Alternatives to Cyber Avengers

Victims of sexting and other online harassment should think twice before turning to cyber avengers for help. Using the legal system, both civil and criminal, will yield better and safer results.

Question: I’m a junior in high school and my life is ruined. I went to a party last weekend and drank so much I don’t remember what happened. Some boys who were there have sent around photos of me shirtless and making out with one of them. My best friend wants to sic Anonymous on them. I just want to disappear. Is there any way out of this mess?

Answer: First off, you have been through a bad experience but hang in there—the boys were in the wrong and you are entitled to protection of your rights. There are actions you can take, but your friend’s idea is not the best approach.

Assault or Other Sex Crime?

If you have not yet done so, you and your parents should contact the police about the incident. And, because you do not recall what happened, you would be well advised to undergo a medical examination to determine if you were sexually assaulted. You should also get tested for pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Your life is not ruined, regardless of what happened, and you can improve it by taking care of your health right away.

Rape

Sex with a person while the person is too intoxicated to consent is sexual assault. If there is evidence that any of the boys had sex with you (or engaged in sexual contact with you) while you were too intoxicated to legally consent, talk to your parents about filing charges against the boys responsible.

Child pornography and “sexting”

The boys who are sending around photos of you may also be violating state and federal laws against child pornography. If you are under the age of majority in your state (usually 18), you are a minor, and semi-nude or sexually explicit photographs of you meet the definition of child pornography. By using the Internet to disseminate the pictures, the boys may have violated federal law and state law. In addition, teen “sexting” laws make it a crime for minors to send sexually explicit photographs of other minors. For more information about such laws, see Teen Sexting, where you will also see links to articles for each state on the laws and penalties for sexting.

Cyberbullying and Cyberharassment

If your state has laws against cyberbullying and cyberharassment, the boys may also have violated those statutes.To find out if your state has such laws, check with the National Conference of State Legislatures, which maintains a list on its website.

However, these laws also protect the boys, so your friend’s impulse to send information about them to Anonymous, while understandable, could get her in trouble. And, if she sends any of the photos the boys took of you to anyone (in order to inspire action, for example), she may violate the previously mentioned child pornography laws herself.

Civil Laws

The boys may have violated civil laws, as well. For example, some states have statutes and/or constitutional provisions protecting the privacy of citizens. The boys violated your privacy by sending out the photographs of you. You and your parents may want to talk to a privacy rights lawyer to find out if you have a claim against them or their parents.

There may also be civil harassment laws that apply to your situation even if your state does not have a cyberharassment law. At a minimum, a lawyer could send a letter to the boys and their parents demanding that they immediately cease transmission of the photographs.

Stay Strong, Protect Yourself

By looking into the ways that you can legally protect your rights in this situation, you are regaining control over your life and your future. You are not alone in this—there are good resources for girls who have experienced incidents like you have. For information about some of these resources, check out the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network website. In addition to whatever counseling you are undergoing after this unhappy incident, focus on how you can be sure that neither you nor any of your friends ever finds herself in the same situation in the future. If you and your best friend want to take concerted action in response to this incident, that would be the best way.

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