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Columns

Teenage fights on Web: disturbing, demeaning

By GREG HAMILTON
Published March 7, 2007


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It is one of the more bizarre trends brought to you by the brave new world of modern technology. We can thank, generally, the Internet; specifically, video cameras and outlets such as MySpace and YouTube.

Girls fighting girls. It's all the rage in cyberspace. It's shocking. It's humiliating. It's infuriating.

And it's right here on the Nature Coast.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office deputies say two teenage girls concocted a scheme to get revenge on a 13-year-old girl they suspected of cheating on her boyfriend. They lured her to a slumber party Feb. 18, when one of them attacked her.

Here's where the new wrinkle kicked in. While the older teen slapped the unsuspecting girl silly and yanked her hair, her partner in crime captured it all on tape. Then they followed the well-worn trail to today's instant stardom: They posted the tape on MySpace.

After the video surfaced, police got involved and now the two girls are in custody, facing criminal charges and possible prison terms.

I doubt they still think this was such a clever idea.

Fights among classmates have been around as long as there have been schools and students. These tempests typically blow themselves out in a few moments of hormonal rage, with the most serious damage being wounded pride and the occasional bloody nose or fat lip.

Now every kid with a camera phone or a video recorder is the next Martin Scorsese, capturing the brawls to share with an insatiable online audience. That, in turn, is motivating more kids to grab a bit of video immortality by staging fights, if they can't happen upon the genuine article.

There is no escaping the popularity of this Internet fare. There are sites all over the Web, including some that even offer tips on how to fight. The tapes have all the elements of cheap, demeaning and prurient entertainment, and they are finding a wide and expanding audience.

The attack on the local teen fits this bill. Young girls in tight, sleeveless undershirts and shorts, lots of heavy breathing and shouting, plenty of punching and slapping. And an appreciative audience of girls in the room and voyeurs watching on computer screens, calling out for more. That, too, is typical of teenage brawls. They always seem to attract a huge crowd of sideline heroes urging on the combatants.

Counselors and children's advocates around the country are alarmed by the growing popularity of this blood sport, especially the aspect of girls fighting each other. All sorts of explanations are being offered, from boredom to a need for girls to be popular with their peers - and earning respect with their fists - to girls in some weird way seeking equality with teenage boys, who are lauded for their physical prowess, especially in sports.

Whatever the reasons, adults need to be aware that this dangerous fad is here and is showing no signs of losing popularity.

Watch the tape of the Crystal River girl being attacked and it seems fairly obvious that the beating was inflicted for the camera's sake and was not a spontaneous outburst.

But the consequences are real. The victim was humiliated, terrified and bruised. Her alleged assailants are in a detention center facing charges of false imprisonment and battery. Circuit Judge Barbara Gurrola pointed out that the girls could be sentenced to up to life in prison.

I don't recall seeing any warnings from the overseers of MySpace or YouTube about such dire outcomes for this dangerous and illegal behavior.

It would be a big help if cyberspace would police itself and stop glorifying violence. But you might as well ask dogs not to bark; it's the nature of the beast.

As the recent attack on the local teen demonstrates, the stakes are high. And as the novelty of these girl-on-girl fights wears off, the level of intensity is sure to rise, fueling even more violent attacks.

Is it going to take someone's daughter or son being seriously injured or killed, or harming themselves because of the public humiliation, before we rein in this dangerous behavior?

If such a tragedy occurs, you can bet some fool will be standing there with a video camera, capturing it all for the Internet.

Greg Hamilton can be reached at 352 860-7301 hamilton@sptimes.com.

[Last modified March 7, 2007, 07:23:55]


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