The Effects of Slut-Shaming on Teen Girls

One of the Fastest Growing Forms of Cyberbullying

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In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” Hester wore the letter “A” on her chest for the world to see. It was a way for the community to shame her for her adultery. Today, girls are wearing a new type of scarlet letter that is much more permanent and much harder to handle. Their scarlet letter is in the form of “slut-shaming” both on the Internet and in the school hallways.

“Slut-shaming” is a form of cyberbullying where girls are targeted on social media and bullied through degradation or humiliation for their sexuality. What this means is that girls are often ridiculed for the way they look, the way they dress and their presumed level of sexual activity.

According to a study conducted by the American Association of University Women, slut-shaming is one of the most common forms of sexual harassment that students in middle and high school deal with. In fact, a third of all students experienced "having someone make unwelcome sexual comments, jokes, or gestures" about them.  

Types of Slut Shaming

While the methods vary, bullies often utilize social media sites to share explicit photos and videos. For instance, bullies and mean girls may take photos of the girls they are targeting and post rude or sexually explicit comments about their bodies. They also might engage in name-calling and sexual bullying.

Many times, these photos and videos are taken without the target’s knowledge.

Sometimes a student might create an image of another teen that brands her a slut or shames her body in some way. For instance, in one situation teens created a series of multi-pane images accompanied by captions and posted these to Instagram.

One example included a picture of a girl with exposed cleavage and a caption that read: “Hey girls did you know that your boobs go inside your shirt?”

Meanwhile, boys have been known to have sex with a girl and record the act on their smartphone without her knowledge. They then share these videos with friends or even online. But what they often do not realize is that this form of sexual bullying is also against the law. Consequently, it could result in child pornography charges. In fact, charges could be filed against both the boy who took the video and shared it as well as against the students who have a copy of the video - even if they did not ask for the video. If it is on their smartphone they could be charged with possession of child pornography.

Sexting also can lead to slut-shaming. For instance, when a boy and girl are dating they might share sexually explicit or nude images. Then, when they break up, the upset boyfriend shames the girlfriend by sharing her nude or partially nude images online. This type of activity also is against the law and could result in child pornography charges. In other instances, a girl might really like a boy and send him sexy images. He then responds by sharing them and shaming her.

 It is really important that kids understand the risks and consequences associated with sexting.

Schools also can unknowingly play into the slut-shaming culture by creating restrictive dress codes that penalize girls for showing too much skin while allowing boys much more freedom. Then, when girls are disciplined for not following the school guidelines, they are told that they have to dress in a certain way to avoid "distracting" boys. According to activists, this is a dangerous line of thinking. This implies that girls are somehow to blame or responsible for slut shaming and worse yet, for being sexually bullied or assaulted.

The idea that girls are responsible for the reaction of boys, or that boys are unable to control themselves, is a form of victim-blaming.

Effects of Slut-Shaming

For many people, the double standard is frustrating. Boys usually receive praise and adoration for proof of their sexual conquests while girls are branded as loose, easy, a slut, a skank or a whore. As a result, girls are often left with a sense of deep humiliation, shame, embarrassment, and pain. They also may feel worthless and hopeless and resort to self-bullying and eating disorders to cope with pain. What's more, many girls who have been slut-shamed have body-image issues. Even depression, anxiety and thoughts of suicide are linked to slut-shaming.

In fact, there are numerous reports of young girls who were sexually shamed that later took their own lives. These include Amanda Todd, Jesse Logan, Hope Witsell, Sarah Lynn Butler, Phoebe Prince, Felicia Garcia and more. Each girl was sexually shamed in some way, and in some cases for things they did not even do, leaving them feeling like suicide was their only option for escape from the constant torment.

Parents can prevent slut-shaming in their daughters’ lives by talking about the risks of sexting and sexual bullying. It’s also important to remind teens that regardless of how they feel about the sexual behaviors of others, slut-shaming is unacceptable. And if a child is caught engaging in sexual bullying or slut shaming they need to be disciplined and learn how to take responsibility for their bullying choices.

 

"Crossing the Line: Sexual Harassment at School." American Association of University Women, 2011. https://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/Crossing-the-Line-Sexual-Harassment-at-School.pdf