After 13 years of teaching at Union County High School in South Carolina, a teacher was forced to resign after a student took her phone, stole some of her nude pictures and sent them to other students in the school. Now she can’t help but wonder why the student who invaded her privacy isn’t being held accountable for his actions.
Leigh Anne Arthur taught in the career center at the high school, and when she stepped outside of her classroom for a moment, a 16-year-old student took her absence as an invitation to rifle through her unlocked phone. When he found some racy pictures of Arthur intended as a Valentine’s Day present for her husband, he documented them. Then, after eerily telling her to prepare for her “day of reckoning,” he sent them out to his classmates.
Well, her day of reckoning certainly came. She was forced to resign from her position, and though according to the high school’s own rules the boy should have faced at least suspension for his gross invasion of privacy, he hasn’t. Arthur has filed a complaint with the Union Public Safety Department and is considering filing charges.
There is absolutely no rational reason this teacher is shouldering all the shame and blame for what is ultimately an act of theft and violation. You could make — and people have made — the tired case for blaming Arthur. She shouldn’t have left the student unsupervised; she shouldn’t have left her phone unlocked; and — a personal favorite of sanctimonious victim-blamers — she never should have taken the pictures in the first place.
You could reasonably say the first two were unfortunate mistakes on Arthur’s part, but they certainly aren’t resignation-worthy offenses. They’re just that: unfortunate mistakes. The last argument doesn’t hold a whole lot of water, given that 1 in 4 teens and 1 in 5 adults just can’t get enough of naked selfies. People have been sketching and snapping pictures of their junk since time immemorial. You might personally find racy shots distasteful or never take one yourself, but they’re far from rare and hardly the bastion of perverts alone.
There are, of course, instances in which pictures of Arthur’s scantily clad body might reasonably play a role in her forced resignation. If she were abusing her authority and pursuing an improper “relationship” with the minor, for instance. Or if she accidentally slipped one into a PowerPoint presentation for a class lesson. But she did neither.
This kid had to go over to her phone, pick it up in his hands, open her photo gallery and flip through her pictures before surreptitiously taking his own pictures of them. If this were literally anything (short of heavy drugs or a weapon, of course) besides Arthur’s private pictures, that boy would be up a certain creek with no paddle in sight.
If this were an unlocked desk drawer with test answers in it, Arthur would have had the administration on her side. If it were her wallet or if the boy had stuck the phone into his pocket, he’d be facing serious disciplinary action, and Arthur would still have her job. If it were private student records, a key to the maintenance closet or a freaking pack of gum, it wouldn’t matter if Arthur had or didn’t have those things under lock and key. Stealing is wrong, and even the police see it that way. You can’t walk into someone’s house and grab whatever you like just because they didn’t lock the door after them when they left.
Add in the strange taunting the student leveled at her, and you’ve got a case for Arthur as a victim, not Arthur as some child-seducing, wayward lady of the evening.
If you’re one of those who thinks a teacher brazen enough to take pictures of herself for her husband got her righteous comeuppance when some barely pubescent jerk disseminated them without her permission, then there’s something else you need to consider.
Our kids sext. They snap pictures of their bits and send them around, and while you certainly don’t have to like or condone or even tolerate that, you do need to understand that it’s happening. A lot. So when even celebrities can’t escape this very puritanical brand of victim-blaming, and when we arrest minors or fire their teachers for doing something that becomes more commonplace each day, we are setting a very grave precedent.
Instead of dealing with these incidents evenhandedly and placing blame squarely on the person who deserves it, we endorse this kind of unjust overreaction where losing your livelihood seems like a reasonable consequence.
If that’s something you can get behind, you should prepare yourself and your basement. Because when our kids graduate high school and college, if this kind of reactionary victim-blaming is still in place, they’ll be the least employable generation ever.
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