Sexual bullying is not okay, even when it’s your sister

Welcome back from the holidays!  But more on that later, because I’m too worked up on this topic to be able to concentrate on returning-from-holidays-niceties.

hookuplistThere is a recent meme floating around in the flotsam of the great wide Internet that seems to be causing much inappropriate hilarity.  Here’s the basic gist: A teenage girl (her age isn’t clear) gets her brother in trouble with their parents for some beers hidden in his room.  In retaliation, he rummages through her room, finds her “hook up list,” scans it, posts it to Facebook, and tags everyone mentioned in the list.

You may notice on the list (to the left) that in addition to names, Katie included what acts she’d like to engage in with each boy, and she’s tidily crossed off and dated the boys with whom she has already hooked up.

After posting this to Facebook, and tagging many, many people, Chris got quite a response.   The comment thread shows quite a range of responses from Chris, Katie, Katie’s (apparent) friends, and the boys Katie listed.

hookupcommentsFeel free to read through these if you’re include, but the thing to take note of is Katie’s level of distress (pretty high) and Chris’ utter dismissal of her distress (the last comment in the stream).

All over the Internet comment streams are being inundated with “HAHA!” and “ROFL!” and people who try and say this is a bad, bad thing are being slammed.  One comment said, and I’m generally paraphrasing, “I’m a mom of a teenager who is probably about Katie’s age and I know I should be upset, but this is fucking hilarious.”

No, it’s not fucking hilarious, folks, it is, in fact, an extreme example of sexual bullying.

I suggested in one comment stream among friends that this could easily lead to Katie being sexually harassed, abused, and raped and was dismissed out of hand.  But see, what if Adrian decides that he’d rather like to finger Katie?  It’s not so far fetched for him to suspect that Katie would enjoy that, is it?  So let’s say Adrian and Katie are at a party together in a few months, Adrian’s a bit drunk, and he pulls Katie into a backroom with him.  Katie may have changed her mind – she may have decided she doesn’t want to have anything to do with any of these boys ever again – she may just not be in the mood – it doesn’t really matter why she doesn’t want to be fingered in this hypothetical event.  But as far as Adrian’s concerned, Katie has already given consent, even given a public request.  So what’s the problem?  And as long as they’re at it, well, Katie was giving other boys blow jobs, why not him too?

This is hardly a far-fetched scenario.

Was Katie wrong to tell on her brother?  Maybe, maybe not.  We don’t really know her reasoning – maybe she was concerned about Chris’ alcohol consumption for true and legitimate reasons – maybe she was getting back at him for something else entirely.  It doesn’t really matter.  Chris took this sibling rivalry to a whole different level that is, in itself, an attach on Katie.  Even if Katie is never raped, even if she were theoretically never harassed by anyone else (I say theoretically because she is already being harassed in the comment stream), Chris has violated Katie’s sexuality.  He has taken control over a very private matter and, by leaving the image up on Facebook, is refusing to relinquish control over Katie’s sexuality.

This is a pretty terrible state of affairs as they stand.  My heart truly and deeply goes out to Katie, though, when I realize that she has very little recourse for responding.  Given her parents’ reaction to Chris’ alcohol (3 months grounding), I seriously doubt that she will engage her parents for help (which Chris points out in one of his comments).  Does Katie have any other adult to go for help?  I hope so.  But I doubt it.  By reaching out to an adult for support, she would be necessarily admitting to a level of sexual engagement that few teenagers have adults who they trust will react with dignity and understanding rather than blame and recriminations.

Most teenagers probably do know one or two adults who would be able to handle a teenager engaging in sexual activities of this sort and be able to help the teenager move through this painful time with love and trust.  However, many teenagers don’t know who these people are.  Adults who are fine talking about sex – even with young people – often don’t bring up the conversation on their own.  Adults leave the conversation unspoken for so many reasons – they don’t want to expose the young person to ideas they didn’t have on their own (HA!), they don’t want to make the young person feel uncomfortable, they don’t know if the young person’s parents would have a problem with it, and so on and so on.

But if the adults don’t start the conversation, how are teenagers supposed to know who is willing and able to have the conversation?

Was Katie too young to be engaging in mutual masturbation and oral sex?  Certainly, a list of this sort suggests that Katie had an idea of what sexual activity means that doesn’t include a deep connection.  But this question – and the many similar ones that are brought up by this train of events – doesn’t really get at the nugget of what really must be addressed first, and strongly, here, which is that sexual bullying harms people.  Katie needs help and support with this crisis now, and conversations about healthy sexuality later – maybe much, much later.  Far too many adults get this backwards.

Oh, and by the way, the boys who were listed here and tagged here are also being bullied.  So far I’ve only seen congratulatory comments about them, but I highly suspect they might be just as mortified and want the list down just as much as Katie.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I am upset about it too, but it seems to me it’s not any more okay for you to print her note and the FB responses on your blog. Did you have her permission? If not and she learns that her indiscretion is out there on the internet in a blog, you’ve made it even more unlikely that she will seek adult help. IMHO.

  2. I thought for a while on this exact point, mskitty. I do not re-post offensive pictures or links to offensive sites as a matter of course. So why is this different? Because it is, in effect, anonymous and because posting it will not bring eyes, money, or attention to someone in a way that will encourage them to continue. And more to the point – it’s all over the Internet. I didn’t link to the many sites that have this same image up, but it’s all over the place. Most notably, is where it was first posted (it won the best December Facebook moment, which is why that December Winner thing is in the middle of the image). But all of that aside, I tend to agree with you on most offensive posts and other Internet things.

    I think from your question you might think I know Katie – I do not. When issues like this arise in my private or professional life, I attend to them there without bringing them online. This, however, is something of a current Internet attention-grabber and so something I am commenting on in that sphere.

  3. Why did you post this on your site???? Could you not get your message a-crossed without “floating it around” even more? Take the picture of the written note down. Leave your message for people to read. Stop exploiting this child further.

  4. I’m leaving the pictures up. But this is hardly a thoughtless decision. Because it seems to be bothering people, here are my detailed reasons for why I am keeping it up.

    The Internet works by capturing eyeballs. Each eyeball captured by a site increases its value. Because of that, each post that captures the most eyeballs is analyzed for why it was good and attempted to be reproduced. All of the sites I have seen that are talking about this train of events (as of the writing of the post, when I was doing the research for it), were for-profit comedy sites or tend-following sites. The more eyeballs that look at this image on those sites, the more likely those sites are to increase their postings on similar events. I don’t want anyone to feel the desire, after reading my post, to go and find any of those sites and contribute to increased eyeballs on what is purported to be an amusing story. And even if I didn’t directly link to any of these sites, I know that there would be a portion of my readers who would go and google it to see the specifics.

    So the pictures stay.

  5. This sexual bullying really is disturbing. I think that many of us have experienced some sort of bullying, and some sort of sexual abuse or harassment and to think about all these new ways or perpetrating this kind of abuse is a real eye opener. I also think about sibling relationships and parent/child relationship when I read your post, and I wonder what we can do as parents to support siblings and their relationship with each other.

  6. The apparent family dynamics are certainly fascinating here, Shannon. It appears that the parents, in their haste to punish their son, did not take into account the damage that would have on the sibling relationship. I wonder how many parents think of this particular issue before taking action after one sibling has “tattled” on another? Regardless of the age of the children, teenagers, or adult offspring, it seems this might have substantial family repercussions. I wonder what our responsibility, as parents, is to attend to this dynamic versus simply accepting the information regardless of it’s source?

  7. Good comments about “tattling.” I think there should be a culture in each family of NO TATTLING, right from the start. The “tattler” is often the “victim” in the bullying scenario. Bullying scenarios need victims just as they need the bullies; both parties are invested in continuing the dynamic.

    Other than that, I have been disturbed, Karen, by your theoretical future scenarios, resulting from the “hook-up list.” It bothers me, because your opine sounds like a defense attorney, defending a rapist client by saying the victim gave implicit consent.

    This doesn’t work, obviously. Consent can be taken away at any point, even in the middle of heavy necking, heavy petting. At no point does any person have the right to continue with sexual activity, once consent has been taken away.

    We can’t have it both ways. We can’t teach this as a truth (no one has the right to continue sexual activity once consent has been taken away), and then theorize that rape might happen based on implicit consent. No matter what Katie wrote in her “hook-up list,” she was not giving consent for future events!

    (and, I also think that your readers who are interested in the subject, will go to other sides, increasing the “eyeballs” on those sites. My brief investigation seemed to indicate that both these siblings are 18 yrs or older!!??!!)

  8. I wish all teenagers had adults who could give them unconditional love and trust and very firm boundaries.

    As to whether this increases the likelihood that Katie will be abused, is this because there is some strange cultural assumption that women deserve to be punished for their sexuality?

  9. This is absolutely horrifying. I can’t imagine being that poor girl– and I also can’t imagine what her brother must be like to think that sort of thing is ok. My brother is four years older than me, and when I was first starting high school, he enlisted some of his friends who were seniors that year to make sure no one picked on me. He was protective– the way all siblings should be to each other. And yet this guy somehow has no qualms about exposing his sister’s sexual desires to the internet in such a public and harmful way? What is WRONG with him? Yes, her parents probably wouldn’t be pleased with her list and activities– but if I were the parent in that situation, the brother would be getting far more punishment than he did for the beer, for the invasion of privacy, the abandonment of his sister, the sexual harassment, and the retaliation for his own punishment.

    This just… horrifies me.

  10. Ruth and Alice,

    Of course consent can be withdrawn. Consent can be withdrawn at any point, by any body. This list does not in any way provide consent for any connection between Katie and anyone else, be it physical, sexual, or emotional.

    However, given that consent is not a topic that is routinely talked about with young people, this is the type of list that can be erroneously understood as consent by someone who does not have an innate sense of what that word means or how critical it is.

    Ruth, of course it is critical that we overtly acknowledge that someone might misunderstand this as consent. Otherwise how can we make clear that it is not consent? However, I do apologize for not making my perspective on this crystal clear in my original post.

  11. Here’s a Times story about a girl (15) who was grounded for 5 weeks for drinking, and took her case to Facebook in a very different sort of way:

    Sounds like she and her parents have a good relationship where they can talk honestly – and even joke – about this experience already. But frankly, I agree with Tess. Unless the author is leaving out something relevant and important, this consequence seems too heavy for a first-time offense.

  12. Alice, yes, I do think we live in a world with “some strange cultural assumption that women deserve to be punished for their sexuality,” yes we do! It is so ingrained, and the level of sexual violence against women and punishment for overt and healthy sexuality can be swift and brutal. And, yes, Amanda, this whole IS horrifying, deeply painful to consider. Oh, such pain is created in this world, for ourselves and for others. So, let’s take a deep breath, where we are. Be grateful for what we have, and vow to bring peace and harmony when we can, and silence at other times, so we don’t make things worse. Blessings, Ruth

  13. Seriously, does anyone even think this is real? People are spending WAY to much time analyzing and lamenting over “Katie’s” predicament given it is incredibly easy to fake facebook postings…just because someone scanned a handwritten note credence is lent to this “story”. First, the names are just to generic. Second, though the posting and comments have some slang, there’s just not enough, teenagers are not that lucid. Third, Katie’s posting are not desperate enough…if it was me I would be much more desperate in my attempts to get this taken down. I bet my trust fund we find out in a couple of months this is just another urban legend.

  14. Oren, I frankly agree. I e-mailed Snopes about it before I wrote about it, but I still haven’t heard back from them. Beyond your three reasons, I think it’s just on the boarder of too outrageous to be true. The problem is, of course, that there’s no real way to find out. I think the FB posting and commends are probably real – but reality of it all? Questionable.

    I decided to take it seriously because, well, everyone else is. So regardless of whether Katie exists or not, the story needed to be talked about on the level of it being real. Because even if Katie and her brother don’t exist, the story does, and the general public’s reaction to it was unkind and hurtful. And situations that are similar to this one do happen.

  15. Facebook does not do enough to remove this sort of bullying. There are some extremely nasty, abusive posts and pages which takes along time for the facebook administrators to remove.

  16. Karen, thank you for posting this topic and discussing it, regardless of whether it’s a hoax or the real deal. Two weeks ago we found out a 17 yo boy has been writing my then 12, now 13 yo daughter bad stuff on MySpace since November while she’s been here in our house, but mostly while at her mother’s. The police are investigating our matter and are getting subpoenas. After talking with a friend of mine in the Secret Service, he says that MySpace is very good about trying to find the sources of things like you wrote about. Perhaps reaching out to FB might be something that needs to be done, too, if you’ve not already done so. Your instance and ours points to one very simple fact, we parents have to do a much more thorough job of understanding what our kids are doing on the Internet. As I read what you wrote about Katie, I’m wondering if this won’t have a similar affect on my 13-yo-daughter as she now knows Dad knows what some jerk has been writing her since before Thanksgiving. Since you now have my email address, I’d enjoy the opportunity to talk with you further about how we make the Net safer for our kids.

  17. Look, if you dont want that someone finds out something about your personal life, just dont write it down. If you dont want someone to mess up your life, dont get in their way of hidding beer.

    If you dont mess with other people, other people wont mess with you

  18. I disagree, Truth. For many people writing things down helps them clarify and understand their own desires more fully. And hiding beer can – although we have no way of knowing whether it was in this case – indicate addition to alcohol, which does suggest a need to reach out for help.

    But regardless of our opinions of Katie’s behavior, her brother’s reaction went way, way beyond what she did. This has the potential to be a life-defining event for Katie, forever influencing her trust in other people, how people treat her, her comfort with her own sexuality, and many other aspects of her life forever. Being grounded? Even for a long, long, long time? Annoying, obnoxious, totally uncalled for even, but not life-changing. Katie’s brother hurt Katie on a deep, internal level. It was the wrong thing to do.

  19. I feel your post is so strongly anti-bullying that it disregards and downplays the horribleness of Katie’s behavior. When you do this, you may create a backlash from and alienate readers who might otherwise sympathize with the gist of your argument if not for the overall skewed view of the situation you are trying to create.

    As far as I can tell, you only reluctantly rebuke Katie, as gently as possible, saying she’s “too young” to engage in this behavior, and that her view of sexuality does not include a “deep connection. FIRST of all, is someone EVER old enough to treat boys like meat, collecting their “v-cards” like trophies? Maybe publishing this list is sexual bullying, as you suggest, but no more so, in fact much less so, than the underlying events, ie Katie planning in advance to use them with no intention of being faithful or considerate of their feelings. Whether it’s okay to sleep with someone and then trample on their heart and desert them is not a matter of how old the perpetrator is.

    Your reader, Ruth, feels that in our society women are punished for “overt and healthy” sexuality. There is nothing healthy about what Katie did here to these boys. Katie’s cavalier attitude towards sex is not only unhealthy, it is cruel.

    Anyways, I totally agree with all your points about Katie needing help. While I feel that Katie’s behavior was worse than her brother’s (unless he does indeed have a legitimate alcohol problem and we have no evidence of that), I also agree that he should have been the bigger person and not subjected his sister to revenge. I just feel alienated when your post creates this unrealistic impression of the hurtful consequences of Katie’s chosen lifestyle.

  20. Bah, thank you for your comment. This post was meant to be directed at Katie’s brother – not at Katie. So you’re right, I didn’t address Katie’s behavior much at all. I could, and now I might, write a whole other post on Katie.

    My rebuke of Katie would not be nearly as strong as yours – because we don’t really know the circumstances of Katie’s connection with these young men. We know that she is looking for a mutual connection – both giving and receiving pleasure – from a number of young men. But we don’t know her actual age (very different response if she’s twelve versus nineteen), and we don’t know how the young men actually feel about these connections. You guess that they feel hurt and discarded, but we have no evidence of that and no way to actually know.

    So the only thing we really know about Katie is that she is interested in engaging in sexual behavior with a list of young men, that she has engaged in sexual behavior with some of those young, and that she’s written it all down.

    If I could sit Katie down and have a conversation with her, there are a lot of questions I would ask. But a rebuke of her without more information is both judgmental and probably mis-aimed.

    Indeed, rebuking most sexual activity of young people, even with full information, is often a waste of energy and attention. Sex and sexuality are moral choices – and as much as adults may want to make those choices for teenagers, it isn’t possible. A much more effective approach is a conversation where the young person talks about their perspective with the kind, listening ear of an adult. Allowing the teenager to come to his or her own moral standpoint without being pushed there is a far more effective approach to help them come to a place of healthy sexual expression.

  21. Hi Karen. I am impressed by the depth and intelligence of your assessment of Chris and Katie’s situation. Your compassion towards Katie is a rare reaction to what I’ve seen on other sites regarding the upload.

    Are you an only child? Ever know the feeling of being thrown under the bus by a vengeful sibling? I have three siblings, all older. I know the feeling of being called out over something and being left vulnerable to parents’ scorn (I’m Asian too so I know how bad and strict punishments can get). I’m trying to get you to understand what it’s like to be ‘thrown under the bus.’ I empathized with Chris’ situation. His reaction was extreme but, at his age, I really don’t think he understands the deep repercussions of what he did to his sister.

  22. At one point she decided that the risk of screwing around and being a slut was worth the carnal pleasure it would bring her.

    Maybe she still thinks that, maybe she’s changed her mind after this incident. Either way, what happened hopefully teaches a valuable lesson to her and kids like her. Sex is a risky activity, for more than one reason, and whether what happens in the bedroom stays in the bedroom or not is largely out of your control.

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