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Teen suicides linked to disturbing trend: online images of sexual assault (+video)

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“Very frequently with sexual assaults and exploitation [among teens], it’s being used as the priming of the pump to make you cooler and more popular online, because you have access to those images,” says New Jersey-based cyberbullying expert Parry Aftab. Kids are increasingly like reality-show producers – watching how big of an audience they can get on their web pages, she says.

“We’re seeing a huge growth in offline assaults connected to online provocation or publication,” Ms. Aftab says.

When she says “provocation,” Aftab is referring to cases such as a girl who created a fake Facebook page in the name of another girl and put up sexual images to provoke harassment and gang attacks against her.

For victims of sexual assault, a second wave of tragedy comes when pictures show up online. “When you get these sexual images out there, a lot of kids who were their friends will blame them – the same things rape victims have always [faced],” Ms. Aftab says. “So they are very isolated, there’s no one to talk to … and we’re seeing more and more suicides and self harm.”

Advocates for victims want them to know there are supporting resources available (see below), and they hope cases that receive widespread media attention will help generate more education about prevention.

Sixty-three percent of sexual assaults are never reported to authorities, says Tracy Cox, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) in Enola, Penn. The victim in Steubenville didn’t want to press charges at first, Ms. Cox says, but her family was a tremendous support system and they “identified that this is not OK, this is a crime, this should not be tolerated.”

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