As one might expect, digital sexual harassment is a huge problem for American teens, and women especially. To combat it, Miami-Dade County Public Schools, America's fourth-largest public school district, rolled out a message for teen girls last month that some people have found offensive: If you get sexually harassed, it's on you for sending nude photos in the first place.
"Don't ruin your reputation!" implores an August 20 tweet from the school district. "Do not post photos or videos you wouldn't want others to see."
The tweet links to a video that is now receiving serious backlash online. Rather than teaching men to respect a woman by keeping private pictures private, the video instead focuses on women's role in their own harassment:
A spokesperson for the school district, Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, told New Times the clip was actually created by students in February as part of a contest. Gonzalez-Diego said a student-led coalition voted to select the clip from a host of others, and the School Board then watched it. Apparently, no one saw an issue with it.
"The intent was, in no way, to come across as being sexist," she said via phone. "I understand how it can be misconstrued, but there was no ill intent by any means. It was produced by kids and voted on by kids. We in no way condone anything that victimizes women any more than they already are."
In the clip, a young woman named "Emily" is seen standing against what appears to be a bathroom wall, debating whether she ought to send some sort of nude photograph to a teen boy. (Emily wears an Alonzo and Tracy Mourning High School sweatshirt. That school is located in North Miami.) Emily then sends the photo — and then that douchebag of a guy sends that picture all over the school. Students with stubble and hoodies then follow her through a hallway, repeatedly ask her for more sexy photos, and ask for her number. The implication is that she has sex with everyone.
In other words: The boys sexually harass her. But the clip implies this is Emily's fault.
For one, the idea that women have a sexual "reputation" to uphold is sexist, full stop. It's surprising in 2016 that the school district would choose to publish a message implying that sexual women are tarnishing some expectation that they remain pure.
Two, the men in the clip face no repercussions for the way they conduct themselves. In the video, the initial guy who receives Emily's photo then sends that image all over the high school. That is sexual harassment. Then the boys who see the photo yell at her in the hallway, ask for more photos, and imply they'd like to have sex with her. That too is sexual harassment.
The clip does not tell women to report harassment to their administrators. At the end of the video, the whole clip plays in reverse, and it's revealed Emily was simply daydreaming. She then deletes the photo, shrugs, and walks away before a narrator says, "Don't send that pic. Think before you click."
But this week, the clip has received serious backlash online. More than 5,000 people have shared a message complaining about the PSA, and others have begun tweeting the school district to remove the video and instead teach students — especially men — not to bully people.
And here is a video from Miami Dade Schools reminding girls that when they're sexually harassed, its their fault https://t.co/LEwzgrF9q3— brandon (@branduh_) September 18, 2016
@MDCPS this is harassment and it's disgusting how instead of encouraging students to report it you're putting blame on the victim.— m a r i e ? (@MELANCHOLYHlLLZ) September 19, 2016
The district does, at least, warn students to "say NO to cyber bullying" in other materials. It also encourages students to keep their social media profiles clean of compromising material, which is an objectively useful lesson for teens:
@MDCPS delete this. and your account. teach your students not to bully others with your free time.— logan (@laogn) September 19, 2016
The message is part of Miami-Dade's "Digital Citizenship" curriculum, a multiyear lesson plan that aims to teach students how to navigate the strange, often-rocky waters of the internet and social media. Most of the lessons are positive and forward-thinking, such as tips on ways corporations track your digital footprint online. There's even a lesson on the ways in which men and women are judged differently in social media posts and photos online.
But oddly, the lessons on romantic online relationships veer into anti-sexting territory. There's an entire lesson called "Overexposed: Sexting and Relationships," which puts the onus on women not to sext.
One handout calls sexting "Risky Self-Disclosure," which is, theoretically, true. The handout even points to the fact that there's a double-standard for men and women when it comes to sex:
Encourage students to discuss how attitudes about, and experiences with, sexting have a lot to do with gender. Guide students to think about double standards. For instance, a boy caught sending a sexual picture may be thought of as acting stupid or showing off, whereas a girl in the same situation may be chastised as “easy.”But the handout, again, puts that risk on women: The lesson says one woman shown in an MTV sexting special called her ordeal "the biggest mistake of my life":
But these messages have real effects on both men and women. In 2013, Rolling Stone profiled the sad case of Audrie Pott, a high-school sophomore in Saratoga, New York. Pott went to a party in 2012, where she got too drunk and was assaulted by a group of boys. The boys stripped her naked, wrote on her with a Sharpie (one boy wrote the word "anal" over her butt with an arrow pointing down) and took photos of the entire ordeal. Pott later hanged herself with a belt.
Ally says sexting was “the biggest mistake of my life.” She reflects on how – when she was in high school — she thought she and her boyfriend would be together forever. Ally didn’t expect the picture to be shared, saying, “The picture getting out never crossed my mind.”
Earlier this month, the Washington Post profiled a teen named "Maureen," who faced the same situation that Miami-Dade's "Emily" did: She sent a boy a photo, and then the boy sent that photo all over school. The boy was suspended for a "few days," but Maureen received a constant barrage of text messages calling her a "slut" or telling her to "kill herself." Maureen then began cutting herself.
When law enforcement officers investigated Maureen's case, they found boys in the school had developed some sort of "game," wherein they "collected" nude photos from as many girls as possible and shared them among themselves. That "game" wasn't unique to their middle school:
Law enforcement agencies could have told her parents how truly ordinary their situation was. Sexting has gained a presence in every kind of school — rich and poor, urban and rural, big and small. As phones make their way into the hands of younger and younger kids, the incidents have grown more complex: Students collect their peers’ nude photos in passcode-protected Dropboxes, private Instagram accounts and apps disguised as calculators. In Massachusetts alone, the state police computer crimes unit gets multiple calls a month from schools needing its intervention.But this, clearly, shows a pervasive problem with the boys collecting the photos, rather than the girls sending them. All of this should be handled with public-service campaigns telling men not to pressure women for pictures, post photos illegally online, or otherwise treat women like second-rate sexual objects. Though the clip was student-created, it's surprising the district would choose to publish it in 2016.