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High school students sue over article on sex lives

From yesterday’s The Seattle P-I:

Four Puyallup high school students whose sex lives were detailed in a student newspaper sued the school district Wednesday, saying the publication invaded their privacy and exposed them to severe sexual harassment, humiliation and embarrassment.

The story in February by the Emerald Ridge High School newspaper, the JagWire, emerged from a supposedly anonymous sex survey conducted by journalism students, according to a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma by the Connelly Law Offices of Tacoma. The student reporters asked others on campus “if they had engaged in sex or if they had performed oral sex, and, if so, under what circumstances,” the suit says.

The story identified the four students by name as examples drawn from 600 Emerald Ridge students surveyed. Elements of their sexual history were detailed. One was quoted about her experience with oral sex. “I was 15. I was horny. It wasn’t really a relationship at that point.”

When the story came out, the damage to the four was immediate and intense, the suit says.

“Plaintiffs were mocked, jeered and called ‘sluts’ and ‘whores’ and subject to harassment, humiliation and embarrassment.”

The article contained serious information on the topic of oral sex at the school including statistical findings from the survey that 37 percent of students at Emerald Ridge had engaged in oral sex. It also noted “there is no curriculum approved by the district that specifically discussed oral sex.”

The case will likely hinge partly on whether the young reporters granted anonymity to the students when they were interviewed. The lawsuit says that the four “understood that their names would be withheld and that their candid answers would be anonymous.”

“The larger point,” said Jack Connelly, attorney for the four students, “is they’re violating school policy and students’ privacy by publishing information about the students’ sexual histories. If this information were put on the bathroom wall in the school, it would quickly be erased.”

A Puyallup School District spokeswoman declined comment Wednesday, saying the district had yet to see the suit.

A clue to the district’s defense might be contained in one line of the lawsuit that notes that “incredulously,” the student reporters “now appear to be claiming that the students actually agreed to have their names included and to have the intimate details of their private sexual histories announced to the entire student body via the JagWire article.”

The suit seeks unspecified monetary damages for, among other things, sexual harassment, invasion of privacy, negligent hiring and supervision of “an underqualified journalism instructor.

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