From Slut Pages to Sexting Scandals: The Impact of Online Shame In Schools

From small towns like Canon City, Colorado, to Winnetka, Illinois, countless schools have been reeling from the fallout of slut pages and sexting scandals that have left students feeling shamed and betrayed.

You might think this could never happen to you or at your school. Maybe you have social media monitoring systems in effect. Maybe you believe that students make good digital choices or wouldn’t engage in such activities. Think again. One study of teenagers in Texas basically concluded that sexting is the new “first base.”

As we have read in headlines across the globe, bad things can happen to good people and in the nicest places. It’s imperative that schools, parents and communities step up to address the consequences of this culture.

“Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate” (Sourcebooks) covers one of the biggest sexting scandals in a high school in one of the least likely towns, Duxbury, Massachusetts (nicknamed “Deluxeberry”, for its oceanfront homes), where a Dropbox account revealed photos of around 50 female students.

One Duxbury junior (a female), told us how many of the girls that sent the nudes felt so upset when caught that they stopped coming to school for a period of time; meanwhile, boys were frantically attempting to delete the sexual images off their phones to avoid punishment.

While some parents are quick to point fingers at the school, Andrew Stephens, principal at the time, reminds us that: “Adults need to accept that this is the new reality.” He said he has spoken with parents that are completely clueless about these online activities. “If you don’t understand this world and are giving advice based on a 1985 model, that doesn’t work anymore.”

Sexting or sending sexual images can have consequences, for girls and boys alike. Being shamed and feeling betrayed can leave a person emotionally scarred for a long time.

How can we help our teens to resist?

Don’t just talk to the girls, talk to the boys. As Stephens pointed out: “The browbeating that goes on between young men to young women to get these [nudes] is ridiculous, until they say, ‘Here, fine, just shut up.”

What we found interesting is when the school superintendent said, “I want our young women to understand they need to think better of themselves…” the student we interviewed shot back; “Girls don’t need to be told to think better of themselves. Boys need to stop being immature and sick creatures, and grow up… Why are they not telling boys to stop hounding girls for naked pictures?”

Dr. Michelle Drouin, sexting expert, says that parents need to give teens a way out when they are pressured to send a sext. Maybe they can tell their friend their parent monitors their phone frequently or they will have their phone confiscated, and they aren’t willing to risk it.

Hear, hear.

Whether it’s cyberbullying or shaming a student online, it’s up to educators and parents to work together through this new terrain of digital drama.

  • Discuss the risks and consequences of sending sexual images regularly.
  • Know your state’s law on sexting.
  • Be sure students are aware of hotlines like CrisisTextLine if they need to talk.
  • If you or your child has become a victim of revenge porn, there are resources today to help you. Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and WithoutMyConsent.
  • Sextortion is another form of emotional blackmail. Learn about it, talk about it and be sure students know to tell an adult if it happens to them. It’s never their fault.

The excerpts above are from the new book, “Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate” (Sourcebooks) available where books are sold.


Sue Scheff is a nationally-recognized author, parent advocate and cyber advocate who is concerned with promoting awareness of cyberbullying and other online issues. In addition to being a regular contributor on Huffington Post and Psychology Today, she contributes to a wide variety of parenting and Internet safety publications and websites. To connect with Sue, or to learn more about her efforts, follow her on Twitter @SueScheff or visit her website.