A 16-year-old student says she was forced to withdraw from her prestigious Catholic prep school after texting a topless photo to two of the school's star athletes, who shared it with the entire lacrosse team but received no punishment. Instead of using the incident as a teachable moment for both male and female students about trust and social media, the administration sent a clear message: girls are ungodly creatures who tempt boys into sin.
Last month, 16-year-old Alexis texted a topless photo of herself to her good friend Jason.* Jason and Alexis had known each other since middle school, and had recently become even closer since Alexis was the manager of Jason's lacrosse team at Paul VI Catholic High School, a Fairfax, Virginia school well-known for its stellar athletics.
"Basically everyone" at Paul VI sexts, Alexis said, but she didn't e-flash Jason because she had a crush on him; it was a dare. "We were texting about this girl that used to be in love with him and how she sends him photos, and he said I would never do that," Alexis recalled. "He kept saying I wouldn't, so I said, 'watch me.' It was just a joke." The duo group-texted the photo to Peter, another close friend on the lacrosse team, but Alexis trusted that it wouldn't go any further. She was wrong.
Soon, Alexis heard rumors that one of the boys had sent her photo to the entire team in a group message. Her friends denied everything, so she didn't worry about it too much. But then, about a week later, her mother, Carol, received an email from a parent of a kid on the lacrosse team confirming the stories; apparently, the boys had been giggling over the photo together in gym class. The next day, Patrick McGroarty, the Dean of Students, called Alexis into his office.
According to Carol and Alexis, McGroarty told Alexis her behavior was "outrageous," especially because she wasn't dating either of the boys. Alexis was suspended for the day and told she would have a school counsel the next week to determine her future. While Alexis sat there being berated, she heard Jason and Peter called into the Athletic Director's office. "That's what my school does," she said. "They only care about sports."
"What upsets me is that Alexis was worried about covering for these boys, since they're star athletes," Carol said. "She knew if they got in trouble people would get mad at her."
The next week, Alexis, her parents, a handful of teachers, McGroarty and the principal, Virginia Colwell, had a meeting in which Alexis was asked if she knew what pornography was and whether she felt she had "harassed" Jason and Peter. Alexis said she found the questions complicated and was criticized for not answering them correctly, including one about "what justice" she felt the boys should receive; Alexis and her parents assumed the administration was referring to Jason and Peter's punishment, but they actually "wanted to know what I should do to make them feel better if they were distraught," Alexis said.
At the end of the meeting, the board unanimously decided that Alexis should withdraw from Paul VI. Jason and Peter — who, Alexis says, have already verbally committed to D-1 universities for lacrosse — were not punished in the slightest. "Their minds were clearly already made up," Carol said. "When I said this reaction was outrageous, the principal said, 'No, what's outrageous is that your daughter sent an unsolicited photo to these two boys.'"
McGroarty told Jezebel that the school was unable to comment on any incidents involving current or former Paul VI students.
Alexis said she's seen Jason since then, at a mutual friend's party — he avoided her and said "I don't have time for this" when she cornered him. "It sucks you got expelled," he said, "but what happened to you was your fault. you did this to yourself."
In a letter to superintendent Sr. Bernadette McManigal, Carol asked the district to reconsider their decision:
Perhaps the biggest problem I have is that there was no compassion shown to my daughter. She was never counseled by Father Kelly, or even asked her side of the story. Why weren’t the children brought in all together and asked what happened? Why were the boys called to the AD’s office with their coach while my daughter was in with the Dean of Students? Why did the AD tell the boys that Alexis wouldn’t be in trouble? Why didn’t the Dean of Students believe Alexis when she said that the boys were the ones who sent the photo to everyone?
"...in a Catholic school where we should be embracing our children and helping through situations like this, we choose to get rid of the problem instead," she wrote.
Teenage girls are systematically shamed for sexting, even though studies show that boys are just as likely to share x-rated photos. However, young men are almost twice as likely to share those photos, as well as more likely to receive forwarded sexts. Instead of harshly punishing girls who feel pressure to send sexy photos of themselves — or even instead of punishing the recipients — why don't schools teach both sexters and sextees why it's poor judgement to send and share private information? It's similar to the abstinence vs. safe sex debate: kids are definitely going to do it, so we need to teach them how to be safe.
Today is the first day back from spring break for Paul VI students. Alexis is at home, waiting for her local public school to allow her to enroll; since she abruptly withdrew midyear, the school wants to learn more from Paul VI about what happened. Jason and Peter, of course, are on campus, hanging out with their buddies.
"If they hadn't shared the photo, I would be at school with my friends right now," Alexis said. "But I'm not. I'm sitting at home while they're there."
*Some names have been changed.
Update: responses from administration and alumni.