WINCHESTER — It was about two in the morning during the most recent winter break when James Wood High School freshman Victoria Levenson, 15, got a text from a friend who discovered Victoria’s photo of herself fully clothed was posted on a sexually lewd thread on the website Reddit.
She would later discover that she was one of more than 20 other female students at James Wood who had their photos posted on the thread. Some of the girls were wearing bathing suits and some had girls’ full names posted with the photo. The posts would then often ask for users to ask for more photos if they wanted them. One post with a photo asked “what would y’all do to her?”
The photos have since been removed.
Victoria’s photos are private on social media, she said, and she did not give permission to anyone to post her photo on the sexually lewd site.
“That kind of disturbs me a little bit,” she said about the situation.
“Some of the girls I know felt objectified,” Victoria added.
Within the past week or so the juvenile prosecutor of the Frederick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Office has been consulted twice on the case, said Frederick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ross Spicer.
“As troubling as this conduct is,” Spicer said, the case involving James Wood High School students in question does not violate any law. However, Spicer said he has reached out to Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick, about drafting legislation that could address this conduct.
Frederick County Police did look into the case, said Frederick County Sheriff Lenny Millholland, and no charges have been made.
But that “doesn’t mean something down the line cannot be found,” Millholland said.
Upon learning of the allegation, the James Wood High School administrative staff investigated the situation, said Steve Edwards, the school division’s coordinator of policy and communications. Staff also informed the Sheriff’s Office of the concern brought to their attention.
Through their investigation, the staff did determine that no school devices were involved nor was the school division’s network used, Edwards said. He added that JWHS administrative team has completed their investigation, unless more credible information comes to light.
The situations involving James Wood students “exemplify the importance of digital citizenship which is something that we work to educate students, staff and our school communities throughout the year,” Edwards said.
Peyton Jenkins, 16, and a sophomore at James Wood, also had her photo posted on the thread with her full name showing her wearing a bathing suit. The photo was originally posted on Peyton’s private Instagram account.
“I was pretty embarrassed and shocked kind of,” Peyton said.
Victoria said she believes the person behind the posts is another student at the school.
It feels like the school wants to hide the problem, Victoria said.
“I don’t think they’re going to do anything about it,” she said. “I’m irritated.”
But Peyton believes the school does care.
Brandi Jenkins, Peyton’s mother, said that unfortunately no crime has been committed, so it’s unlikely the school can do anything about it.
“There’s nothing they can do, because nothing has happened,” Jenkins said.
Responses to the situation have been mixed for Victoria and other students involved in the situation. Some people have given their support for the girls while others have said that the girls shouldn’t be posting photos in general on social media, Victoria said.
“Everyone posts pictures of themselves, I don’t understand why we shouldn’t,” Victoria said. “Like why is that a problem?”
Victoria’s mother, Stephanie Levenson, initially shared that her daughter and other girl’s photos were sexually exploited online with NBC News4.
“This isn’t just about the fact that photos were stolen,” Levenson said. “It’s the context in which they were posted and used.”
Connie Parmar, of Frederick County, has worked from 2006 to 2013 as a sexual assault prevention coordinator and later a counselor for survivors and victims of sexual assault for the Laurel Center, which provides intervention services for domestic and sexual violence in the Winchester area. As a counselor, she spoke with students who had faced sexual violence.
Parmar views the recent case of James Wood students’ photos being posted on a sexually lewd site as an issue of consent, respect and empathy. This issue, she said, is something that is not talked about enough and she considers the case involving James Wood students tied to a bigger problem of sexual violence on the grounds of exploitation.
“It’s not like it happened on school grounds or there may not have been an actual crime committed, but at the same time it’s still something very wrong,” Parmar said. “It’s on that end of the sexual violence continuum.”
Parmar said that when she was working with the schools through the Laurel Center students were taught to be careful about what they post. With some of the posts on Reddit including a student’s full name online, it could have been easy for someone to find them.
“It’s very sad that so much of the emphasis goes on the victim of what you try to do to prevent things like this,” Parmar said.
Peyton said that it hasn’t been students that have told her and other girls that it’s their fault their photos were posted on Reddit, it’s been adults and other parents.
“That is really disappointing,” Peyton said. “It’s not fair to just assume that it’s our fault when they don’t even know the whole story.”