Teacher Fired For Nude Selfies: When Sexism & Racism Collide

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By now, you may have heard of the case of Lakeshia Jones, the 34-year-old middle school teacher fired after it was discovered her students obtained nude selfies from her cell-phone and distributed them over the internet. The 14-year-olds ultimately started a Facebook page titled “T.H.O.T.” (Those Ho’s Over There) and used other social media to spread the graphic photos, prompting the school board to take immediate action.

The news story is generating an important discussion about workers rights and privacy in the digital era, but that dialogue is incomplete. This story is not just a question of employee privacy in the digital age, but of sexual violation in the digital age, and while most are apt to question the school board’s grounds for firing Miss Jones, few are willing to acknowledge that Jones is in fact a victim.

The Savannah-Chatham school board cited Jones’ “irresponsibility” as their reason for firing her, hinting that the embarrassing leak was in fact Jones’ fault. Jones has hired an attorney to sue both the school board and the 14-year-old students, but it turns out the law may not be completely on her side.

In most states, taking nude photos without the subject’s consent is very much a crime, but when the woman participates in those photos herself….Well,there’s quite a bit of legal grey area. Where as in New Jersey, sharing explicit photos of any kind without permission can get you three years in the slammer, in most states “revenge porn” is still perfectly legal.

Perhaps the legal system has yet to catch up to the digital era, but it is more likely that our criminal justice system just mirrors our society’s deeply held beliefs about womanhood, that sexually-deviant women ultimately deserve to be humiliated, even violated.

Coincidentally, I found this post on boxer Floyd Mayweather’s instagram account.

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Over 78,000 people agree.

The unique thing about sexual assault is that it is the only crime in which we are always finding ways to blame the victim. She shouldn’t have gone on that date/ attended that party/ drank that drink/ worn that body.

After all, isn’t the school board, in their haste to dismiss this teacher for “irresponsible” behavior, really just low-key slut-shaming her?

That’s the real tragedy in this story.

Leaked nude pictures and sex tapes have become so ubiquitous in the digital era that its easy to downplay the severity of the act. Sharing nude pictures of an unconsenting individual is a heinous sexual violation. It is voyeuristic rape.

But when we adhere to a narrow definition of ‘rape’, say, a savage attack by a complete stranger in a dark alley, we implicitly condone all other forms of sexual assault.

As a woman, I’d feel much safer in a society that condemned ALL instances of rape, but instead we place stipulations on what counts as rape and who gets to be a victim. Women who display any behavior that goes against traditional expecations of femininity are routinely denied victim status. That means if a woman’s hem-line was too short, or she was inebriated when the assault took place, somehow the violation is her fault.

We are forever sending young women out into the world like Little Red Riding Hood with instructions to walk a straight path, keep their britches up, and watch out for wolves.

From girlhood to maturity, women learn that the burden of sex, and all of its repercussions, falls squarely on their shoulders. We teach women how not to get raped but we never teach would-be-predators NOT to rape in the first place.

And for women of color, the burden of rape carries an extra heavy weight given the history of sexual exploitation in this country. In slavery, the bodies of Black women were sexually exploitable for the purpose of labor, reproduction, and slavery.

As Angela Davis writes in her 1978 essay Rape, Racism, and the Capitalist Setting,”Slavery relied as much on routine sexual abuse as it relied on the whip and the lash.”

The Institutionalized rape of enslaved women was steeped in a racist ideology that dehumanized, objectified and sexualized the Black female body.Today, the very racist ideology used to justify rape and sexual coercion, flourishes in the form of hyper-sexualized tropes and stereotypes that continue to negatively shape the perception of Black women both within and without the Black community.

Consider even the current media landscape where “T.H.O.T.” (That Hoe Over THere) and “bad bitch”, two blatantly misogynist micro-aggressions, are commonly used to reference young Black women. Or even the catch phrase du jour, “These ho’s ain’t loyal”.

The pervasive misrepresentation of Black women as hyper-sexual, promiscuous creatures ultimately legitimizes sexual abuse, and it makes it much harder for Black women to be taken seriously as victims.

Look no further than Jada, the Houston teen who attended a party, was presumably drugged, and raped. Jada didn’t realize a rape occurred until images of her naked and unconscious appeared on social media, spawning an awful trend topic #JadaPose, in which other teens recreated the position of her body.

Her peers ultimately sided with her attacker, choosing to believe that Jada consented to sex, in spite of over-whelming evidence to the contrary. Her attacker, who has yet to face charges, boasted about his sexual conquest on Twitter.

Jada, just like the Savannah teacher, was denied the opportunity to be a victim. In both these instances, we see the troubling implications for when racism and sexism collide.

And that’s why I wish the Savannah-Chatham school board handled the incident differently. In their haste to dismiss the 34-year-old teacher, they missed out on a powerful teachable moment. In the age of #JadaPose, where nonconsensual nude images are a laughing matter, this school board could have denounced the juvenile prank as a gross sexual violation.

They could have acknowledged that Miss Jones was a victim. They could have symbolically took a stand against the silent-rape culture that thrives in all levels of American society by refusing to blame the victim. They could have taught the girls of the Savannah-Chatham school district that they are not responsible for sex crimes against them.

Instead, school officials did the exact opposite.

Is it any surprise that in schools and colleges across the country, victims of sexual assault often choose to suffer in silence? Can you blame them? Who wants to be told they were violated because they were being “irresponsible”? Who wants to be known as That Ho Over There… who got raped?

Statistics say as many as 1 in 4 college women report surviving a rape or attempted rape attempt. Chances are, at least one of the little girls that helped circulate pictures of their teacher Miss Jones, will go on to suffer a similar sexual violation in her adult life.

I wonder if she will take a stand against her attacker, or if she’ll even know that she is a victim.

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