook slut pages abound, filled with images and messages dedicated to keeping the slut label alive. Far from a prudish vibe, these pages exist for no other purpose than to relish in coarse jokes, display provocative images, and send the strong message: “If you act like a slut and dress like a slut, don’t be surprised to be treated like one.”

The Devastation Slut Shaming Causes

Slut shaming takes typical girl drama or locker room bragging to a whole new level, often causing a sense of deep humiliation and pain. It has even brought some girls to suicide.

Many have heard the story of Amanda Todd who took her life on October 10, 2012. She posted a video to YouTube just a month before her suicide called, “My story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm.” In the video, Amanda describes how she flashed a man using her webcam in seventh grade. The man put the image online and sent it to everyone she knew. In the video she says the bullying online and at school drove her to deep depression, alcohol, cutting, and a suicide attempt with bleach.

A month shy of her 16th birthday, she hung herself in her home.

Sadly, Amanda Todd joins a list of other young girls who have taken their life after the pressures this type of abusive bullying.

When 18-year-old Jesse Logan sent a nude picture to her boyfriend, she had no idea that after they broke up he would show the pictures to others. Soon Jesse was the target of vicious comments at school. The harassment never seemed to stop. On July 3, 2008, she hung herself in her bedroom.

Thirteen-year-old Hope Witsell took a topless photo of herself and sent it to a boy she liked, hoping to gain his attention. Instead, a third party who was using the boy’s phone intercepted the photo and spread it around the school district. Hope was constantly bullied with vulgar remarks. On September 12, 2009, she used a scarf to strangle herself in her room.

On MySpace, seventh grader Sarah Lynn Butler started receiving messages about how rumors were circulating at school that she was a slut. The last message she read from her MySpace page said she would be “easily forgotten,” that she was just a stupid girl and nobody would miss her. She hanged herself that day, on September 26, 2009.

Phoebe Prince killed herself in her home on January 14, 2010. After briefly dating a popular football player from her school, a group of girls continually taunted her for more than three months, calling her “druggie” and “slut,” telling her she deserved to die. Her 12-year-old sister found Phoebe hanging in the stairwell of their home.

When certain football players started spreading rumors about Felicia Garcia sleeping with several of them at a recent party, the bullying became relentless. In full view of more than 200 students, 15-year-old Felicia jumped to her death in front of a train on October 24, 2012.

Suicide from shaming is, thankfully, rare, but each case offers a window into the deeply troubled world of someone facing this kind of harassment. Depression, self-harm, loneliness, thoughts of worthlessness—these are the emotional pains many girls carry from shaming.

What to Do about Slut Shaming

1. Don’t Give the Bullies Ammunition

Practically speaking, all children and teens should be told to be careful about how their behaviors on and offline can impact their reputations.

Sexting (sending or posting a sexually explicit image) can lead to unintended consequences, like it did for Amanda Todd and others.

Danah Boyd, Senior Researcher at Microsoft Research, says in nearly every school she visits she hears the same formulas for sexting gone awry. “Formula #1: Boy and girl are dating, images are shared. Boy and girl break up. Spurned lover shames the other by spreading images. Formula #2: Girl really likes boy, sends him sexy images. He responds by sharing them, shaming her.”

According to a survey by MTV and the Associated Press:

  • 18% of young people (14-24) said they have shared sexts sent to them with another person.
  • 10% said that someone had sent them naked pictures or videos of someone else that they know personally
  • 13% said someone had showed them sexting pictures not meant for their eyes.

2. Address the Heart of Bullying Behavior

Slut shaming is not chiefly a technological issue. Addressing this form of bullying means finding effective ways to deal with the bullies themselves before they unleash their collective slander in a way that scars a person’s reputation.

Regardless of how one feels about the sexual behaviors of others, potential bullies need to be confronted in creative ways to expose the deep-seated reasons for their bullying behavior.

Those who bully others often do so because of their own insecurities: they use abusive and slanderous behavior to feel powerful. This might be because of abuse or neglect bullies have encountered at home from parents or siblings. This might be because bullies have themselves been victims of bullying.

Parents – According to anti-bulling experts, passive or permissive parenting can perpetuate the problem. When parents refuse to discipline their children, they allow bullying attitudes and activities to continue. Children depend on structure, rules, and good role models to steer them to correct paths.

Schools – There are more effective anti-bullying programs available to schools today than ever before.

  • StopBullying.gov has many resources for school administrators to engage with parents and youth, create policies, and build a safe environment.
  • Bully Free Program is a comprehensive school-wide program that gives administrative strategies, teacher strategies, lesson plans, and training options for schools that want to make a difference.
  • NoBully.com offers interactive training for schools and organizations.
  • Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has many certified trainers available to help schools build Bullying Prevention Committees.
  • The National School Climate Center offers their own Bully-Victim-Bystander Cycle Tool Kit, which helps schools build a vision for anti-bullying, assess the bullying climate of their school, and create practical strategies.
  • Challenge Day has impacted more than one million youth around the globe with their unique one-day program. It is designed to break down the walls that separate students.

A number of award-winning documentaries have been produced about the Challenge Day program. Below there are previews of these documentaries, giving a taste of the Challenge Day program.

Teen Files: Surviving High School (Preview)

The Bully Solution (Preview)


Luke Gilkerson is the general editor and primary author of the Covenant Eyes blog. Luke has a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Bowling Green State University and is working on an MA in Religion from Reformed Theological Seminary. Luke and his wife Trisha are the proud parents of four sons. Luke and Trisha blog at IntoxicatedOnLife.com.

CP Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of The Christian Post. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author(s).