Thursday, December 17, 2009

Sexual harassment in the digital age

I have to admit that the first time I heard of sexting (the sending of sexually suggestive--or explicit!--text messages) was on Glee a few weeks ago. The subject was treated with the amount of levity that is appropriate for the show, but apparently sexting is not always very gleeful for those involved.
In fact, it often leads to harassment and in two cases in the past year has resulted in the suicides of two teenage girls. The article linked above does a very good job of outlining the harassment involved and potential remedy under Title IX, including the criteria established by the Supreme Court in 1999.
The parents of one of girls is indeed suing the school for failure to remedy the harassment their daughter experienced after sending a text containing a nude photo of herself to her then boyfriend. The article out of a Cincinnati paper makes no mention of Title IX, though I assume the law is a factor given that the case was dismissed from state court in order to move it to federal court.
In this case, the school was made aware of the harassment, so it seems fairly straightforward--at least given when I have read of the case to this point. But in this digital age, I wonder both how much harassment is going on that officials never become aware of because they do not even have an opportunity to see it, (though previous harassment cases have indicated that some people fail to see what it happening right in front of them) and also whether we may see a sort of "they asked for it" defense when it comes to sexting. It may not be as blatant as in past times (and present!) when women who have been raped or assaulted have been subject to questions about their moral character, behavior, and sartorial choices, but I would not be surprised to see it emerge in cases of sexting when girls are sending messages and photos and thus assumed to be willing participants in the process.
And finally, does this new medium create more harassment and/or even greater under reporting of harassment?
I see many issues arising from such cases. It will be interesting to see both how schools and the courts address them.