"Sexting," the act of sending nude or semi-nude images from one's cell phone or computer, is being cited as a major factor in the recent death of a Ruskin teenager.
Thirteen (13) year-old Beth Shields Middle School student Hope Witsell ultimately took her own life when the taunting and bullying by other students became too much to handle.
According to a recent story in the St. Pete Times, Hope Witsell's death is just the second in the nation in which a connection between "sexting" and teen suicide can be clearly drawn.
According to Parry Aftab, a nationally known "cyberlawyer" who has appeared on Goodmorning America and the Today show, "This is very important, because it shows that sexting-related suicides are tracking the same way cyberbullying-related suicides are."
A 2009 Harris online poll shows that one (1) in five (5) teens admit that they've sent naked pictures of themselves or others over a cell phone. But even that number may be low, according to experts.
While the details leading to Hope's death vary, many students describe the chain of events this way: During the last week of school in June, Hope forwarded a photo of her breasts to the cell phone of Alex Eargood, a boy she liked. A rival girl, who was the girlfriend of another boy Hope liked and a friend of Alex's, asked to borrow Alex's phone on the bus. That girl found the image and forwarded it to other students. Within hours, the image had gone viral at both Beth Shields Middle School and Lennard High School.
Aside from the embarrassment associated with nude photos landing in the wrong hands, Florida law considers the possession or distribution of nude images of minors to be Child Pornography, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five (5) years in prison.
Unfortunately, while Hope's death may be the first of its kind in the Tampa Bay area (and the State of Florida), it will probably not be the last.