Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 22, 2013

Lawyer to teens: 'Know your rights on cyberbullying, sexual assault'

Palo Alto attorney motivated to act after suicide of cyberbullied 15-year-old

by Chris Kenrick

Moved to act by the case of a Saratoga teenager who died by suicide after hearing reports that photos of her alleged sexual assault were circulating on the Web, a local attorney is visiting classrooms to brief teens on laws about physical assault and distribution of photos and comments in cyberspace.

Carrie LeRoy, an intellectual property and technology lawyer in the Palo Alto office of the firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, tested the idea in Palo Alto High School Living Skills classes over the summer and plans to take it to a broader range of area schools next year.

"Really bad things can happen to good people, good teenagers," LeRoy told a Living Skills class at Gunn High School earlier this month.

"There's some idea in our culture that suggests it's your fault if something bad happens to you. It's not, and the law doesn't look at it that way."

She said teens should "know your rights and know the law" if they witness or are involved in situations of cyberbullying or sexual assault.

LeRoy implored students to speak to a trusted adult a parent, neighbor, sibling, guidance counselor or coach "if you see something that doesn't look right out there on the Internet, in social media, or if you hear that someone was assaulted.

"These things are too difficult (for students to handle by themselves)," LeRoy said.

Joining LeRoy at the Gunn presentation was a representative of the nonprofit Legal Advocates for Children and Youth. She has appealed to lawyers from other companies and firms to make similar presentations to get the message out to a greater number of teens.

LeRoy distributed fliers on cyberbullying and sexual assault, with checklists on how students should legally protect themselves and advice such as, "Think before you post! Online photos and messages are there forever. Your photos can be copied and changed."

She reviewed with students the case of the Saratoga teen, 15-year-old Audrie Potts, who died in 2012 eight days after passing out at a party and allegedly being sexually assaulted.

"In those eight days she did not talk to a single adult about what happened," LeRoy said.

Instead, LeRoy told the students, Potts went online to try to figure out what happened. After falsely being told, "The whole school has seen these pictures, you're so screwed, LOL," she died by suicide.

"I think about Audrie Potts in that eight-day period, clearly the darkest time of her life," she said. "Her mother said she would come home, wouldn't talk, and she'd slam the door and interact with technology."

LeRoy's handouts for students list measures for students to protect themselves in any case of cyberbullying or sexual assault, including telling a trusted adult. They also list hotlines and websites where students can find counseling or legal assistance.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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