Cyberbullying Gone Too Far at Saratoga High

Sofia Ruiz, Staff writer

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On Sept. 12, 2012, 15-year-old Audrie Pott fatally hanged herself a week after being sexually assaulted and photographed by three classmates at a party. The photographs were spread on social media and by instant messaging. Two of the boys were sentenced to 30 days in Juvenile Hall to be served on weekends, and the third was to serve 45 days consecutively.

It was only just before a civil trial set for this April that the three boys agreed to apologize in front of a court, support a petition to give Audrie an honorary diploma, give 10 presentations on sexual assault, pay a combined $950,000, and agree to be filmed in a documentary.

These boys got off with light sentences. It is understandable that these 16-year-old’s sentences would not be as long as an adult’s, but people have been sentenced to longer times for recording and distributing films illegally online, which cannot even be measured against a crime that actively harms another human being.

The justice system failed Audrie Pott. The boys not only got off with light sentences considering they sexually assaulted her, spread information on the assault, and also kick started cyberbullying that ultimately led Pott to her death. Also, the other students who knew about and helped distribute pictures of the crime by social media and messaging did not face punishment, let alone prosecution. It was this additional harassment that could have led Pott to the point she felt her only option was to take her own life.

People who experience trauma like sexual assault can get through it, though it is still difficult, when they are in a supporting environment. Unfortunately this was not Pott’s case at all. Her schoolmates tortured her over the incident, leading her to suicide. Although it can never be determined conclusively why Pott took her life, it is likely she would not have committed suicide if her classmates had not bullied her. This means that the cyberbullies are also at fault for her death.

Pott reported being harassed at school in the week that followed the incident. This is no doubt because of the pictures and knowledge everyone but her seemed to have from that night. She posted on social media that “she has a reputation for a night she didn’t even remember.” Would this, or her death, have occurred if pictures of the assault had not been so easily spread around her peers?

It is impossible to say, but it is obvious that those pictures, and knowledge of what happened at that party (spread easily by technology) aggravated what was already a difficult situation to be in. Being sexually assaulted while intoxicated, drawn on, and photographed must be a humiliating and painful situation, but it was made worse when everyone else knew about it with a few taps on a cellphone screen.

Her death was not only caused by the one assault, but by the harassment and insensitivity of her peers. In the week that followed the party, Pott experienced what many victims of sexual assault often do; shame and being blamed for a crime they could not control. However, only the boys were tried for the assault and death of Audrie Pott, which although they should have received more time (because a month and a half total in juvenile hall is a pitiful amount for a crime like this), they are not the only ones to blame for her death.

Technology makes the spread of information lightning fast, and in this case, it combined with a gross misuse of it committed by not just the perpetrators of the assault, but also everyone else who was in possession of photos or messages about what happened that night. Teenagers are often portrayed as reckless, and in this instance it is absolutely true. Using technology to hurt others (cyberbullying) led someone to suicide.

However, this is a relatively new issue, and lawmakers are struggling to handle it. They make laws after the fact for crimes they did not see coming, and there is debate over how harsh to make them. Lawmakers need to catch up, and gain a better understanding of how technology actually affects teenagers. There need to be laws to regulate cyberbullying of this nature, and stop it as soon as it begins.

In Pott’s case, unregulated misuse of technology led to a girl’s death. It seems the best way to stop that would have been a timely investigation and prosecution of perpetrators. The students of Saratoga High School were treating the sexual assault of Pott as a joke, and when there are no repercussions for this form of harassment, it allows others to continue the chain of ignorance and bullying.

Sexual assault is a serious issue, and Pott should not have been bullied to death because she was a victim. Adults need to get a reality check and decide whether or not they want to allow cyberbullying to continue unchecked, because kids can be cruel, and they will not stop on their own.

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