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Teen's Suicide After Sexual Assault, Cyberbullying Sparks Questions About Prevention

Sexual cyberbullying is growing and becoming inescapable for some youth, experts say.

A 15-year-old Saratoga High School student, Audrie Pott, hanged herself, according to authorities, after male classmates sexually assaulted her and posted images online. Are local schools and communities doing enough to prevent similar tragedies from happening?

Statewide, 10% of ninth-grade girls report that their gender was the basis of at least one instance of bullying or harassment. And in this part of the East Bay, the rate ranges from 8.2% in the Newark school district to 17.3% in the New Haven school district. 

See more local data on gender-based bullying and harassment at the end of this article, and please post your thoughts in the comments below. Full coverage of the Audrie Pott case on Saratoga Patch.

"There are two common elements here that are being repeated across the country – sexual assault by an adolescent and the cyberbullying that follows," Robert Allard, an attorney for Audrie's family, told the San Jose Mercury News.

Three 16-year-old boys were arrested Thursday, seven months after the September attack. Allard said at least three boys took part in multiple sexual acts on Audrie while she lay drunk and unconscious at the home of a friend whose parents where gone for the weekend, according to a story on Saratoga Patch.

At least one photo was taken of Audrie during the assault, and it was distributed by text and email then posted on Facebook, Allard said. On her own Facebook page, Audrie wrote: "They took pictures of me. My life is ruined" and that it was "the worst day ever." She committed suicide eight days after the assault.

An expert in sexual cyberstalking told CBS News' Crimesider that this type of cyberbullying is getting worse: "... as it becomes easier to post or text or comment on a photo, sexual cyber-bulling and cyber-stalking is becoming 'more pervasive, more common, and more acceptable,'" said Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland Frances King Carey School of Law professor.

The arrests in the Audrie Potts tragedy came just days after Rehtaeh Parsons, a Canadian teen, hanged herself in another case with allegations of sexual assault and cyberbullying.

Bob Mistele, superintendent of the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District, said in a statement quoted on SFGate, "Collaborating with our parents, students, staff and community, we will continue to work diligently to maintain a positive climate at our high schools based on respect, responsibility and open communication that discourages cyberbullying and inappropriate conduct."

Experts say that putting everything online is part of the teen culture, making bullying a constant in their lives.

A statewide survey shows how often youth report being bullied or harrassed based on their gender. Here's a snapshot of that data for ninth-grade girls. The data also is available for seventh- and 11th-graders, boys and for bullying and harassment based on race, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

Gender as Reason for Bullying/Harassment, by Gender and Grade Level: 2008-2010

Data Source: As cited on kidsdata.org, California Department of Education, California Healthy Kids Survey (WestEd). http://www.wested.org/chks

Grade Level: 9th Grade

Percent

Female

0 Times

1 Time

2-3 Times

4 or More Times

California

90.1%

5.0%

2.6%

2.3%

Castro Valley Unified

84.3%

6.9%

5.2%

3.6%

Fremont Unified

89.6%

4.5%

2.8%

3.2%

Hayward Unified

85.0%

7.1%

4.2%

3.7%

New Haven Unified

82.7%

8.1%

4.9%

4.2%

Newark Unified

91.8%

3.0%

2.6%

2.6%

San Leandro Unified

85.8%

6.4%

4.4%

3.4%

San Lorenzo Unified

88.5%

5.4%

3.4%

2.7%

 

Definition: Percentage of students in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional students reporting the number of times in the past 12 months they have been bullied at school because of their gender, by gender. The grade levels included in school district-level data depend on the grades offered in each school district; for example, high school districts do not include 7th grade data. "Non-Traditional" students are those enrolled in Community Day Schools or Continuation Education. According to EdSource, nearly 10% of public school students in California are enrolled in these programs.

 

RELATED LINKS

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Adolescent Violence Prevention Knowledge Path, Maternal and Child Health Library at Georgetown University

Audrie Pott Foundation

Bullying, California Department of Education

California Safe Schools Coalition

Cyberbullying Research Center

Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports: Effective Schoolwide Interventions, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs

School Connectedness, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

School Safety and Mentoring Guides, Hamilton Fish Institute, George Washington University

StopBullying.gov

Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Consortium to Prevent School Violence

WestEd: Healthy Kids, Schools, and Communities

Mike Michelson April 17, 2013 at 03:52 PM
At 82, I am appalled at the behavior of these men and what they have done. The men who perpetrated this crime, along with the photos of the their family members, who are also responsible, should have their names and faces published in all the newspapers in the bay area. Why add to the pain of the remaining family members of the victim by publishing her photo and story!
Nick April 17, 2013 at 04:41 PM
The parents wanted her name and pictures out there to get the word out, get lawmakers to work on anti bullying, cyberspace regulations. They are also suing the 3 boys parents as well as the homeowner where this happened. This kind of stuff goes on all the time. Underage kids having access to alcohol. The reason the boys identity cannot be revealed is because of their age. To me that leads me to the conclusion that the parents are the problem. If the law is going to protect the kids identity, then the people responsible for them are just as responsible for this act as the kids are. I am glad the victims parents are suing them all. These kids need to be watched 24-7. I am appalled by their actions as well post time. They tried to hide evidence once they got wind of the investigation. And to be honest I put these 3 kids in the same boat as the Boston Bomber, cowards that need to get their kicks at the expense of other people. Just yesterday, Oakland Police Chief, caught a handful of teens for murder. Murder of the EMT in the Oakland Hills 2 weeks back. He's noticing a spike in violent crimes by teens. 2 things need to happen, parents need to parent or the law needs to start revealing names and pictures of underage arrests. It's one or the other, and well since parenting is voluntary, maybe the law needs to change. If it'll make kids think twice about fixing drinks, great, the law worked.
Ken Briggs April 18, 2013 at 11:47 PM
the party house parent should be charged with letting the young boys / brats / get into the booze . they should do some jail time or prison time for letting this go on in the home when they were not home . now the young boys should do some prison time and for deface ing a body . and yes I used to live in the willow glen area .
T. Schwilling May 02, 2013 at 06:25 PM
Hi, I wanted to share some additional resources shared with me at "Keeping Kids Safe: An Internet & Mobile Safety Workshop" given by Bob and Diane Oates (Cert. Child Safety Advocates). -www.OnGuardOnline.gov -www.CyberBully411.org -www.KidzafeToday.com -www.togetherville.com -www.kidzui.com (kid safe search engine) Also, use the internet to understand text lingo. P911 = My parents are coming!

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