Have you watched CHEER on Netflix yet?

Cheer is the Netflix docuseries we never knew we needed. Set at Navarro College, Texas, it follows the school’s cheer team on a glitter-dipped rollercoaster of emotions as they attempt to ‘make mat’ at the Daytona finals while juggling ankle injuries, childhood traumas, and pushy parents.

If you’ve been watching Cheer you’ll know Lexi Brumback, the platinum blonde, softly spoken tumbler who makes a back handspring look like, whatever. Lexi arrives at Navarro with buckets of talent, but fresh from a tough upbringing in Houston.  Elite cheer training under head coach Monica Aldama gives Lexi the structure she desperately craves. Her mentor and Navarro cheer alum Calvin explains “She wants something different for her life now, she wants something different to what she had before.”

By episode 3 she is in her element, starting to fit in and forging ahead with her schooling in spite of difficulty staying on top of the work. “Finally, I feel good, life feels good. And my family is really proud of me,” says Lexi. But with 19 days to til Daytona National Championships, she makes a shocking discovery. A girl she barely knows is posting nude pics of her all over Twitter.

“I started to get all these notifications on my phone and I was like ‘who is this?’… I don’t know how or where she got private content of me…” Lexi explains. “What I don’t wanna do is take this to the police ‘cause I know it’s gonna be a load of questions and I’m embarrassed. I really didn’t want anyone to know.”

A few days later with Lexi curled-up in the fetal position on a gym mat deep in worry, coach Monica pulls her aside.

Our stomachs sink watching this. We have seen it play out before: the promising young athlete, the small Texas town, the naked photos of underage girls being spread on social media. Our client Macie’s story wasn’t so different. In 2014, her senior year of high school, Macie was coerced in to sending naked photos to her ‘adoring’ boyfriend, Karl, via Snapchat. She felt pretty safe in the knowledge that Snapchat pings a user if their message was screenshotted. What she didn’t realize was that Karl had slyly downloaded an app to circumvent this feature.

Upon discovering Karl had been sharing her photos, Macie went straight to the on-campus police officer, who informed the principal, vice principle, and director of her dance team. Macie presumed the boys would be punished for distributing the image, but administrators focused their attention on Macie.

She was benched from her elite dance team for ‘conduct unbecoming’, not allowed to perform at an upcoming performance in front of college recruiters and professional talent scouts. She was given five ‘demerit’ points, the cruel and absurd punishment for which was performing 500 high kicks in front of the entire team. It was school-sanctioned public victim-shaming.

And it turned out Macie wasn’t the only girl who had her nude photos circulated around her school and been disciplined as a result. The other girls had accepted their punishment from the school and the grounding from their parents. But Macie was a little different. And so was her mom, Sharon.

The day after Macie was cut from the team, Sharon showed up at the school and demanded an explanation, saying that the school was in violation of Title IX. “Title seven, title eight, title nine…” Sharon recalls the Vice Principle saying with a dismissive wave of his hand, before making clear that he had viewed naked images of Macie that he had confiscated from the boys’ phone. “But,” he assured her, “I won’t treat your daughter any differently.”

Sharon delivered a formal Level 1 grievance report to the school the next day, before reaching out to the CCRI, who put her in touch with us.

Our founder, Carrie, drafted a five-page amendment for Sharon to attach to her previous complaint, pointing out that Macie was the victim of dating violence, bullying, and retaliation to reporting abuse. Carrie also demanded an explanation as to why an adult male administrator would find it appropriate or relevant to view naked images of an underage student. After being fobbed-off by the school multiple times, and losing numerous appeals to the school administration, Carrie flew to Texas for a meeting with the board in the school Gymnasium. The meeting lasted hours but finally at 11pm the board took a vote to restore Macie’s position on the dance team.

It was a bittersweet victory. There were only a few weeks left in the school year, and Macie had been forced to miss the most important performances of the season and her chance at a dance scholarship for college. The kids at Macie’s school continued to call her a ‘slut’ and put cockroaches in her pencil case.

Some people might look at Macie’s case and shrug their shoulders. Like, doesn’t this happen all the time? Is a high school dancer getting kicked off her team really a big deal?

That’s not the point. Macie’s case is about a system that fails victims while tacitly condoning abusive, exploitative, and often criminal behavior.

So, you can see why our hearts sank as we watched Lexi reveal the situation to coach Monica on Cheer. But what happened next was not what we expected.

What follows is a meeting with Monica and the friendly Navarro police chief who tells Lexi, “Now, you’re not in trouble but the person who posted it is. It can be a pretty big deal. A felony.”

“In your mind that was an intimate moment just for you and your boyfriend. You take the power back: you’re not the person who looks bad,” Coach Monica assures her. “Girl I’ve got your back. I’m always going to protect you.

This felt like a moment to take a step back and acknowledge how far the conversation around revenge porn has progressed. Not only do 46 states now have laws against it, victims are gradually being met with less blame and more compassion. This is what we have been working towards for years. And we won’t stop until every victim is met with understanding, support, and justice.

 

You might also want to check out:

Resource: States with revenge porn laws

Resource: How to report revenge porn on social media

Revenge porn and internet privacy: what should I do and how can a law firm help me?

Did you know?

A bill has been introduced in the NY senate to extend the definition of a victim of a sexual offense by including a victim of unlawful dissemination or publication of an intimate image.

Keep up with the bill’s progress here: https://trackbill.com/bill/new-york-senate-bill-7728-relates-to-defining-a-victim-of-a-sexual-offense/1892073/

 

If you have been a victim of rape, child abuse, revenge porn, sexual harassment, stalking or something similar and want to talk about your legal options, contact us at 646-666-8909 or through our online submission form.

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