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Sextortion in Oregon School: Where were School Officials?

Sextortion in Oregon School: Where were School Officials?

By Adrian Alvarez, Goldberg-Robb Attorney, and Adele Kimmel, Managing Attorney

We’ve been following the story of Josi Harrison, a 15-year old from Clatskanie, Oregon, who is displaying great courage in speaking publicly about a “sextortion” scheme at her school that resulted in her providing nude photos of herself to a male classmate who had been her boyfriend.

As Josi explained on the Today Show and KGW News in Portland, the harassment began when she was 12. Her boyfriend pressured her into sending him a nude photo, which he then used to solicit additional nude photos by threatening to distribute the photo to other students and her parents and publish the photo online. Apparently, her boyfriend was not the only one extorting nude photos of female classmates. According to Josie’s state court complaint, he was one of a group of students who did this as part of a “sextortion scheme” where nude photos were traded and distributed among male classmates as part of a competition to see who could get the most photos.

The idea of middle school boys engaging in a sextortion scheme is very disturbing. But what we find even more disturbing is that the adult leaders at the middle school appear to have completely abdicated their responsibility to address the harassment. Josi says that she and her parents met with the school’s principal multiple times about the sextortion scheme and the sexual harassment she was suffering at school as a result, but that the school took no action to discipline her harassers. According to Josi, the harassment then escalated both on and off school grounds. One of the boys allegedly attempted to rape her.  And her daily life at school became a living hell.

Josi says she was subjected to a persistent and unrelenting campaign of physical and verbal harassment at school. According to Josi’s complaint, one harasser repeatedly followed her through the school, smacking her buttocks and making veiled references to the nude photos to groups of Josi’s classmates. For weeks, another harasser reportedly pushed Josi into school lockers so hard that she suffered bruises. Yet another harasser physically assaulted her at a school football game, throwing items at her while shouting that she was no longer welcome in town. And despite a restraining order that required the school to keep one of the harassers away from Josi, the school reportedly allowed her attacker to don the school’s Tiger mascot costume at a homecoming game, enabling him to stalk Josi.

If the Oregon Attorney General were to investigate the school, it would likely find a culture that tolerates rampant sexual harassment. One male student reportedly admitted to possessing over 300 nude photos of at least 28 female classmates. And a student interviewed in one of the press reports said, “no one told students they should stop collecting the photos.” Seriously? If this is true, then there is something terribly wrong with the school’s administration.

In Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, Emily Bazelon discusses an expert who says that “the best way to get most kids to behave better” is “to transmit what [is] expected of them, explicitly, from grade to grade.”Her book provides examples of schools that have a culture of harassment because they lack strong and clear guidance from school officials about the kind of behavior that school districts will and will not tolerate.

It appears that the Clatskanie School District needs an education on how to address and prevent sexual harassment. And if Josi and other girls suffered in the way Josi describes, then the school district should be held accountable. This is precisely why Public Justice launched its Anti-Bullying Campaign—to make sure that school districts and officials are held accountable when they fail to take appropriate steps to protect our kids from bullying.