Parents sue school for role in ‘sexting’ tragedy

The parents of a teenage girl who committed suicide after being harassed over an incidence of sexting, or sending explicit photos via cell phone, are accusing the girl’s school and her peers of playing a significant role in her death.

In 2008, Jessica Logan, a senior high school student from Ohio, sent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend. After she and her boyfriend broke up, the boyfriend sent the photo to one of Jessica’s peers, who was 16 at the time. That person, in turn, forwarded the photo to many others.

According to Jessica’s parents, her peers and friends began to harass her mercilessly after the photo was circulated—including to other school districts. When she tried to talk to  school officials, her parents claim, the only action they  took was to ask Jessica’s peers to stop circulating the photo.

Jessica went on a Cincinnati television station to warn other teens about the dangers of sexting. During the interview, her face was not shown. But her TV appearance reportedly had no effect on her constant harassment.

According to a new poll released by the Associated Press and MTV, sexting is relatively common among youth. (See "Poll finds sexting common among youth.")

Two months after the television interview aired, Jessica hanged herself in her closet.

Now, her parents are saying the school’s actions weren’t enough, and if the school had taken more aggressive action against the bullying, Jessica would still be alive today.

In their lawsuit, Cynthia and Albert Logan say the other students’ "degrading sexual insults" caused their 18-year-old daughter severe emotional distress, which led her to kill herself in July 2008, a month after graduating from high school.

They are also suing Logan’s school, Sycamore High, for negligence. They say the school violated their daughter’s constitutional rights by failing to follow policies on harassment.

The filing, described in a Courthouse News Service release, alleges that Jessica sought the help of Sycamore High guidance counselors, who referred her to the school resource officer, co-defendant Paul Payne, a City of Montgomery police officer. Payne told her he "could ask students to delete the photo from their phones but there was nothing else he could do," according to the complaint.

Logan’s parents say Payne claims he "confronted the kids who were harassing Jessie and took her to the prosecutor’s [office] to see if he could press charges, but he said because Jessie was 18 there were no laws to protect her."

When Cynthia Logan decided to go public with her story, she told Matt Lauer of NBC’s The Today Show that a school official told a local television station  he had given Jessica the option of prosecuting her tormentors.

"That was not so. It’s absolutely not true," she told Lauer. "And if he did, why didn’t I get a notice in the mail that he gave her that option?"

"There absolutely is a law," Parry Aftab, executive director of Wired Safety, told Lauer.

"It depends on the age of the child. If somebody’s under the age of 18, it’s child pornography, and even the girl [who] posted the pictures can be charged. They could be registered sex offenders at the end of all of this. Even at the age of 18, because it was sent to somebody under age, it’s disseminating pornography to a minor. There are criminal charges that could be made here."

When contacted by the Associated Press, the school district’s attorney, R. Gary Winters, said that Jessica’s death was a tragedy but school officials are not to blame.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Aftab said that often it’s normal kids, like Jessica, who fall victim to the perils of the internet and the easy exchange of information on cell phones.

"We talked about her being a good kid, a normal kid. Those are most of the ones [who] are sending out those images," she said. "Forty-four percent of boys say that they’ve seen sexual images of girls in their school, and about 15 percent of them are disseminating those images when they break up with the girls."


Wired Safety

Courthouse News Service

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