By Ness Fraser

Growing up I wanted everyone to like me. Once I entered puberty, I specifically wanted boys to like me. While not all of my peers felt the same, I wanted people to notice my growing breasts, I wanted them to see that I was proudly leaving girlhood and becoming a woman. Years before I was ready to act on those desires, I still wanted the boys my age to think I was worth desiring. I begged my mom for padded bras and made a little extra effort to stick my butt out during volleyball. It’s what I thought I was supposed to do. I thought I was supposed to be sexy.

And to be honest, I’m very fortunate that I didn’t end up in the same situation as Amber Cole*.

Amber, a 14-year old from Tennessee was performing oral sex on a boy behind her school while other boys looked on — and living in this digital age of fast-action media, one of them decided to point his cell-phone camera in her direction and hit “record.” The video went viral and the Internet crowd jumped at the opportunity to slut-shame a 14-year-old. Amber was unabashedly harassed by hundreds, so much so that the viral YouTube video “Leave Amber Alone” had to actually be created.

The reaction of so many Internet trolls is especially unsurprising once we deconstruct the media messages that are sent to girls like Amber in the first place. These messages tell young girls that the most important thing to be in life is sexy, desirable, and for lack of a better term, fuckable — no matter what age you are, or how inappropriate that might be.

Amber, presumably, has been exposed to these messages, like the rest of us, for years. Believing them doesn’t make her bad or slutty — it makes her human. Who hasn’t fallen for the “people would like you more if…” pabulum we’re fed from the moment we learn to pick up a magazine or turn on the TV?

While many people would (fairly or not) disagree with Amber’s decision to give oral sex at 14; it’s pretty telling of society’s view of women that the criminal act of distributing this video is being overlooked in order to slut-shame a young woman. Amber, in the eyes of many, is the monster here, not the kids who exploited her. And why aren’t we talking about the boy receiving oral sex, too?

It’s easy to label Amber as just another slutty girl who was looking for attention. When we position her as a “bad girl” it’s easy to think that she’s not our child, or sister, or cousin, or best friend’s sibling — or maybe even just like ourselves.

I knew plenty of people who were doing what Amber did when I was 14 — and I’m willing to bet that plenty of you did, too. The only difference is that our exploits were shared only via gossipy whispers rather than via YouTube. This new risk — and Amber’s heartbreaking story — proves that parents of young boys need to be teach their sons, now even more than ever, that female bodies and female sexuality are not theirs for the taking… or taping.

* According to this source, Amber Cole is not her real name