Some lessons are hard-learned, and according to authorities, some local students are learning important lessons the hard way.
Since Feb. 14, investigators say, at least four accounts have been created on the social media site Instagram for the sole purpose of posting embarrassing photos of local underage girls. They included pictures of female students from local schools — including a middle school — in nothing but their underwear or in nothing at all.
And the creators of several of the accounts invited people to post more.
The accounts were short-lived, in each case being taken down within a day after their creation. But the damage was done. The girls were surely mortified, their parents enraged. And the damage continues. On Friday, a West Rowan High School student was charged with cyberbullying for posting a nude picture of a 15-year-old fellow student on Instagram.
Sheriff Kevin Auten said in this case, the suspect posted only the one photo and that this account was not connected to the others. Still, it’s a variation on the same theme. Each one included a derogatory term for women that paints the victims not just as objects, but as somehow deserving of what happened to them.
This is nothing new. Sites like Instagram have just made it easier for young men to leer at young women. And it’s not confined to Rowan County. At least a dozen law enforcement agencies across North Carolina have asked the SBI for help tracking down the creators of similar accounts.
This is not a “Boys will be boys, so girls should be careful” message. The people who created these accounts are criminal, according to the law, and lack morals, according to acceptable standards of society.
They stripped these girls of their dignity. At the same time, dignity begins at home. Women — and girls — must take measures to protect themselves.
An investigator said many of the girls apparently took the photos themselves, intending for them to be shared with only one other person, perhaps a boyfriend. But the photos somehow ended up in the hands of the creators of the accounts, or were posted by the people those girls trusted.
If these photos were meant to be private, the girls had a right to expect them to stay private. But we live in a world where it’s too easy for anything to be made public, and where people turn themselves into pseudo-celebrities by putting their private lives and bodies on display, making it more acceptable for anyone to do so.
Local investigators have filed search warrants to get the names of the people who created all of the accounts. They could face charges of cyberbullying, even sexual exploitation of a minor, which is a felony.
Let’s hope authorities find these people, and charge them. Maybe that will send a message to others who might be similarly inclined that doing this is not funny or cool. It’s criminal.
Most of all, let’s hope they get to learn a lesson. Their victims surely have.