#998: “My Very First Dick Pic:” A horrible coming-of-age story

Dear Captain Awkward,

I would like some advice on how to deal with this. Let’s start in the beginning. It was the beginning of the school year (8th), when a boy asked for my number. (We will call him Earl) I gave it to Earl only to wait for practically half the school year until I get a text from him. Of course, I could have talked to him in the single class we share. But I was extremely awkward and did not know how I could initiate a conversation with him. Our text conversation was very awkward. After several other conversations, Earl suddenly asked for a selfie of myself. Right after that, he sent a (unwanted) photo of himself, which made me feel like I had to send him a photo in return.

Several weeks later, I saw Earl in the hallway and was about to greet him when I saw him walk towards another girl and hug her. I assumed that she was either a family member (many students’ relatives attend our school) or a close friend. I later found out they were actually dating, that Earl was actually a player, and showed off the pictures he acquired from multiple other girls to other boys. He also asked for a few of my friends’ numbers, even when I was in the same room! I was devastated and felt like it was my fault it happened. Earl even sat with my friends and I during lunch and asked for their names (Just thought I would add that). That was a month ago. We have not talked in that time. Two days ago, he began texting me again. Once again, Earl requested a photo of myself. This time I declined. Immediately after I said no, he just (and I quote) said “K, gn”. I would like to cut ties with him completely. I’m not sure if this is a bad enough problem for you to share some advice, but I would be grateful if you could help.

Sincerely,
Troubled Teen

Dear Troubled,

I am so sorry this is happening to you. It is gross and scary and NOT YOUR FAULT. I’m glad you wrote to me, though, because you are not alone and we need to figure out how to stop this kind of stuff and how to make that process safe for kids like you.

To be clear, I don’t think you were talking about clothed selfies of the human face in your letter, is it okay if I proceed with that assumption? If I’m wrong, well, I’d love to be wrong. It would be the best wrong I’ve been all year.

You have met a predatory and manipulative jerk. You didn’t do anything wrong. “Earl” did everything he did on purpose. He does the exact same thing to lots of girls and his way of operating makes y’all feel like it was your fault and that you’re the only ones it’s happening to. The photos he sends you are deliberate – They make you feel obligated, even if you say “Ew, no” it still gives him a thrill and a feeling of power to cross your boundaries like that and get away with it. The photos y’all send him are his “insurance” that you’ll be too ashamed to tell anyone or that, if you do, you’ll be in trouble yourself for also sending a picture.

It’s time to talk about informed consent, which means, roughly, that before you take any course of action you should know clearly what you’re getting into so you can make the best possible decision for yourself based on all available information. Informed consent, not coincidentally, is what Earl denied you by sending you a photo of Earl Jr. without asking first if you wanted to see it.

There are probably going to be commenters who tell you to drop what you’re doing and “Call the police right now!” Involving the police might be the right thing to do and it might extremely not be the right thing to do, depending on where you live and what the laws are like there. It also depends on what was in the photo that you sent vs. the one that he sent. There are some places where, even if you and Earl were girlfriend and boyfriend passionately and consensually sharing these images, you could both be convicted of possessing and distributing child pornography and end up with very scary sex offender convictions. I wish I were kidding about that, but here’s a link to an article by a lawyer about these laws where I live, Illinois, USA.

What Earl is doing seems to me like a clear pattern of predatory behavior designed to trick girls into sending him compromising photos and it needs stopped, for sure, but it’s risky for you when the laws can be so badly designed. Adults are completely terrified of teen sexuality and without knowing where you live and what the laws are like and what the general “Oh well, boys will be boys, what can you do?” attitudes are like, I can’t make a clean “Oh yes, def. call the police on this pooplord!” recommendation as much as I’d like to. More like, if you want to call the police do it with the help of a lawyer who can expertly guide you and protect you in the process.

There are probably going to be commenters who insist that you tell your parents what happened immediately. Some parents will be understanding and supportive and take action to protect you but also listen to and respect what you want to do. Some will absolutely flip their lids and take action (like bringing in law enforcement without fully considering what that means for you) (or freaking out that you sent a photo, too, and punishing you) that might not be what’s actually best for you. I 100% hope that you can tell your parents, but I grew up in the kind of house where my mom would be so ashamed of and angry at me for complying that it would probably not be worth it to tell her because the “What were you thinking?” “How could you be so stupid?” cloud of judgment would be worse punishment for me than anything that might happen to Earl or the prospect of 1 blurry photo of my teenaged nubbins out in the world. You are the expert on your own parents, so, trust your instincts here.

If you do decide to tell your parents, maybe do it in a note? Sample text or script you could adapt:

“Mom, Dad (or Mom & Mom/Dad & Dad), I need to tell you something really uncomfortable that happened and I am scared that you’ll be ashamed of me or mad at me.

A boy at school that I liked asked for my number and we’ve been texting. He sent me a naked picture of himself and asked me to send one in return. I’m embarrassed to say this but I did. After I sent it I realized that he doesn’t really like me and that he does this to lots of girls. I want him to stop doing this to all of us and I don’t know what to do.

I have been scared to tell anyone about this because I sent a photo, too. Since it happened I learned that there are laws about this that could get me in just as much trouble as the boy. Before we do anything can we talk to a lawyer who knows about this stuff to make sure I won’t get in trouble for coming forward?”

One common piece of advice is that you tell a trusted adult – a family member, a teacher, or maybe a school counselor what happened. Someone who can stop Earl and get him out of this pattern. I think this is 99.9% a very, very good idea with some reservations. Teachers and school counselors and anyone at your school are probably “mandated reporters.” That means that if they know or suspect abuse of some kind is happening, they must call law enforcement. This is to protect kids, and it doesn’t mean that you don’t ever tell them scary stuff, but it means that if you say “If I tell you something, do you promise to keep it between us?” sometimes they legally can’t make you that promise. They could lose their jobs, or be charged as an accessory or sued for covering up the problem.

This is why a lot of people use hypothetical situations to have these conversations, like the classic “I’m asking for a friend” scenario. For you it might mean saying “If I thought a boy at school was sending nude pictures to girls and trying to get them to send them back so he can show his friends, what should I do?” The obvious question on the teacher’s mind is “Which boy” (or, tbh, “It’s Earl, right?“) or “Did this happen to you?” but if you give everybody a fig leaf of plausible deniability at first you might get an idea of the teacher’s approach before you tell more details. “Can you tell me what the process of reporting that looks like? Have you ever had to deal with something like this before? What happened? What would happen to the boy? Would the girls get in trouble, too?” Figure out how informed, how aggressive, how sexist* this person is before you pour your heart out.

I’m sorry that so much of what I wrote is hypothetical and not a clear recommended course of action. It’s hard to be a kid and to not have much control over your situation, and it’s hard to live in a culture that is so inconsistent in how we treat victims of this kind of behavior. It’s hard to have such a clear right answer – “Stop this dude before he rapes someone!” – and to have so little trust in the processes or systems that exist to protect you. But I think there are a couple of things you 100% can control and that will make you feel safer:

Talk to a trained counselor outside of your school & the mandated reporting umbrella. For example, here is a link to the crisis resources available at Scarleteen, including a message board for staff & peer support, a texting service, and anonymous online chats. You’ll find people will believe you, who won’t judge you, who won’t think you’re weird, who are aware of how depressingly common what you went through is. You can get a real-time sounding board while you figure out what to do. Telling more comforting strangers (like you told us) can make it easier for you tell other people. (P.S. Scarleteen is a national treasure and they run that place on love and a shoestring. If you’re a grownup reading this and looking to fund some good, here’s a donation link).

Take screen shots of everything he sent you and that you sent him, including the pictures and email them to yourself or save them somewhere so you have documentation of what happened.

Block his number, forever and always. Preemptively block him on all conceivable social media platforms. Congratulations, Earl is now dead to you. Blank his pathetic ass in the halls of academia.

Beware of his gross friends who looked at the photos without saying “Whoa, not cool, man.” Those boys do not get your phone number in this lifetime.

If he gets in some trouble, good. You didn’t “get him in trouble” or “ruin his life.” If he’s harassing the girls in his class this way, he needs to deal with some consequences, and now, while he’s still a kid, is the right time for some serious intervention. If he threatens you, harms you, retaliates against you, makes you feel targeted and unsafe, damn the torpedoes and tell an adult.

Learn the rules about sexual harassment in your school. Does your school have a policy about this? What does it say? Is it good enough? Down the road, maybe through student government or the school newspaper, you could help shape a better policy that would protect kids like you from pervs like Earl? (Part of me is like AUGGGGHHHH YOU ARE 14 YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE TO RESEARCH THIS, and part of me is like FUTURE AMAZON WARRIOR IN TRAINING!!!!!)

giphy (23).gif

Image: Robin Wright as Antiope, riding a horse like the mf general she is.

Ahem.

Tell other girls. “Hey, have you ever had anything weird happened with Earl, where he sends you pictures and tries to get you to send him one, too?” You’ll be able to tell from how they react, and you can say “Yeah, that happened to me, too. It’s not your fault!” Spreading the word about him is powerful. Reminding yourself and each other that you’re not alone and that it’s not your fault is powerful. Maybe the other girls could all go with you to tell a teacher or a school counselor as a group.

Warn other girls. When you see Earl single someone out, you can warn her – “I know Earl seems cool, but chances are he WILL send you a dick pic and try to get you to send him a photo so he can show it to all his friends.

Be a safe landing place for other girls. Say you warn a girl, but she’s under the Earl-spell so she blows you off at first, but then it happens to her and she’s clearly embarrassed. Be kind to her. You know how she feels. Don’t blame or judge or “I told you so!” her. Don’t ever look at the photos if they get forwarded around, or make fun of her for it. Just say, “Yeah, you were kind of a jerk to me before, but I probably would have done the same thing before I knew what he was really like. It’s not your fault,” and add her to your powerful girl-army.

I wish I could build you a world without Notes From A Boner, where I never had to use the words “The next time you get some random screen peen…” but, there will be a next time and it will always kind of ruin your day a little because WHY ARE DUDES?

However, one tiny benefit of this upsetting situation it’s that your NOPE! meter will work much better from now on and it probably won’t ruin your week. The next intrusive wang you see will get a “Weird, why would you send me that?” and the cold release of the block button. Or, (true story) when you’re older and trying to sell a bike on Craigslist and some dude sends you a pathetic and revolting photo from realname@whereireallywork.com,” you’ll forward the email to humanresources@wherehereallyworks.com with a note saying “I got this from one of your employees today, you might want to check to see if he’s been hacked? Surely no one from your excellent company would send something like this to a stranger. I hope you can get to the bottom of this embarrassing incident, good luck!” Instead of wondering if it’s your fault somehow, Future You will let these losers reap the whirlwind of your contempt and indifference.

Sending so much love your way, Troubled Teen. We believe you. It’s not your fault.

*”Aw, boys will be boys, amirite?” = ABORT & possibly tell someone in authority “I tried to talk to [Teacher] about a sexual harassment situation and he said ‘boys will be boys’ and would not take it seriously at all.

 

 

 

 

 

134 comments
  1. Cyberwulf said:

    LW, if you feel weird about warning other girls verbally… do people ever write messages in the stalls of your school’s toilets? I don’t approve of vandalism usually but if the stalls are already scribbled on it might be something you’re comfortable doing.

    • Lapis Lazuli said:

      I doubt this will work. I treated pretty much ALL messages wrotten on bathrooms to be eye roll worthu, especially when these messages start a chatroom of “This girl is a slut” “LOL :)” and other silly messages.

      • JenniferP said:

        Your mileage may vary. This can be very powerful. Think about why you would immediately discount “Earl likes to try to get nudes from girls, watch out.” I mean, if you don’t believe it, cool, but for someone who it’s happening to it could tell her that she’s not alone. Also, think about sexism. “So & so is a slut” is a common shitty high school rumor to take with a grain of salt. “So & so is a creep” is, like, survival information. The second one also happens to be TRUE, whether or not anyone believes it. The consequences for being a slut (bullying chat rooms, social censure) vs. being a creep (women maybe avoid your ass) are different.

        Example (content note: college rape): https://thinkprogress.org/columbia-students-are-writing-the-names-of-accused-rapists-on-bathroom-walls-a948e499c5c

        • Lapis Lazuli said:

          Hm, I don’t mean for my message to sound dismissive. It’s just that I found pretty much any bathroom message I come across to read as well… nonsense written by bored teens.

          While Bathrooms could be viable for SOS messages… it is hard to for me to see them through the usual teenage gossip unless it was very direct.

          I guess my post sounded victim blamey and ageist, and I apologize.

      • MrsLokieofAsgard said:

        I don’t know if I’d scribble on the stalls, but I might hang up a few anonymously printed signs “Warning! Do not share pics with Earl. He sent me a dick pic and wanted me to share nudes” in the bathroom on the mirror. Better shot of a teacher being alerted to the issue that way.

        • sony_b said:

          I used to teach middle school, and I like this. It’s a smart way to get the word out to both kids and adults, without sharing the actual pic or self identifying.

      • TO_Ont said:

        True, but if you do read something describing a very specific behaviour, and then that exact person *does* that exact very specific behaviour to you, you might start to wonder about the likelihood of it being a completely random made up accusation that by pure chance was about that exact behaviour and that exact guy.

  2. policychick said:

    Oh LW, hon I am so sorry you are dealing with this! But the Captain’s advice is spot on, and more importantly – you reached out for guidance because you KNEW Earl’s actions were all Kinds A’ Wrong.

    Keep trusting your gut, and ask for help (as CA said) from adults you can confide in.

    Finally, The actions of others are NEVER your responsibility or fault…. EVER.

    You’ve got this, LW, and know there is a legion of folks out here that care and understand and have your back.

  3. Randa said:

    I just want to point out that even if all the pictures were fully clothed Earls behavior here is 100% Not Okay. He was not treating you like a person, but like you were a source of trophies. The trophies are pictures of girls that he can show to people to (he thinks) make himself look cool. He was Objectifying you, treating you like an object (a trophy).

    In reality, this shows him to be a person who does not treat girls with respect. You deserve better than Earl.

    The rest of the Captain’s advice applies even if the pics were fully clothed. Ideally, there would be a way to get Earl to
    1. stop doing this to people
    2. have some sort of negative consequence

    Please find a trusted adult. Think about your parents, your teachers, your school counselors. There are lots of cool people who work in school who suspect things, but they cannot do anything unless someone opens up about what’s going on. The Captains advice about “what would happen if…” or “what if a friend of mine had this situation…” are Gold. Please consider doing something like this.

    Finally, please do not under any circumstances consider dating or texting with Earl. He’s not going to magically turn into an awesome person. The best case scenario here is one where you don’t have to deal with him ever ever again.

    • fjionna said:

      Well said! I would hate for the LW to discount any of the Captain’s advice because “the pics weren’t like THAT” or something like that.

    • Rocketship said:

      To that same point – even if the pics are not nude now…. Earl is learning he can get away with predatory non-consensual behavior. There is a very non-zero chance he will escalate this behavior as he gets older.

      The little shit.

      LW: PLEASE note that this does NOT, in ANY WAY, mean that you are responsible for stopping him! You aren’t responsible for anything he does! Your first and only responsibility is making sure that you are ok. If that also means that he gets nailed to the wall for his disgusting behavior, well, that’s just icing on the cake. The horrible, horrible rape-culture cake. But all you need to do right now is take care of you.

      • vortexae said:

        To that same point – even if the pics are not nude now…. Earl is learning he can get away with predatory non-consensual behavior. There is a very non-zero chance he will escalate this behavior as he gets older.

        I’d be 100% not surprised if he were escalating this behavior right now; I could see a hypothetical Earl pressuring a victim into sending him a fully-clothed selfie via the same process LW describes, then following that up when it’s successful with more “intimate” photos.

        I’m thinking of a Random Dude that I met on vacation and with whom, because of certain shared interests, I exchanged email addresses. Couple weeks later, he emails me begging for a photo “because my girlfriend didn’t believe me when I told her how long your hair was!” It could have been innocent, but given some other red or at least pinkish flags that came up during our brief acquaintance, the smart money seemed to be on him trying to manufacture unearned intimacy which he could attempt to leverage later: “Aw, come on, you sent me that photo didn’t you? Why won’t you send me this other, more intimate thing I’m asking for now?” (Besides, his story at face value was bad enough. I’m not an object to be used in settling a bet. I’m not an exotic souvenir to be showed off. I’m a person, dammit.)

  4. I’m so sorry this happened to you, writer. You are a smart, brave, beautiful person, and you’ve wiped things off your shoe after visiting a public restroom that have more value than Earl. Also, it is totally normal to feel nervous around someone you might like (AND to be unsure about whether you really like him/her or not!). It’s normal when you are a teenager. It’s normal when you are in your twenties. It’s normal when you are in your sixties. You’re good! Anyone who tells you they don’t feel nervous around someone they might like is either a) lying, or b) probably a manipulative weirdo.

    You’re awesome. I admire your bravery in reaching out for help. Way to be you, writer!

  5. Zooey Glass said:

    I’m crying a little reading this because 1. We live in a world where a kid has to deal with this and 2. This particular kid came to someone with thoughtful and compassionate advice. Thanks for everything you dfo Captain. I hope this helps the LW, and also lots of other kids who Google for help when they have to deal with similar.

    • roramich said:

      me too! And I love your handle!

  6. Robiewankenobie said:

    LW – just sending you love and support! You’re super brave for reaching out to ask this question, and we’ve got your back no matter how you choose to proceed!

  7. bad at screen names said:

    “Earl suddenly asked for a selfie of myself. Right after that, he sent a (unwanted) photo of himself, which made me feel like I had to send him a photo in return.”

    I just want to point out that this is so not true. You never, ever “owe” a boy a damn thing if you’re not cool with it just because he wants it or (literally, in this case) put himself out there first. Which leads me to point out that this wasn’t a big sacrifice on Earl’s part to send that pic like the captain pointed out. He not only enjoyed it, but the social punishment for him would be so different.

    • TootsNYC said:

      This tactic reminds me of the mass marketers’ gambit where they send my elderly dad a calculator along with a request for a donation.
      He didn’t ask for any damned calculator. He has plenty of them.

      But they’re counting on the idea that now he will feel that he owes them something.
      (He didn’t send them money, but he did have me write “I’ve been ill” on the thing and send it back, which just means they’ll try harder.)

      This guy “sent” you junk mail, essentially. He’s manipulating you very cynically, using all the normal standards and rules that are meant to create GOOD connections between people.

      Let that make you mad.

      Let the realization that this was manipulative junk mail make you care a LOT less about him, and this sort of thing, in the future.
      He won’t be the first to do it, either (and it’s not just guys).

      • Saturngrl said:

        Yes, and LW, this is a classic predatory maneuver. Predators use the social contract to manipulate you. Sharing something too-intimate so that you will feel pressured to do the same, testing boundaries with small escalations and a bit of pressure to make you feel like you have already given up consent. This is NOT YOUR FAULT, Earl is a predatory asshole, and I think others are right that this is likely to be a rapist in the making, whether these photos were nude or clothed. (And if they *were* clothed, it was only a matter of time before he escalated to nude).

  8. --E said:

    I confess my reaction is to collect up all the girls who have had to deal with Earl and reenact the final scene of Death Proof with Earl in the role of Kurt Russell. (Only without killing him.)

  9. MrsLokieofAsgard said:

    Oh LW, this is my worst fear for my own kids and I am so sorry that this is going on for you. I think CA has some fantastic advice here. I hope you have parents that you can go to for help with this and if you do, but are hesitant to do so out of embarrassment or worry I hope that you can set that aside in order to have them help you. As a mom I can assure you that if my daughter were to come to me with this issue I would be more concerned about helping her than punishing her.

    CA, I will be pulling this letter up tonight during dinner as a talking point for both of my middle school aged kids because there’s some great advice here.

    • JenniferP said:

      You’re a good mom and I’m sure you’d be great. Unfortunately, #notallmoms

      • The Awe Ritual said:

        I am so sad and angry that this hashtag has a reason to exist. Reassuring, empowering gesrure of your choice to those who have had to feel it.

    • Esselyn said:

      Yes, I am definitely keeping this whole letter in mind for my nieces. Their parents are not the type to talk much about consent, and both girls look much older than they are (height genes wooo), so I am 100% sure that if they have not yet dealt with this kind of awful, they will soon.

      Ugh, this makes me so so sad that you had to deal with Earl, and feel like you owed him something, LW. All of the Jedi Mom hugs to you.

    • Andie said:

      Good idea, I think I might show this to mine as well.

    • bad at screen names said:

      I would imagine that my late mom would say the same thing, but she certainly didn’t give me that impression. I remember being 3 or 4 and not wanting to give hello/goodbye kisses to any man who had a beard – including my uncles. I have vivid memories of my mom being furious that I wouldn’t. My uncles aren’t bad guys, and on some level I get why my mom was pissed, but she made it clear that I didn’t have the right to decide who gets to touch me. Then as I grew up I overheard her describe women who wore short skirts or too much make-up for her liking not-nice names.

      I have no doubt *now* that she would have done anything to protect me, but at 13 I didn’t believe that and wouldn’t have risked it.

      • sconn said:

        So true, and a useful reminder for me as a parent: “I love you and will protect you no matter what” does not go without saying. It has to be said. And it has to NOT be contradicted by other things you say. I remember when I was a kid that if I told my mom anything, she’d go round the bend and be furious. Plus, she’d pry for more and then turn around and tell other people what I’d said, without my permission. So when a much-older dude was creeping on me, I never in a million years thought of telling her about it.

        I hope I can do better by my kids.

        • Kelsi said:

          And I would say also…be specific. My mom WAS always pretty consistent about that kind of thing, but when I had a borderline stalker in high school (older boy who followed me around, made terrifying remarks about how if he snapped and went on a killing spree I would still be safe, got hold of my home phone number/address/work schedule without me giving it to him, etc) I did not go to her because I had no idea that kind of thing was included in the “I will protect you” umbrella. I thought I’d led him on somehow and that it was a problem I had to deal with by myself (to be fair, my friends reinforced that impression by shrugging and being like “just tell him to go away” when I asked for help/someone to walk with me between classes). I wish she had found out, because I know she would have made sure I was safe, but I didn’t know that then.

        • johann7 said:

          So true, and a useful reminder for me as a parent: “I love you and will protect you no matter what” does not go without saying. It has to be said. And it has to NOT be contradicted by other things you say.

          That last sentence is especially important!

          Plus, she’d pry for more and then turn around and tell other people what I’d said, without my permission.

          Yeah, my mom once told a distant acquaintence, who knows who I am and works at the same place (though not in the same office, hence the distance of the acquaintenceship), that I routinely smoke marijuana, which is still illegal in my state. She didn’t see the harm, because she (as, I should note, an overly credulous person) thought they wouldn’t care. To my mom’s credit, she hasn’t outed me to randos since I explicitly set the boundary right after that, but lots of people definitely fail to recognize that others think differently or have different boundaries and risk thresholds.

  10. Changed said:

    Possible snag: It’s worth checking with an expert before deciding what to do with the photos. You didn’t get a choice about receiving Earl’s digital dong*, but depending on the specific laws where you live, you might be in trouble if you were found to have forwarded it to other devices (especially anything cloud-based where it’s stored on some company’s servers somewhere), or even just for having kept the picture without deleting or reporting it immediately.

    That said, if you can find a way to turn him in without risk to yourself, you should absolutely go for it. Nothing will make him grow up like having the police arriving at his door with evidence of him doing something that gets older people sent to jail.

    *I’m always tempted to make a joke about zoom levels when this sort of thing comes up.

    • ladybear said:

      Surely the safest option is to just delete the images. I am sure the relevant authorities have ways of retrieving them if they need to, any even if they can’t, deleting prevents anyone else finding it. This is the advice given out in the UK: delete the image, block the sender, and definitely do not send the image anywhere.

      • slfisher said:

        You’d think, but legally you could be accused of deleting evidence.

        • JenniferP said:

          I cannot emphasize this enough: The Letter Writer (and anyone reading this) should find a lawyer who is an expert in how things work where they live. Not me, not you, not “I’m a lawyer so I say _____ “(do you live where the letter writer lives? No!). The laws around this stuff are deeply complicated. That is TOO MUCH for a 14 or 15-year-old to parse. TOO MUCH. Let’s focus on stuff she can do in her day-to-day life.

          • slfisher said:

            Absolutely. Not only is the law different in every place but the laws are changing as we speak.

            Planned parenthood might be a good source of information.

          • Jitz Girl said:

            YES. This is a complex and fast-changing area of law. I teach a comprehensive, sex-positive sex ed class (Our Whole Lives, if you’re interested in specifics). We teach a class on Sexuality, Social Media, and the Internet, and it is BY FAR the class I have to do the most studying for every year, because it changes so much. Gender Identity is a distant second in the category of “how much fresh research do I have to do every year?” and you know how much the thinking on that is changing year by year.

    • Buni said:

      Having been actually physically flashed, I’m quite fond of “Aw, it’s like a dick, only smaller…”.

      • Aris Merquoni said:

        I’d like to comment that I’m absolutely in favor of removing any and all societal prejudice and other BS around penis size, because it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter how big one’s physical endowments are–bodies are bodies, yo, and all kinds of penises are lovely if attached to a lovely human being.

        But flashers and people(men, it’s always men) who send dick pics tend to place a lot of value on that kind of societal BS and prejudice, and sometimes it’s fastest and easiest to hit them where it hurts. Metaphorically speaking.

        • Buni said:

          Oh gods yes, I would NEVER say it to someone who was consensually disrobing in front of me, but your second paragraph is spot on. They want the shock and the distress, so the more boring, disinterested and dismissive you can be the better.

          • Aris Merquoni said:

            *nodnod* Of course! I just wanted to throw that out there in case there’s anyone reading today who feels self-conscious about their penis. Your penis is lovely as long as you are not rubbing it in someone else’s face without their consent! It’s flashers and unsolicited dick-piccers whose penes are shameful and deserve to be judged!

          • Raptor said:

            I wouldn’t even say it if I was around any dude friends or neutral dudes. I feel bad that that’s a thing.

            Once when I was bored on a plane, I made a small graph of “penis size” versus “how much fun I had.” My sample size was pretty tiny, but my graph turned out super random.

          • RMH said:

            Nesting limit is reached – but Raptor, I love that you made this graph.

        • onyx said:

          I’m glad you commented on this because it’s something that I struggle with myself. I try so hard to be body positive, and recognize that penis shaming is damaging for guys, from making a man feel worthless to empowering toxic masculinity. BUT ON THE OTHER HAND my instinct is to go for the jugular when actual creeps are involved. Because when someone sees you as a sex object they are entitled to, informing them in no uncertain terms that they’re sexually inadequate feels like the logical and most savage way to fight that off. But, like… does that make me a bad/hypocritical intersection feminist? I have a really hard time reconciling it all. =\

        • Amy said:

          This is my go to for unsolicited dick pics too. I’d rather make fun of something else about them, but realistically I probably know nothing about them except this dick picture they sent, so that’s going to be it.

          Another good option, though, can be the ‘Does your mother know you’re sending shit like this?’ It doesn’t work on everyone, but the ones it works on, it works WELL.

      • Thom said:

        Lots of trans men have relatively small genitals, so there’s a highly transphobic element to this line of insult. (And for what it’s worth, based on what few studies there have been, trans men also have higher rates of experiencing sexual assault and harassment than do both cis men and cis women.)

        Cis feminism has a long, ugly history of hurting trans people (and especially trans women), either directly or as collateral damage in insults and arguments aimed as cis men, and I would like to ask that you reconsider this line of insult. It’s not harmless.

    • johann7 said:

      I was going to leave a comment suggesting trying to avoid body-shaming entirely, but given how much comments about small hands bother our current President here in USA, I’m going to go with minimize the use and pay full attention to context. Sometimes collateral damage is necessary for the greater good.

  11. Megan M. said:

    LW, I’m so sorry that Earl did this to you, but I want to stress that it is 100% not your fault and you did not cause his (terrible! gross!) behavior in any way. It’s 1000% understandable that you reacted the way you did and no one here blames you. I have also been in situations where something was happening that made me feel a little confused and uncertain but I wanted to believe that the other person was acting in good faith/cared about me so I let them cross that boundary or did exactly what they wanted me to even though it felt wrong, and then later I realized, “Oh, they were using me and it was 100% wrong and I should have shut them down but I didn’t” and I felt a lot like you say you’re feeling, wondering if the whole thing was my fault and just generally feeling awful. You are not alone. It was/is not your fault.

    I’m so glad that you wrote in to the Captain and that you read Captain Awkward in general, and I hope that you also read Scarleteen. (If not, please go there and check it out.) Definitely save proof of what happened and block Earl’s number and feel free to avoid him or be cold as ice to him for the rest of your lives. If there is someone that you feel you can report this to, I sincerely hope that they help you and reprimand Earl the way that he deserves to be reprimanded. You seem like a very smart person and I have all of the faith that you can get through this and feel more confident about shutting things down that seem wrong or make you uncomfortable in the future.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Yup! Same here. This is a lesson I have re-learned so many times too, because jerks find ways to cross your boundaries in so many new and different ways you think they’re not but they are. And even if you think well I did x and y and wanted to do it so maybe I was leading him on and z’s not that big a deal…it’s not true…I thought I went this far so I have to go the rest of the way…it’s not true. There is no point of no return. You can always stop anything at anytime. It is your right. You can always do a thing once and then change your mind and never do it again. Someone who respects your “no” the first time is a good person.

  12. Lapis Lazuli said:

    1) Definitely talk with a trusted adult and maybe even a law enforcer/lawyer about how to deal with this

    2) Document his messages and NUKE HIS ASS sky high. Block hos number, his social media, and even his “bros”‘ social media (and his female “bros” too, aka: the girls that totally side with him and continue circulating the pictures/rumors about you).

    3) When someone gives you something, the only thing they are entitled to is a “thank you” if the gift is nice/thoughtful… or a “fuck you” if the gift is gross/unwanted. If they start demanding shit, than fuck them too.

    4) This shit is not your fault. I get that teens do relationships may have a lifespan of 2 weeks… but those 2!weeks should be awesomesauce for you. Not some player guy ignoring you and hoisting you up like a trophy. You deserve better than that — no matter how long or short the relationship is.

  13. Gabriel said:

    Just wanted to second the Captain’s excellent advice and say, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I get it if you don’t feel safe talking to the adults in your life, but it really does help to get on Scarleteen or call a helpline to work through some of this stuff- at minimum this boy betrayed your trust in a serious way, and you deserve to have somewhere supportive to figure out what you feel and want to do about that. I know all us commenters are 100% here for you, but it’s good to have someone on the ground too, who maybe knows more about your local laws, and what is safe for you to keep on your computer for example. Your situation is unfortunately not unusual, and massively violating, so don’t worry about it being too weird or ‘not serious enough’ to talk to a crisis hotline or local professional about. They are there to help.

    Also- some people, maybe even just in your head, might line up to tell you that this is ‘half your fault’, or ‘that’s what happens if you send pictures to people” or something along those lines. Those people should be dropped into the firey pits of Mount Doom. What you did was, under a bit of pressure, send a (probably) sexy picture to someone you trusted and liked. Somebody who is not a dumpster trash fire of a human is going to be grateful and keep that to themselves. Our culture is monstrous for chastising women who are suspicious of guys, and then whipping around and blaming women who do trust a guy for whatever shit behaviour he might get up to. You don’t have to accept the blame for Earl’s messed up actions here- please remind yourself of that whenever you hear any different.

    Jedi hugs to you forever, OK? Seriously, that guy and all his buddies are objectively the worst, and you are so great for reaching out and speaking up for yourself against them.

  14. My mind that tends toward “middle school kids are too young and innocent for this” never ever guessed from the letter that these might be naked or otherwise sexual pics. But my roommate was until very recently a middle school teacher, and so I realize that unfortunately the Captain’s assumption may very well be correct. I tend to forget how early these things can begin, especially with the aid of cell phones. What a world!

    Anyway, I just wanted to validate one of your last sentiments, LW. You said, “I would like to cut ties with him completely.” You can! If that is really what you want, to just put him out of your life, there are steps you can take in that direction. Like the Captain said, block him completely. Block him on social media, block his texts. Stop talking to him. You don’t have to give him any explanation or even let him know you are doing this. You owe him no social contact of any kind if you don’t want to give it.

    Unfortunately, you will still see him at school, and that is where the rest of Captain’s advice comes in. If you would like to minimize contact even more (like potentially not ever share a class with him, certainly not sit beside him if he IS in your class, etc.), that’s going to require that you have the aid of adults who can make that sort of thing happen, so follow the prescribed avenues to see if there are such adults you can trust to help you.

    Sorry this happened to you, LW! It’s not your fault!

    • Daffodil said:

      My husband’s also a middle school teacher, and yeah, a good chunk of kids that age aren’t going to start investigating sexual things for a while yet, but a good chunk already are. He helped chaperone the 7th grade prom and his job for the night was preventing kids from slipping off together, less out of concern that they might do sexy things (though obviously that’s verboten on school grounds) and more out of concern that kids might be pressuring each other into doing things. He actually worries a bit more about them than about the older highschoolers, because the younger the kids the less time they’ve had to figure out what’s normal and what’s okay and what’s not.

      Hopefully Earl will grow up to be a better person. But that’s on him, not the letter writer.

      • Saturngrl said:

        FWIW, that…isn’t how I read it at all, thatjillgirl. I thought it was a recognition that your own preconceptions were flipped.

        I admit naked hadn’t occurred to me, either. I am old enough that I left internet dating & texting before the golden age of dick pics, and I have always skewed a bit asexual (especially in middle school and high school), though I also went through an aggressively sexual stage as part of the trauma response of realizing the extent of my objectification. (Which had been opaque to me until adulthood due to a combination of spectrumy neurobiology and radical-progressive parents.) All of which is to explain that it never occurred to me that “selfies” meant “naked selfies,” not even with the article title. Not because of middle schoolers being “innocent,” but because I forgot to read the letter with the filter of “this is the shit young women have to deal with these days.

        FWIW, LW, even reading without naked subtext, I was outraged at Earl and upset by the way he manipulated, objectified, and used you.

      • Saturngrl said:

        Oops, messed up the nesting.

    • SarahTheEntwife said:

      Middle school is a very, very normal age to be wondering about and exploring sexuality. It’s also a very normal age to be *not* interested in those things. I’m not sure if I’m just cranky this morning and reading too much into your comment, but it’s coming off to me as kind of judgemental of young people who aren’t sufficiently “young and innocent” in middle school.

      • Lizards80 said:

        I read the comment as younger kids are more at risk for coercion (verbal/emotional/physical), because there are two factors at play:

        1, a greater mix of sexually active versus not sexually active kids.

        2, a general lesser experience level with talking about things like consent (how many parents talk about this with their 10 year old?)

        • VioletEMT said:

          This. Back when I taught middle school, I had kids who and the even started considering these scenarios and whose parents hadn’t talked to them about it either because they didn’t want to corrupt their innocent kids (group 1). I also had kids who had been exposed to this stuff a lot already due to home situations, older siblings, etc. (group 2). It would be really easy for a kid from group 2 to coerce a kid from group 1 into doing things the group 1 kid doesnt feel comfortable doing, but doesn’t have the vocabulary or confidence to resist yet.

          As a former group 1 kid who was head over heels for a group 2 kid, I can say the last thing you want is to come off as not cool, not knowing what’s up, etc. So you play along and go along and ignore your internal alarm bells because you don’t want to reveal how inexperienced you are and how uncomfortable you feel.

          And so many group 1 kids are certain their parents would punish them severely for even putting themselves in the situation to have to consider these things in the first place, that they will never ever say anything to their parents.

          • Emmers said:

            Solid Group 1 here, can confirm.

  15. SeluciaV said:

    LW, I am so sorry you are dealing with this. You should feel good that your instincts about this being bad and wrong were 100% right and I applaud you for seeking out good advice and guidance on how to handle this. The Captain is spot on with her advice (per usual) and I hope you can find ways to use some of her suggestions and scripts in a way that makes you feel better, stronger and less taken advantage of.

    I just want to add one more thing: there may be a little part of you thinking “Earl’s not that bad a guy. Maybe this was just a stupid choice on his part. Or he thought it was funny. (It’s NOT) Or he was just trying to fit in or seem cool.” And you know what? Some of that may be true. I think most of us at one time or another did something when we were teenagers that was really wrong or stupid or just plain mean. But EVEN IF THAT IS TRUE – it in NO WAY excuses his behavior. PERIOD. And if he is a good guy who did a stupid/bad thing, he needs to learn that NOW – in no uncertain terms – so that he doesn’t go through the rest of his life thinking that what he did was OK. It could be the first step down a very, very bad road for Earl and for any girl who happens to cross his path in the future. He needs to learn that this behavior is harmful and dangerous and scary for girls and NOT OK EVER. And while it is not your job to teach him these things, if you have any concern that bringing this to the attention of your parents/the school/law enforcement (whatever you decide to do) is going to HURT him, the reality is that it could be the best thing that ever happened to him. It’s a really, really important lesson he needs to learn. So don’t let your worry about that stop you OK?

    As everyone else here has said we’ve got your back and have total confidence that you’ve got this. Bookmark this answer so that any time in the future you start to doubt yourself or your instincts about this, or worry that you are doing the wrong thing, re-read the Captain’s answer and all of the comments and know you are strong and capable and are absolutely doing the right thing.

    GOOD LUCK!

    • The Awe Ritual said:

      Yes, quite.

  16. Rachel said:

    This is one of those situations where I try to comprehend what I would do as a parent if I had a boy who did this to girls in his class. Like, if I had a daughter who was a victim I have a rough idea of how to comfort her, chew out the boy, chew out the boy’s parents, etc, but if my (hypothetical future) kid did something like this….how would I hammer in how WRONG this is?

    • Mary said:

      Good question! I’ve wondered this sort of thing too. Currently i have a daughter (afaik – she’s only two and not very clear on gender, so we’re going with daughter until/unless she tells us otherwise!), although I’m growing #2 who might be a cis boy.

      I was thinking that get potential son ti read this letter wouldn’t be a bad start? It’s super easy for teenage boys to completely blank on all and any material produced by girls or women, and that definitely facilitates the “girls aren’t really people” vibe.

      • EH said:

        One of the more potent things I’ve heard a parent say to a little boy is, “if she doesn’t like it, you have to stop.” Works for little kids talking about playing with others, and can be applied more broadly as they grow up. Learning to respect other people’s boundaries can start so so young.

        Similarly, I strongly believe in letting kids decide who gets to touch them as much as possible – and reminding them that other people get to decide who touches them, too, so don’t do it if they don’t want you to. Even if they only tell you with their body language. Maybe especially then.

        • yarnofadifferentkind said:

          See also “I know you like her toy car/doll/sparkly crayons/awesome dress-up lab coat, but if you want to use her things you need to ask first. And if she says no, you’re going to need to let it go, ’cause she gets to decide.” We learn (or should have learned) a lot of things as kids.

        • Cyberwulf said:

          I’m doing this with my niece. If she doesn’t want to hug me she doesn’t have to. No sad faces, just “it’s okay, you don’t have to.”

          • I tutor kids, and once at the end of the school year, I had a student I was quite fond of, so I asked if he would like a hug. He hesitated for a split second and I quickly added, “You’re allowed to say no if you don’t want to!” He looked so utterly relieved that my heart broke a little. (He declined the hug.)

        • lisakoby said:

          We did/do this with both our kids in physical contexts and emotional ones as well (‘but I’m not touching him, but I’m only alllllmmoooossstttt touching him). Stop means stop.

        • Sarah N said:

          My current favourite way of explaining consent to toddlers ( I have two year old twins) came from the netflix series Word Party. On the show one of the characters explains that “It’s only fun if everyone is having fun.”

          I think it’s a great phrasing that ages up pretty well because it can apply to everything from a game of tag to group sex, and includes the importance of enthusiasm as part of the consent.

          Also, the social situation that leads to the statement in the show is rather complex because it involves a hesitant character pretending to have fun when he’s actually scared. The other characters figure this out and let him know its okay to say no.

          When I saw it, I thought it had a much better grasp of the emotions involved in social pressure than any sex ed/peer pressure video I was shown as a kid.

      • clorinda said:

        Respect comes from respect. We start by respecting our children’s bodily autonomy as age appropriate: you DO have to wear your seatbelt, but you don’t have to take a bath every single day if you’d rather not; you don’t have to eat when you’re not hungry; you don’t have to kiss or be kissed by anyone; you can choose your clothes from these reasonable options; if you don’t want a haircut you don’t have to have one, and so on. And then, when you say ‘we don’t put our hands on someone who doesn’t want to be touched’ the kid knows it’s true because he’s been treated that way.

    • wyndes said:

      Probably, given that you’re thinking about this ahead of time, you would be talking to your hypothetical future kid long before he did anything like this and he would know it was wrong well before the thought even crossed his mind. Maybe you would have given him S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties (or whatever the equivalent is in the future) when he was 12 or 13, or maybe even 11, so that despite his cringing embarrassment at the time, he would understand consent issues before they came up. Maybe he would even share the book with his friends. (Mine did.) And if, whenever some new rape case hit the headlines (although it would be nice if by the time of your hypothetical future son that was less common), you talked to him about it, he’d probably understand your values pretty clearly by the time he headed off to college, and hopefully share them. The time to stop boys from behaving badly is before they start, I think.

    • aebhel said:

      In a lot of ways, I think this is a similar parenting dilemma to ‘What would I do if my child was bullying classmates/stealing/cheating on exams’?

      Not saying those situations are necessarily comparable, just that in some ways, as a parent, it’s simpler to figure out how to comfort and support a child who’s been wronged than to correct a child who is doing wrong. For this situation, I would (a) put him on the spot and make him explain WHY he thought that was an okay thing to do, and (b) inflict some consequences–in a situation like this, I think that losing his cell phone would be an appropriate consequence, and possibly losing some other privileges as well, and a lecture on consent and what it means. A friend of mine had college professor parents who would make her write an essay explaining why [misbehavior] was wrong, and I find that more appropriate than writing apologies to girls who may want nothing to do with him.

      I think it’s tempting to believe that raising our sons The Right Way will prevent them from ever doing a thing like this, but it’s also important to accept that parents–however feminist, however progressive–are not the only influence on a child’s life, and sometimes kids with good parents can do some real shithead things.

      • Rachel said:

        Exactly! Of course I would try to raise my child to know that this is inappropriate behavior, but sometimes otherwise good kids make really big mistakes/indulge in shitty behavior and need a course correction.

      • This is a great response. I found myself wondering about ..”Earl”. I raised 2 foster sons and remember finding the print-outs of those photonegative-looking strips with a porn star on each one where a “customer” clicks to buy a film view. (Spoiler alert: the kids are alright). Of course, that I nothing like what Earl did. The ACTIONS of little Earl are gross and definitely boundary breaching, but I wonder where he got the idea of basically blackmailing his female peers into revealing private things. I’ve heard recently about a criminal conviction over such.

        The Captain’s advice is excellent for this young woman’s experience and her needs. I’m still left wondering how Earl can be stopped full bore And his creepy behavior become a stupid thing he once did. That boy needs a serious wake-up call.

      • Yes, yes, YES. Some years ago a very progressive couple I knew moved to a neighborhood with a lot of privileged teens. One day she was driving her teen-aged son and some of his teammates to an event and apparently they forgot she was driving, because one of the little dbags-in-training said hey, did you hear that (female classmate) said she was raped by (male classmate)? One of the other d-i-ts said, “Are you kidding? She’s too ugly to rape!”

        All the boys hooted and howled. She never did tell me whether her own son joined in, but apparently he didn’t say “Hey, rape is nothing to joke about” or “Rape is about power, not sex.” In other words, he was either too intimidated or too confused to speak up.

        You can guess what happened next: SHE spoke up. Actually she pulled over and read them all the riot act. I have no idea whether it did any good. I’m betting not.

    • ruinousillusion said:

      I’ve seen a number of parents advocate loss of their easy contact with their friend circle (old-school grounding in a digital age) combined with topical reading/book-report requirements to earn the privileges back. Maybe “Earl” wouldn’t become less of a jackal if required to read and summarize a couple of feminist books to get his phone back, but it wouldn’t hurt him any

    • Purple snowdrop said:

      I have a 6 year old boy and I am working HARD on consent issues. You can’t just jump on mommy or daddy without warning. You ask if you want a hug or kiss. I ask him if I want a hug or kiss. I ask before I tickle him. He needs to ask before he tickles me.

      It’s hard, because he’s six. But easier to lay the groundwork now than to wait until he’s a teen.

      • At the stable where my horse lives, there’s a woman, T and her 11-yo daughter, D. I’m friends with both. At one point T and I were talking about hugs, and I said I like them but not always, sometimes I just don’t want to be touched. D was around and heard us.

        Ever since then, D has walked up to me and opened her arms – and waited to see if I’d step close before she hugs me. A eleven year old girl manages this, from overhearing 15 seconds of conversation. (And yes, I’ve told her that I’ve noticed and really appreciate it.)

        A teenage boy has no excuse for not figuring this out.

        • Purple snowdrop said:

          That’s lovely!

    • Lilitu said:

      I work in consent education, and I’ve taught teenage boys who I was pretty certain had crossed some pretty heavy boundaries when it comes to sex and consent. Of course, like most men, they don’t consider themselves rapists for a tonne of reasons, but the two main ones I see are a lack of understanding of consent, and the fact that nobody ever talks to them about feelings so they are completely emotionally illiterate.

      The main thing I tackle with them is the idea that a coerced yes is consent. So I pick a thing they would hate (say, singing a song in front of their classmates), and ask them if they would do it. Of course, the answer is no. Then I add some hypothetical pressure (“all your classmates did it last week when you weren’t here, you have to, it’s part of the curriculum, the other teacher thinks you should do it as well, come on, stop making a big deal out of it”), and ask if they at some point would probably begrudgingly do it – to which the answer is usually yes. Then I ask how they would feel in that situation, and I always get a monosyllabic answer like ‘bad’ or ‘shit’. So I help them understand their feelings by giving some descriptors: “You’d feel uncomfortable, and embarrassed, and you might blush, and have this heavy feeling in your stomach and like something is stuck in your throat, and both angry and sad at the same time, and like you wouldn’t want to be there. Is that right?”

      And then I ask “would you want someone you’re having sex with to feel like that?”

      Usually, this is enough to stun them into having a long hard think about their sexual history. It’s a great point from which to talk about coerced consent, and rape culture, and peer pressure, and many other important things like that. But the core methods are relatability and putting internal feelings in to words. Of course, this method can be used for discussions about inappropriate photos, kissing, drinking, or anything else as well.

      • Wow. Great post! This is good stuff.

      • This is really fantastic! Can I use this and share it with others?

      • star said:

        I’d say “you’re doing the lord’s work,” but I was dismissed by the people I told in my church, so I’ll go with “you’re awesome, thank you, and keep doing what you’re doing.”

      • That is a MARVELOUSLY USEFUL thing you shared! I’m stealing it. Thank you.

  17. Don't Shoot the Messenger said:

    Dear LW, We believe you. It’s not your fault. We believe you. It’s not your fault. If, in your judgement, there are no safe adults to turn to IRL, (because sometimes there just aren’t) that is also not your fault. It means society has failed you, and I’m so, so sorry.

  18. Long Ago said:

    Sweet LW, I remember the days of feeling obliged to boys who showed an interest in me, however underwhelming that interest might be. This idea is in the air and we all breathe it. One of my high school teachers noticed a boy writing my name on a desk and admonished me to take pity on the kid and date him. Not so many years later I married someone against my better judgement, basically on the principles of pity dating. Bad training! Bad move!

    I mean there was even a posse of boys who went around doing in the hallways between classes what POTUS brags about doing and the high school ethic was to feel flattered, not rain holy hell down upon them.

    You didn’t owe him a pic and you won’t owe any boys pity dates, smiles, a chance, or a second try. Your heart and body are all your own to make choices with and “no” is quite often a wonderful reply in this world. You get to trust your better judgement and protect yourself in interactions with the wide world of dudes. I don’t think I was told that growing up.

    I also remember my willingness to accept nonexistent fault, be forgiving, and give the benefit of the nonexistent doubt. Turns out it is a magnificently wise skill to be able to recognize jerks and their tricks, too, though, and let blame fall where it belongs when manipulative people do bad things to well-meaning people. You were a target of a jerk. It’s not your fault.

    I remember the boys who say “bye” as soon as you say “no.” It hurts, but you are definitely better off without them.

    And good for you writing to the Captain. I also remember how loathe we were to involve any adults in anything when I was in high school. But many adults have powers and experience that can make them helpful and quite willing to be so. Captain Awkward’s advice is great! Strength and peace to you.

  19. LW I just want to say you are AWESOME and so brave for reaching out!! I was not so brave and just endured for my junior and high school experience, and I want to give you all the high-fives for taking this step.

  20. Rhoda said:

    Earl is immature, as boys his age are bound to be. He’s at the stage of LOOK HOW MANY GIRLS I CAN GET!!! AREN’T YOU IMPRESSED? as he tries to show off to other boys. (It’s really about impressing other boys, not the girls he is “collecting”)
    It isn’t really clear whether the pictures he sent you are really “dick pics” or just selfies of himself. I don’t read anything in the original letter about the nature of these pictures. Are they nudes? Did you feel pressured to send nudes of yourself? That falls into the never-ever category in my mind.
    At age 14(?), it’s probably best not to have an exclusive and intensive relationship with a boy. Honestly, few 14-15 year old boys are good boyfriend material and most won’t be until at least age 17-18.
    Join clubs and after-school activities where you can meet others your age of both genders. If someone with shared interests asks you out, you’ll have a much better basis for dating than just someone you barely know asking for your phone number.

    • HindsightGraduate said:

      *as boys who are raised to treat girls like trophies are bound to be

      LW, you will probably meet many boys who have been rewarded their whole lives for seeing girls and women as objects, but you should know that this is not okay. You deserve to be treated with respect, and there are plenty of humans in the world who will be intelligent enough to understand that. Right now, you’re stuck with a bunch of peers who don’t know better, but on the off chance you meet peers who DO know better, they are the friends you need to have in your life.

    • I’d like to point out that I don’t think LW was looking for or was ever in an exclusive or intensive relationship with Earl. And if I remember 13/14 at all (and boy do I), the main driving force of my days was exclusive and intense relationships – something powerful and awesome to hold on to in the constantly swirly seas of adolescence. And of course, none of those boyfriends were “the one” or anything like that, and perhaps on a list they wouldn’t have even been “good boyfriend material” but they were 13 and so was I. I was probably crap girlfriend material too, tbh.

      Perhaps more importantly than my own experience is simply the suggestion that we remove the classic ageism from our ideas about how teenagers and preteens should engage in romance, sex, and love. Whether or not something is best for the LW is going to be based on who she is, what she wants, how she’s engaging in her life, and then all of those factors played out on the other person. Just because someone is in middle school doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be dating, and certainly seeing a cute/interesting/popular person and texting with them is going to be more the norm of dating for young people from here on out.

      (That said, LW, I totally agree with Rhoda that finding folks – all folks! – who share your interests is an awesome way forward in love and friendship.)

  21. Thorn said:

    First of all, LW, you are so so so SO SO brave. I am just… I want to send you a hug or a batch of your favorite cookies or tea/cocoa and a cozy blanket. Maybe you’re thinking, “But I haven’t done anything but write an anonymous letter?” but you wrote this all out. Even though I’m sure it was uncomfortable and scary. And you sent it out asking for advice about something personal and potentially embarrassing. This is one of the bravest acts I’ve seen in a really long time, so standing ovation for you.

    Secondly, I agree with advice above about leaving warnings in bathrooms or locker rooms. It’s true, some people will probably ignore it. It’s possible someone will even report it back to Earl himself (so if you go that route, please do be careful and make sure nobody can connect you to the graffiti). But from what you’ve written, there will be at least one or two girls who see what you’ve written and even if they never speak to you, they’ll know they’re not alone. You could also leave graffiti that doesn’t reference Earl specifically. Something like, “If a boy shares private pics you sent him, HE’S the one who should be ashamed, NOT you.”

    Thirdly, if you wind up reporting Earl or otherwise going public with what’s happened here, things are liable to get really hard for you. Which sucks and is wrong and you absolutely DO NOT deserve it. But the world we live in isn’t fair, and there’s an awful lot of people who seem to really enjoy chastising women and girls for the things men and boys do. So if that happens and you wind up feeling alone and wishing you’d never told a soul and like you just want everything to end – please come back to us and give us a chance to send you our support. I’m sure if the Captain said, “Hey, remember Troubled Teen? She could use some love,” I’m not the only one who would be happy to give you all the cute animal .gifs and fierce Amazon memes you can stand.

    I’m really sorry this happened to you. You don’t deserve it, and it completely sucks that Earl’s being an asshole and you’re the one dealing with all these consequences of it. We’re here for you, though. You’re absolutely not alone.

  22. Dear LW,

    On the off chance that the good Captain misunderstood and Earl was asking for clothes shots (and boy, do I wish this were so, while knowing, sadly, furiously, that the Captain was correct), you still weren’t and aren’t obligated to send them.

    The favor sharking he’s practicing is a manipulative technique. It’s used for nefarious ends.

    I know that it’s difficult to talk to even loving supportive feminist progressive parents. If they are generally supportive, maybe it’s worth telling them.

    (It took 6 months before 13 year old me told mine about being shunned. So yeah, it can be scary.)

    I want to mention something that sometimes bothers people who’ve been coerced into sexual situations: arousal.

    People can get (physically) sexually aroused by situations they don’t want or didn’t choose. Arousal does not make you complicit. Anyone who tells you otherwise is spouting dangerous, cruel, nonsense

    I think you’re a brave and good person.

    • Aris Merquoni said:

      YES. LW, even if at the time you thought it was fun (or convinced yourself it was fun), it is still his fault for being a horrible person, not your fault for going along with it.

      Sending naked/naughty pictures is not an INHERENTLY bad thing to do. It can be a thing YOU do not want to do (and therefore bad for you), it can be a thing that is illegal for you to do (given your age or the age of the person you send the pictures to), it can be a thing you have mixed feelings about. You can have whatever feelings you want about sending photos of yourself. But we are all here to say, your anger and discomfort with HIS behavior is real and warranted. He sent you a photo without asking first. He did things with your photos without asking first.

      It sounds like you were feeling unhappy and pressured even when things were happening. It’s not your fault that he talked you into doing something you didn’t want to do. The feeling of “owing” is real and powerful. You are not to blame. But if you’re feeling guilty for any other feelings you had while this was going on–arousal, like Ms. Morley said, or butterflies, or the thrill of getting away with something–you do not have to feel guilty. Feelings are feelings and thus complicated, but his actions are clear. (And clearly wrong.)

  23. Brainstorming other solutions? said:

    Dear OP- I was surrounded mostly by stupid adults growing up so I get that there could be *no one* supportive in your life and the best thing you can do for your own sanity may need to not involve adults. Some other options for you are:
    – Go to a school employee (maybe one of the school counselors?) and say you think it could be sooooo great to have a required school wide presentation/assembly on sexting. Getting Dbag Earl and his buds some education on the hot water he is getting himself into may nip this. You can even say you overheard a few people you don’t know talking in the hall (whatever) about how this has been going on at your school. Really, everyone needs to know more info about this anyway.
    OR
    – You can text him something like this- “Hey man. Just read that you having that pic of me is illegal bc I am under 18, as is showing them to anyone else. Dont want you to get in trouble!!* I am requesting that you delete any photos of me and reminding you that I have never given you consent for photos of me to be shared. Thank you!” The added benefit is you get this in writing for your documentation. You don’t have to tell him that what you did in sending those may not be legal either (check your state/providence laws- it may not have been illegal to send those at all). If later on you have proof that pics of you are still being shared this is awesome for skewering him. I honestly would want to keep getting texts from him (again for documentation) but just never answer.

    You really have to think about the fallout of these options though. In this case, if you bring up that what he did is illegal you’ve got to be ok with him finding out that what you did was (probably) illegal, too and acting on that. But I don’t know why he’d do that- it sounds like he’s into way deeper legal doo- doo than you (i.e. soliciting pics from multiple females).

    *I understand that OP should not have to care about if Earl gets in trouble or not, but sometimes we do things we shouldn’t have to in order to get behavior to stop, especially in positions of low agency and power

    Anyone see some big negatives to either of these that OP should consider?

    • Wehaf said:

      OP definitely should not text him – not with that message EVER, and not with anything until she has consulted with a lawyer and one or more trusted adults so she can figure out what her options are, and what she wants to do. Texting him that she “[doesn’t] want [him] to get in trouble” could absolutely be used against her if she brought any kind of complaint against him.

  24. Squid said:

    Thank you for the advice! Although, I apologize for not clarifying that the pictures were not nudes. They were completely SFW (safe for work).

    • JenniferP said:

      “Not Nudes” = the best news all week, awesome, we will all ratchet down the worry. All of the “Yeesh, avoid this dude, and band together with other girls” stuff applies. ❤

    • Squid,

      I’m so glad Earl wasn’t asking for nude shots!

      You can still ditch him though. He sounds creepy.

    • Squid said:

      But I do still find the advice extremely helpful! Once again, thank you so much!

      • ashbet said:

        I’m so glad to hear it!

        I was worried that you might have been in legal jeopardy (from an entirely understandable and shouldn’t-be-illegal action, but the law is pretty screwed up right now), and the fact that your selfie was clothed means that you have less to worry about.

        *Jedi hugs if they’re welcome*

        I’m glad you wrote in, and I hope that you can avoid Earl as much as possible — he betrayed your trust by sharing your picture with others, and he’s not a good person to have in your life.

        I also had Some Experiences with boys and men when I was exactly your age and not much older, and I wish I’d had someone like the Captain to reach out to. I’m really glad you did — it was a smart, brave, sensible choice 🙂

        (BTW, I’ll repeat the recommendation about Scarleteen being awesome — I shared it with my daughter when she was eleven, and it really came in handy for both of us when we were talking about sex, development, consent, and healthy/happy relationships.)

        Wishing you all luck and happiness! ❤

      • Viva said:

        Best possible clarification ever!! So glad for you that wasn’t the case and that the Captain’s advice was still helpful! I agree with others to check out Scarlateen and please do poke around here, the Captain and the commentariat have truly awesome advice.

        Big, big kudos to you for 1) listening to your gut reaction, and 2) taking initiative to ask and get help/solidarity rather than sitting back and stewing over something bothersome because we’re supposed to be ‘nice’.

    • Madb said:

      Oh thank goodness! Thank you for letting us know. I still suggest going to an adult, because he may (probably) escalate as more girls fall into the trap.

    • Aris Merquoni said:

      PHEW.

      Earl’s still an ass. Good luck dealing with him in the future.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      oh thank goodness! I feel like a load just fell off my shoulders.

      You are an amazing, brave, girl with good instincts. You keep rocking that top-notch brain of yours, sister!

      • MoragLachlanMaclachlan said:

        +1! I am so glad to hear this :).

    • ReanaZ said:

      Oh, good.

      This should make it even easier to get an adult involved to help shut down this behaviour in the future (but still might get sexist bullshit, so screen with captain’s suggestions).

  25. Kitty said:

    Oh God, so disgusting. I’m sorry you had to deal with that LW. I really hope you can find an adult who will help you stop this guy.

    Speaking of the Captain’s example of revenge on gross email dude, my other favourite response to unwanted dick pics was this hilarious lady who decided to download a bunch of other penis photos from the internet and keep sending them to the guy one by one, and he was begging her to stop. XD

    • ashbet said:

      …but DON’T DO THIS to someone underage, because it may be in violation of the law.

      (It’s a great response from adult to adult, but sending anyone’s genital pics to a young person can get you in serious trouble.)

      • Kitty said:

        Oh yes, def not worth it for the LW to do this!

      • lowbudgetcyborg said:

        It wouldn’t exactly get the same fragile masculinity response, but one could send “Dick” pics: Dick Cheney, Dick VanDyke, Nixon, Richard III, etc…

    • Awesome Person said:

      This is the best response to that problem I have ever heard of.

    • If someone sent me a dic pic, I’d e-mail back with “What makes you think I’d be interested in inchworms?”

  26. rj said:

    LW, gah that’s so s—-y. I used to be a mandatory reporter (in Ohio) and I did not like it. I guarantee that in your school most teachers will be mandatory reporters… psychologists and pastors (I worked at a religious institution) were not – even for minors. One of those people (or a seriously irritated other employee) might help you find a lawyer if you go to the hypothetical route. If you don’t know who you can talk to, google [county or city] rape crisis centre – even in incredibly rural areas, they work with great lawyers and they will have someone who can advise you.

    • rj said:

      just read above replies. LW, sounds a bit better than I thought. Still offering jedi hugs if you want them.

  27. On a practical note, when you take a photo, there is infinitum embedded in the file format that can include the location of where you took it. That will depend on your phone location settings and the type of format the photo is in.

    I’d caution anyone sharing photos or posting them online (sexy pics or not) to check your settings to make sure the information is not embedded in the photo data. See more info here

    http://fieldguide.gizmodo.com/remove-location-data-from-your-photos-before-sharing-th-1593773810

  28. Typo, info not infinitum

  29. Such good advice from the Capt!

    One other thing to add: in many states, clergy are also mandated reporters.

    A mandated reporter (teacher, counselor, minister) will make a report but that does not “ruin someone’s life.” At best it will trigger an investigation by a social worker. More likely it will mean that a file starts somewhere and when another person reports Earl, then it will be corroboration for Report #2.

    This process works differently in various states, but I like the Captain’s idea of checking it out hypothetically with the adult. That will give LH an idea how this particular adult will react.

  30. Clarry said:

    I can’t figure out what “K, gn” means. Help, please.

    • JenniferP said:

      I think: “ok, good night”

  31. Clarry said:

    Now that I know that “K, gn” means “ok, good night”, and now that Troubled Teen has clarified that the pictures were not nudes or dick pics, am I safe in rewriting the story like this?

    At the beginning of the 8th grade school year (age 13-14), Earl asked LW for her number. She gave it to him. Several months later, he texted her. Before that, neither of them initiated conversation in the class they had together. The texted conversations were awkward. As part of these awkward conversations, Earl asked for a photo of LW and sent one of himself. LW sent one in return. These were ordinary photos of people’s faces, the sort parents take of their kids to show their friends or selfies that people take at vacation spots. Several weeks later, LW saw Earl in the hallway and was about to greet him, but he walked towards another girl and hugged her. They were dating. Earl showed the picture he’d gotten from LW to other girls and boys along with the photos he had of other girls. Earl asked LW for some of her friends’ numbers. He sat with her at lunch and asked for her friends’ names. Since then, a month ago, they haven’t spoken. Two days ago, Earl asked for another photo. LW said no, and Earl replied with “okay, good night.” LW would like to cut ties with Earl.

    Is that it? If I have it wrong, correct me. If that’s correct, I believe the advice goes like this: You certainly may cut ties with Earl if you wish. No one can force you to be friends with someone if you don’t want to be friends, and in this case, Earl is just someone you had a few awkward conversations with. For the future, if he texts, don’t answer. It might be good for you to talk to him in class discussions, but you don’t have to talk to him outside of class. You don’t have to sit with him at lunch. No need to make any decisions now about whether you’ll ever be friends with Earl in the future. Cut ties with him for now and leave it at that.

    • lisakoby said:

      LW, you’re learning to calibrate your level of emotional investment. That’s great – we’re all there/been there/probably will have to readjust again. Take this as a lesson in figuring out what interaction/how much contact means to you and see if you can find matches in terms of what feels right in a friendship (or any kind of relationship). You both text every day and you both consider that to mean you’re best friends – great. Problems happen when you and another person have a level of contact but there’s a mismatch with the level of intimacy and friendship involved (eg: texting every day to person 1 means best friend and to person 2 it’s still just a casual friend). Mismatched expectations are hard.

      I think this was a bit of a mismatch between you and Earl in terms of what you though was his level of feeling/friendship and what you felt for him. It’s ok, it happens, but now you know going forward.

      Guys like him are the reason slow fade was invented because he can’t give you what you want in a friend. That’s okay. Now you know what you want from that kind of friendship/relationship.

      Good luck LW.

      • Viva said:

        Yes, ITA with @lisakoby. All of this.

  32. LW, congratulations for realizing Something Is Wrong With This Situation. You were right, and you reached out for advice! Good for you. You’re not the only one this sort of thing happens to: there are terms like Loan Sharking and Forced Teaming that describe what con artists do.

    Sending pictures to you is Loan Sharking, Giving unsolicited help to the chosen victim and anticipating they’ll feel obliged to extend some reciprocal openness in return. (wikipedia Gift of Fear) It worked. Earl sent you a pic, you felt obliged to send one back. Bleah, Earl.

    Once you sent you own pic, the two of you are a team, right? Forced Teaming (acting as if two or more people are part of a team, when, in fact, they are not) produces the illusion of common goals where none really exist, weakens interpersonal barriers, and facilitates unwarranted trust. This quote is from Love Fraud, an excellent name for Earl.
    (https://lovefraud.com/sociopaths-and-forced-teaming-were-in-this-together/)

    Earl is not your friend: he is acting like a bad, bad person who may not have done the worst, but he can still be punished (I hope!) for what he has already done.

    • Saturngrl said:

      This, this. Thanks for the terms! (Been awhile since I read deBecker.) Loan sharing or favor sharing, forced teaming. These are techniques he used on you, and I am glad you are learning these now.

      …off to library to investigate Protecting the Gift, deBecker’s book on teaching children about this stuff.

  33. Shine said:

    LW, you are awesome. Strong and brave. Keep trusting yourself.

    I’m noticing a lot of commenters saying that Earl is gross or a bad person. This is for them, not you.

    It can be true that:
    1. Earl made very bad decisions
    2. His actions were harmful
    3. He probably won’t stop without intervention
    4. He’ll likely get a lot worse unless an adult steps in NOW
    5. LW should never date him or people who side with him on this issue
    But also
    6. He can make better decisions in the future

    People who do bad things don’t have to be bad people. Point 5 is super important here, though. Just because he has the potential to not be awful in the future doesn’t mean she should expect that from him. He has already ignored her boundaries and made her feel all kinds of bad. No LW for him.

    My point, though, is that we have to be careful about the difference between guilt and shame. I’m guessing he feels neither. He should feel guilty, but him feeling like he’ll be a terrible person forever isn’t going help anyone. People who feel like they are incapable of being good people don’t strive to make good decisions. Especially given that there were no nudes involved for LW (SO GLAD), this experience could be the launch pad for his education in consent. It opens avenues for leaning about the right ways to treat people.

    LW is hopefully washing her hands of this boy, and it’s not her job to get him this help or even care whether he eventually does. I’m in no way suggesting that this is work she needs to be doing. As commenters, though, we don’t benefit from demonizing. This is a young kid who made stupid mistakes.

    • adios pantalones said:

      Earl didn’t write in to us, though, and seems totally uninterested in growing or changing in any way. Our job is to support LW/Squid and maintain the focus on her.

      You’re not wrong but I really hate it when people center the person who is acting badly during a discussion with the victim of their bad behavior.

    • adios pantalones said:

      You’re not incorrect, but I hate it when people try to center the feelings and course of action of the person doing wrong over the person who was wronged. Our job here is to support LW/Squid. Earl didn’t write in to us and as far as we know is totally unrepentant about his actions. Talking about him this way is a gross misuse of a space that is for LW.

    • Gross. Can we not make excuses for jerks? Like adias pantalones said, LW is the one who wrote in and we should support her. How would you feel if you wrote to the Captain about someone who treated your terribly and someone showed up to make excuses for them?

    • AllanV said:

      He should feel guilty, but him feeling like he’ll be a terrible person forever isn’t going help anyone.

      Isn’t it a relief, then, to know that our comments here won’t cause him to feel that way? Since he’s not going to read this post, we hardly need to be concerned with how we might be making him feel.

      • hhhhhh said:

        honestly, if reading the comments and feeling ‘shame’ (…so, guilt but longer term?) starts some shame spiral where he chooses not to try and change because he can’t get the validation that he can be a good person then that’s on him.

        I don’t know about anyone else but ‘demonization’ (like seriously I don’t care that ‘oh he’s a stupid kid and could hypothetically get better’ I care what he’s doing _now_) can be a form of catharsis with these kinds of things? As a csa survivor I heard too much “but he ~didn’t know any better*” (why is why he tried covering up what he was doing, of course) so going “nah x is a bag of dicks, fuck them” kinda tips the uneven scales back for me. The commenters aren’t working in rehabilitating offenders, there’s no obligation to be professional or civil or…whatever the hell about what he did, they can have their moment of ‘fuck this guy’ it’s not going to worsen this creep somehow. (as said above he’s literally never going to read this and put two and two together about who this earl guy is)

        (also ‘stupid mistakes’ don’t tend to be deliberate manipulation schemes repeated on several people)

  34. Ruth Story said:

    By the way, ALL counselors are mandated reporter, not just those working in schools. And, they can lose their license of they do not report suspected or known child abuse or elder abuse.

  35. Convallaria majalis said:

    Dear LW, I just wanted to write to give you a jedi hug (if you want one) and tell you, that you are wonderful and not alone. I have a teenage daughter and I know young people to whom a same kind of thing has happened. Again, The Captain has done a wonderful job giving good advice.

    I live in northern Europe and am privileged because in here we do not have to worry about legislation; a case very much like this happened in my country earlier this year when a male public figure had filmed his sexual partners without permission. Luckily, there were legal consequences for him and he now has to pay hefty fines for his numerous victims. So yes, behaviour like this happens everywhere and it is always wrong and causes stress for victims.

    In here we have organizations and phone services for people who have been sexually abused (and situations like this does count). Calling one of the hotlines is very helpful: they provide legal information, contact information to friendly lawyers and also provide help of trained psychologists. I wonder if you have orgainzations like this where you live? We also have organizations meant for teenaged girls who provide similare services for free.

    Do you have any close friends who know what happened or adults you could absolutely trust (perhaps beside your parents; you know them best and can probably predict how they would react). If I were there with you, I would sit down with you and listen to everything you have to say, discuss with you and console you. I believe in here I am not the only one: many of us here would do exactly the same. If such a person exists, could they help you to bear the burden and to help you find advice and information on how to proceed in the place you live in, perhaps accompany you to support you? Just like The Captain I find it very sad that in situations like this the victim needs to proceed so carefully and take precautions when in an ideal world everyone should help the victim.

    When it comes to Earl his wellbeing is not your consern. In this scenario he is a bad guy, the villain and justly so. He has done wrong – but it is not your job to put an end to his actions; your only job in this situation is to take care of yourself and find help. In my opinion we should not defend him; this is about the LW and defending Earl does not help her.

    I am sad to say I have been in a pretty similar situation, I know how it feels. You are not alone and even though we do not know you personally, dear LW, you are loved.

    Take care!

  36. mccreadie67 said:

    I agree with Captain when she advises that you take things very, very slowly and carefully if you decide to report Earl to either the police or to school personnel. We had a boy in our area who made a very, very stupid mistake – audio-taped himself and a girl hooking up and let some friends listen to it – and the girl reported him to school officials. While she had every right to do this – absolutely no doubt!! – the school officials brought in the police and they handled the whole things so poorly the boy committed suicide. I’m NOT suggesting that the LW should feel guilty about turning in Earl because, dang, that boy is messed up and needs to be shut down ASAP! But she should definitely involve a lawyer or a trained counselor outside of the school’s mandatory reporter rules in deciding the best way to go about it that will protect her and make sure that things are handled correctly.

    Meanwhile, if she feels strong enough – and this does take a shit-ton of courage – she should make it a mission in life to warn other girls away from Earl. I don’t know, maybe start a chat group “VOE” (victims of Earl) and let other girls raise a hand if they’ve had a bad Earl encounter. If enough girls speak up, his reputation will get out and hopefully shut him down before he can hurt others.

    And finally, putting on my Mama hat for a quick lecture – please, please, please, all of you girls, think twice and three times and then four times before sending any kind of nude selfie to a boy. Even if you two are Romeo and Juliet and have a love that defines the ages, it’s just a really bad idea. Even grown ups get burned by this stuff all of the time. If you can’t show the pic to your grandma, then don’t send it. Just a safe life strategy. It’s never ever the victims fault, but it is up to you to minimize your risks.

  37. spargle said:

    I love the comments and the Captain’s advice. My only concern – and I don’t have an answer for this – is Earl has the picture now. He has it. He can post it anywhere. If he’s savvy enough to ask for pics, he’s savvy enough to post them if LW pisses him off. I worry.

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