The rampant sexting exposed last month at Canon City High School sounds familiar to alumna Rachel Baker. More than 100 students took or exchanged sexually explicit photos at the school, though none will face child pornography charges. Baker, who graduated in 2014 and now works at a safe house for human trafficking victims in Illinois, blogged recently about receiving requests for explicit photographs in high school. She made a plea for those at her alma mater to make good choices about what they share online. Click "Listen" above to hear excerpts from the essay, or read it in full below.
IN LIGHT OF THE SEXTING SCANDAL EXPOSED AT MY HIGH SCHOOL THAT IS MAKING NATIONAL NEWS
I remember when a boy asked me for a picture. At first I ignored him because I didn’t understand.
A picture of my face? Why would he need that if sees me at school every day? (Ignorant, naïve, I know.)
I was 16 years old, the new girl from Michigan, just yippy, skipping my way around.
Eventually, I figured out what a picture really meant and I told him if he ever asked again, we would not speak.
I remember when a different boy asked to send me a picture. Again, I said no.
I remember hearing about the time the basketball team unlocked one of the player’s phones and found dozens of pictures of naked peers of ours.
I remember that when I was the captain of the volleyball team, one of the younger players told me she used to be one of those girls that sent pictures. I looked at her and told her I am very glad she doesn’t do that anymore. It never even crossed my mind to report any of this.
Let’s be brutally honest here. This is just the world we live in. Our parents and administrators can be shocked but the issues their generation faced are very different from the ones my generation faces. They didn’t walk around with pornography in their pockets, accessible at the touch of a finger via smart phones. They didn’t even have texting for goodness sake, so sending naked pictures to their boyfriends or girlfriends, or just a hot guy for that matter, wasn’t even possible. Right or wrong, good or bad, technology has opened a whole new world and this generation is the first one to navigate that. So let’s forget about our parents for a second.
High school is a weird time of life. I spent most of high school trying to get into the higher classes with the smart kids, earn playing time on the volleyball team, break my way into the “in-crowd” of jocks, be invited to all the parties, date the best football, baseball, and basketball players. I had a lot of fun, enjoying the vanity of it all.
I used to drive around at night or get out of class and walk around the school grounds with one of my best guy friends, talking about the annoying, clingy girls or boys in our lives, laughing at the people who claim to be “in love” because it is only high school. What happens now isn’t that big of a deal and doesn’t really matter in the long run.
We were dead wrong.
Let me get vulnerable for a minute. I didn’t send or receive any pictures and I’ve never looked at pornography. But I did other things. My mistakes look different but they were very much colossal and detrimental to me. I thought I was just having fun with the popular kids or just hanging out with the cute boy. It was just the norm to let things go a little, or way too far. Everyone else was doing it, right? It was exciting and inviting to live like my life was an episode of Awkward.
If you are someone who has known me closely the last two years, you know that I am not the same person I was in high school. You also know that I have battled hard with the burdens and baggage of regrets that I carry from choices I made in high school.
Let me tell you why. Because the choices you make, especially the choices you make regarding anything sexual, whether it is going all the way or not, become an identity issue. I have felt the shame and the guilt and the worthlessness and the isolation and the abandonment and the insecurity and the doubt and the emptiness and the void that is tied to my choices. Those things became part of who I thought I was. Without knowing it, what I did changed how I viewed myself.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about because you’ve been there. Maybe you are still living in the moment so you think I am off base and being overly dramatic. Maybe your experience is different. Maybe you think that since you’ve never gone all the way or never got behind the wheel after a few too many or actually rolled a joint you’re off the hook on this one.
I don’t know what you’re thinking but I do know that whatever your pitfall is, you don’t get to climb out unscraped. There will always be consequences to our choices. Some cut a little deeper or take a little longer to appear than others but they will always come, in one form or another. Sadly, some of you reading this, have probably come to know this all too personally in the last week.
What happens in high school does matter.
I’ve heard that teachers and coaches are trying to handle this situation by talking about the legacy you leave behind at Cañon City High School. Nice try, but truly, that is the least of your worries. What really matters is those things that you can’t leave behind when you finally graduate. I’m talking about the baggage you take with you wherever you go from there, the deepest parts of your heart and mind that you can’t just check at the door when they hand you your diploma.
So next time you’re about to take your clothes off in the backseat of his car late at night on Skyline Drive, think about how it’s going to feel when you find the person you want to spend the rest of your life with but you have to explain to him or her the time hanging out became intimate with that kid from high school when you were 16. Next time you’re about to down three shots of liquor, and with only half a brain, end up in bed with that girl on Saturday night, think about what Sunday morning is going to feel like, trying to remember what happened. Or worse yet, when you are on your 8th beer and getting in your car to go home for the night, think about what it would feel like to spend ‘the best years of your life’ in a cell because you crashed into another driver and he or she didn’t pull through. Next time you’re about to push send with that erotic picture, imagine yourself with a son of your own and never knowing when he might discover that picture that resurfaced out of nowhere. Next time you are about to pull up porn on your phone or laptop, remember that those are real people you are watching behind that screen. That is somebody’s daughter or sister or aunt or mother. Fast forward to your marriage and your future wife or husband, always wondering if he or she is good enough, if he or she will ever measure up to all the men or women you have exposed your eyes to over the years.
Take it from someone who didn’t take the time to weigh the consequences as often as I should have. CCHS is my school; my diploma says Cañon City High School. I’m upset to hear about what has happened but I am not surprised. This is not a Cañon City issue, it is a generational issue. This could have, and is happening anywhere and everywhere. But it matters to me because it is personal.
I’m sure it feels like the world is coming to an end for a lot of you, and for some of you, maybe this is the end of a certain life as you knew it. But this is not where the story ends. I just hope that what we draw from this is not about the pictures or the football team or the administrators but about the choices each of us make. That they do matter. That each and every one of us is capable of making good ones. That it is never too late to start making better ones.
I hope that if you are someone living in Cañon right now, you make a choice to stand together as a community because just like bad choices, good choices have power. The spotlight is on you guys and how you choose to respond to this will be powerful. I’m seeing it already, even from states away.
Sending my very best your way.