By: Devi Rao, FellowPosted on October 26, 2011 Issues: Sexual Harassment & Assault in Schools

“Amber Cole,” has been been a trending topic on Twitter and muchdiscussed in the blogosphere after a video of a 14-year old girl engaging in oral sex with a male classmate, with another boy looking on, was posted online and immediately went viral a week and a half ago. (It turns out that her name is likely not actually Amber Cole; her real name has not been disclosed.) Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube allowed the video to remain online for four days.

Amber quickly became the subject of online gender-based bullying on her Twitter page—people called her a “slut,” “ho” and other names and asked her for sexual favors. She had to change schools as a result of bullying and harassment. (Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding, covers gender-based harassment and bullying, but it’s not clear how much of the bullying was done by classmates, as opposed to random jerks on the internet.)

And although many people anonymously posted hateful comments about Amber, many defended her. A response video posted to YouTube—which now has 1.8 million views of its own—pleads for people to Leave Amber Cole Alone. A Facebook page called #AmbersArmy has sprung up, and has been monitoring websites that host the video. I Support Amber Cole is now a community page on Facebook.

When I visited the I Support Amber Cole webpage, Facebook helpfully directed me to “similar facebook pages” including 1-800-Choke-A-Hoe (77,213 people “like” this page) and B*tch Don’t Get Fucked Up, Close Yo Mouth (81,187 likes). (Recently 1-800-Choke-A-Hoe posted a picture of a young woman, taken from cell phone, and asked to vote whether they would “choke” or “smash” her.)

Wait, WHAT?????

With discourse—if we can call it that— like this on the internet, is it any wonder that someone thought it was okay to record Amber and post the video? Or that many people have bullied and denigrated Amber because of her sexual conduct? Is it a coincidence that the video of Amber is reminiscent of the sex tapes of celebrities and socialites that our culture obsesses over?

A writer for the Examiner characterized Amber’s saga this way:

What Amber Cole consented to was a desperate act she thought would win back her ex-boyfriend, who also happened to be her first love. This was an emotionally starved, emotionally lost young lady whose self-esteem had been so severely damaged that she thought this was the only way for her to win back someone she loved.

He asks, “[d]on’t you see the tragedy in that?” This is, of course, coming from a self-described “journalist who enjoys reporting about beautiful models and fascinating women all over the world.” Don’t you see the irony in that?

Our culture, entertainment, and media are saturated with sexualized images of women and girls. Until our society learns to treat women and girls with respect, and not as sex objects, we are, all of us, Amber Cole.