I never dated boys from my high school when I was a teenager. I always went a town or two over. That's because I knew what happened to many girls who did anything with local boys: the news spread like wildfire and they were relentlessly teased. ... Not the boys, just the girls. At least I could remain somewhat anonymous in a different district.
This has changed with the Internet age and Facebook era girls' skeletons are online and in everyone's backyard. Many find this out the hard way. Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old from Port Coquitlam in British Columbia, found this out the worst way possible.
On Sept. 7 Amanda posted a Youtube video called "My Story: Struggling, bullying, suicide, self harm." The nearly nine-minute, black and white video shows Amanda silently telling her story through a series of white cards with black marker writing on them. She can only be seen from her nose down, occasionally moving around so that her face is visible.
"Hello, I've decided to tell you about my never ending story," she begins.
Amanda describes using webcam chats to talk to new people online as a seventh-grade student, including a man who pressured her to flash her breasts. When she did the man took a photo. He then put the photo online and sent it to everyone she knew. Her fellow students mocked her so badly that she moved.
But the man continued to follow her online and use her photo.
She changed school districts several times. She used drugs, cut herself, and even drank bleach after she was beat up by a group of girls and dumped in a muddy ditch. She was rushed to the hospital to have her stomach pumped.
After she got home, Amanda said all she saw on Facebook was: "She deserved it," "Did you wash the mud out of your hair?" and "I hope she's dead."
Todd moved to another school in another city, but the torture followed her through Facebook. Students posted photos of ditches and suggested she try more bleach.
"Every day, I think, why am I still here?" she asked toward the end of the video. "I'm stuck. What's left of me now? Nothing stops. I have nobody. I need someone. My name is Amanda Todd."
She killed herself on Oct. 10.
A few days after the story broke, online "hacktavist" group Anonymous tracked down the 32-year-old man and posted his contact information online, claiming he frequented websites used by underage girls. It's been three weeks since her death and he still hasn't been charged with anything.
It is a cultural myth - one particular to the Internet - that the methods of a harasser are fundamentally "legal," and that police are helpless to intervene in cases like this. The systematic way this man allegedly followed Amanda to new schools, repeatedly posting the images and threatening to do it again, makes it textbook harassment regardless of the medium.
In Canada cyber-harassment is prosecuted under the general harassment provision of the Canadian criminal code.
In the United States, most states have added specific laws against cyber-harassment and bullying to their general legislation of harassment. At the federal level, there is the Federal Interstate Stalking Punishment and Prevention Act, which cover harassment that crosses state and national lines.
But all of these laws are subject to the limitations of the First Amendment. In the name of "freedom," women of all ages are turned into unwilling avatars created and controlled by men.
Amanda Todd did manage to tell her own story. She was able to destroy the version of herself that strangers created on the Web. It's a small comfort. But it was perhaps the only one she had left.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to
or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com