Teens Tackle Sexual Cyberbullying at Town Hall

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Students debated what to do about sexual content online that involves bullying and shaming their peers.

According to a group of New York City teenagers, sexually explicit content involving their classmates is a regular occurrence in their social media lives and mostly, they said, they ignored it and kept on scrolling.

But they acknowledged that they could do more to limit the bullying and "slut shaming" they see. The topic was the focus of a Town Hall event in WNYC's The Greene Space last week. It was co-hosted by Radio Rookies reporter Temitayo Fagbenle who covered the topic of cyberbullying in this report.

"It isn't a topic that someone talks about until someone unfortunately commits suicide or something awful happens," said 16-year-old Fagbenle to a room of more than 50 teenagers.

The students spilled anecdote after anecdote of logging onto social media sites like Facebook and being bombarded with naked pictures of their peers, or sexually explicit videos that were taped without a girl's knowledge.

"That happened to my friend recently," said 10th grader Ajia Stone. "A guy put up a picture of her and everyone saw it. She didn't come to school for the next few days."

Like in the case of Stone’s friend, girls are often put down in those instances, while guys are praised for posting the pictures and giving “free porn,” as one student put it.

“They do it to look cool among their friends, but I don’t think it’s cool at all,” said David McCall.

Many of the teenagers said they typically kept scrolling when they came across a “slut-shaming” video or photo. Others said they reported them to the site. At least one student admitted he took part in the spreading of the explicit material.

Fagbenle and her co-host Amon 'AJ' Frazier, a Rookies graduate, encouraged the crowd to consider other ways to respond as bystanders. They broke their peers into several groups and gave them different questions to tackle, such as Who's to Blame? or Who Owns Your Pictures?

One group suggested writing to social media sites, reaching out to the victims or “using the media against itself” as strategies against sexual cyberbullying.

“I think if we have time to share the pictures, then we also have time to speak and write out about it," said tenth-grader Esmeralda Baez, who also suggested ‘shaming’ the original posters by publicly calling them out.

Bree Person, a twelfth grader, said her typical responses were either to ignore the pictures or to comment on them as a challenge to the person who posted.

“Some guys think it’s only a girl’s fault,” she said. “It can also be society and men. I don’t think boys understand that it can really hurt a woman’s situation.”

Fagbenle and Frazier presented a Facebook page they recently created, entitled That Could Be Your Sister.

"Just think about it that way before you comment or like the picture," Fagbenle said.

Some students also contemplated whether, and to what extent, schools should get involved. Guirny Occean explained how his former middle school expelled a student after a photo of her half-naked, sporting the school's uniform, went viral.

"It was quite shocking. I think they stepped in because she was negatively representing the school in the picture," he said. "Lots of people were calling her a slut and whore."