Sexual Cyberbullying: The Modern Day “Letter A” Script
HOST INTRO: Many modern teenagers live half their lives on social media sites and they're writing the rules as they go. One online trend Radio Rookie Temitayo Fagbenle finds disturbing is something she calls “slut-shaming,” using photos and videos to turn a girl's private life inside out. Due to the nature of the issues Temitayo addresses in this report, please be warned the story includes some sexually graphic descriptions.
NARRATION: Back in 17th century Puritan times, shaming women like Hester Prynne for their wanton acts was a whole town effort.
SCARLET LETTER MAN: Hester Prynne, you have been found guilty of adultery.
NARRATION: I was 10 when I read the Scarlett Letter.
SCARLET LETTER WOMAN #1: Has she no shame?
NARRATION: Hester was cast out of the community and forced to wear a red letter A for Adultery.
SCARLETT LETTER WOMAN #2: It would be better if they put the brand of the hot iron on her; that she could not hide.
NARRATION: “Slut shaming” like this has been going on for centuries.
But now there’s a new tool. Instead of shaming hussies in the town square, there are thousands of Facebook and webpages literally called “exposing hos”
TEMITAYO: Alright so here’s this photo on Facebook of this girl, she’s laying on a bed, she seems to be half naked.
NARRATION: All she had on was a white t-shirt. And the boy tagged her in the picture so everybody could go to her page.
TEMITAYO: This picture was put up 43 minutes ago and it already has 443 likes and 261 comments.
NARRATION: People post pictures and videos and make “smut lists” for their neighborhood or school.
TEMITAYO: I’m just gonna read some of the comments now. “Your life is officially shot LMAO.” One boy put, “I think she gonna cut her veins when she see this.”
NARRATION: As for the boy who put up the picture…
TEMITAYO: The boy just actually posted a status, he says he has 2,000 friend requests because of the photo he just put up. And this is like a regular occurrence, like I’m sure it’s gonna be pulled down. Maybe I should report it right now, but I don’t know.
NARRATION: Two years ago when I was in 9th grade a girl in my class faced a similar situation. Her boyfriend put an intimate video of them up on the internet. It was the talk of the town.
YOUNG WOMAN: He was going around holding his head high, saying, “oh well, I was able to do this with her.” He gave me a bad name. It was on Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Worldstar, everything.
NARRATION: So Worldstar is like the x-rated version of youtube.
TEMITAYO: It was on Worldstar?
YOUNG WOMAN: It was on everything.
FEMALE STUDENT #1: Once it gets to a social media network it’s over for her life.
TEMITAYO: You think that’s wrong, right?
NARRATION: I had a gathered a group of girls at my school to talk about “slut shaming” online.
FEMALE STUDENT #2: They be getting exposed.
FEMALE STUDENT #3: Like yesterday! [laughter]
FEMALE STUDENT #2: Like yesterday there was some girl, she was in a picture with like a…
FEMALE STUDENT #3: A penis in her mouth.
FEMALE STUDENT #2: Yeah, smiling!
NARRATION: Girls often feel they need to shame other girls for their improper behavior.
FEMALE STUDENT #2: Girls do it to themselves. Half the time we can’t even blame guys. Like she was literally looking into the camera smiling.
TEMITAYO: She wasn’t smiling.
NARRATION: But it’s not always the girl’s fault.
FEMALE STUDENT #2: There’s people that they don’t know they’re taking the picture, there’s people that don’t know they’re getting recorded. That’s not fair that a guy can actually hide his phone, have sex with you and record you and then show it to his friends, like “Yo look! Lululula look.”
FEMALE STUDENT #4: They don’t care!
NARRATION: When I was talking to the girl this happened to, she said she didn’t know she was being recorded.
YOUNG WOMAN: I kind of had a feeling that something was wrong, but I didn’t want to believe it.
TEMITAYO: Can you just like, just walk me through the first day you came to school after it happened?
YOUNG WOMAN: I came to school hoping that it wouldn’t be too big of a deal. I was walking around the school with my hood on trying to just like, to get to class.
NARRATION: But even the Principal already knew about the video. He brought her to his office and called her mom.
YOUNG WOMAN: I went back to class and like half an hour later my mother was in the school. And I couldn’t even look at my mother because I felt hurt and I also felt like I disrespected her. And I didn’t want kids in the school to look at my mother and be like, “Wow. She raised…nothing.”
NARRATION: I see girls get exposed on my Facebook newsfeed almost everyday.
YOUNG MAN: It was about 7th grade and I’m in 12th grade now.
NARRATION: Back in middle school this guy emailed a picture of his girlfriend without a shirt on to some of his friends. It spread around their entire school.
TEMITAYO: Did she transfer out of the school after it happened?
YOUNG MAN: Nope. She stayed and continued to be the smut, smiddy, slide, skipskap, skallywap, you know, whore.
NARRATION: I don’t want to make an assumption – because he’s a friend of mine – but maybe he doesn’t understand the seriousness of what he did.
TEMITAYO: Did you intend it to be malicious?
YOUNG MAN: I guess I thought it would be cool or something. Um…it took me a day to send it out and then from a day, it just went around, went around, went around until it finally went to the school and the teachers saw it.
NARRATION: Schools have had to take on a new role. Some students screenshot the cyberbullying they see online, print it out and bring it to their teachers as evidence
TEMITAYO: Can you tell me your name please?
ERICA: My name is Erica Doyle.
NARRATION: Erica’s the assistant principal at my school.
TEMITAYO: In cases where somebody might put up a sexually explicit video, is it necessary for you to contact the authorities?
ERICA: Yes, absolutely. Because once we’re dealing with digital media that is sexually explicit that has been captured and shared with the public, that actually now is a criminal matter.
YOUNG MAN: I got arrested. They handcuffed me to a bench. That was pretty scary.
NARRATION: But most of the time the police don’t find out. Kids don’t usually report it.
TEMITAYO: You said that when you decided to do it, you thought it would make you cool, so did it make you cool?
YOUNG MAN: Yeah, after if happened there was a lot of like, “Yeah, man that was awesome!”
TEMITAYO: You sound pretty unremorseful right now.
YOUNG MAN: I regret doing it to her but still, I didn’t have to go to jail. Porn websites do it everyday, so… Even the girls gave me props. But there was about like 1% of them that you know, that thought I did the wrong thing.
NARRATION: I don’t typically do this, but when I saw that photo of the girl lying down on a bed without underwear -- I decided to report it to Facebook as harassment.
TEMITAYO: Ok, so Facebook sent me a notification, it says…
NARRATION: 15 minutes later the photo was still up. Facebook said that it didn’t violate their “Community Standards.” But their Community Standards state a strict policy against any explicitly sexual content where a minor is involved.
TEMITAYO: It now has 500 likes…
NARRATION: So then I reported it as pornographic content. After another 15 minutes, I got a similar message.
TEMITAYO: Content not removed. What? Why is the content not removed?
NARRATION: I talked to a Facebook spokesperson. She said she can’t talk about specific cases and she refused to go on record about anything to do with the issue.
TEMITAYO: Don’t know what to do, and the photo’s still gonna be up there.
TEMITAYO: Before you, yourself, were affected what did you think of girls like that and what do you think now?
YOUNG WOMAN: Well, I would do the same thing that happened to me like I was calling them names and I was judging them. But then when it happened to me there was situations like on Facebook where they’d be blowing up some other girl’s spot and I’d be like, wow she screwed up the same way I did.
NARRATION: Teenagers today aren’t more cruel than they were in the 1600s. It’s just that now when we chastise each other everybody that has access to the internet can see it.
NARRATION: And once that picture or video is out you can’t be completely safe in your mind that the past won’t creep up on you at some random time.
YOUNG MAN: I saved the pictures. I know the teachers deleted. I still have them.
NARRATION: This is the new scarlet letter.
SCARLET LETTER MAN: It is now ordered that you shall wear upon your bosom for the rest of your natural life, the scarlet letter A.
NARRATION: For WNYC, I’m Rookie Reporter Temitayo Fagbenle.
[Scarlett letter ending music]