Education

A South Carolina Student Stole His Teacher’s Nude Photos, But The School Only Punished Her

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A 13-year veteran teacher in the Union County, South Carolina, school system resigned in February after the district threatened to fire her. She may face criminal charges, according to local news reports.

Leigh Anne Arthur’s offense? She failed to lock her phone.

While Arthur walked the halls between periods as teachers are required to do, a student stole her cell phone from her desk and searched through it until he found risqué pictures Arthur says she took for her husband. The student then sent the partly nude images of his teacher to various members of the school community and posted them on social media.

When Arthur got back to her classroom, the student “told me your day of reckoning is coming,” she said.

Multiple reports indicate the unnamed student has not been disciplined by the school for stealing and publicizing private images of his teacher’s body.

Arthur’s employer has not only demanded her resignation, but has also suggested she may have committed a crime. Interim Superintendent David Eubanks told local reporters that in being the victim of a theft, Arthur may have contributed to the delinquency of a minor — a crime punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine as large as $3,000.

Both the school and the Union County district declined to say if they will discipline the student who stole Arthur’s phone in any way. “We have no comment,” a district employee told ThinkProgress, before hanging up the phone.

In general, school disciplinary systems struggle to deliver just punishment when men abuse women’s naked images, whether the pictures were stolen or sent willfully. Arthur’s case isn’t the first to feature this asymmetry. In 2013, for example, a Catholic high school in Fairfax, Virginia expelled a female student who sent a topless photo to a lacrosse star but took no action against the boy who then shared the picture with the entire team. When male students are charged in sexting scandals, it tends to be for exposing minors to sexual content rather than for violating the consent of female students who may not have wanted their photos distributed.

The same deep gender biases that mark some of these cases seem baked into young people’s minds, too. While young men and women are equally likely to send sexts, a 2013 study suggests boys are far more likely to forward naked pictures to other recipients. And other research indicates young people have already internalized inaccurate perceptions that girls share risqué images much more frequently as part of attention-seeking or slutty behavior patterns.

26 U.S. states and the District of Columbia have a law on the books making “revenge porn” — or the act of publicly distributing nude photos beyond their intended recipient as a way of humiliating the subject — a crime. But applying criminal laws to sexting gets messy fast. Civil liberties groups worry about their free speech implications. And some laws around sexting and minors have produced absurd outcomes, such as one recent case of a North Carolina teenager who was charged as a felony sex offender over pictures he took of himself.

This article originally said that only a third of the states have anti-revenge porn laws. In fact, such acts are criminal in 26 states and Washington, D.C.