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Teens accused in girl's beating

Video of Lakeland teen's beating evokes outrage

Fights among teens happen everyday and most fail to make headlines in even the tiniest of communities across America.

But this one struck a worldwide chord.

A gruesome video clip of a Lakeland teen being beaten by six girls on March 30 aired across the globe.

The Today Show and Good Morning America broadcast the beating of 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay, who suffered a concussion, bruises and temporary hearing and vision loss on her left side from the attack.

The story has drawn outrage from the public, spurring a debate about growing girl violence, a need for more parental involvement and the role of cyberspace in encouraging nasty behavior.

Experts say the popularity of the beating story stems, in part, from the video itself, which was released this week by the Polk County Sheriff's Office after the teens involved — two boys who acted as lookouts outside and the six girls inside the house, ages 14 to 18 — were arrested on charges of battery and imprisonment.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the teens were upset about comments Lindsay had made on the Internet and in cell phone text messages. He said they planned to put the video on two popular Web sites, MySpace and YouTube.

"This is what your children are watching," Judd said at a news conference. "This is what some children are participating in and we as a society have got to say this has to stop."

Lindsay's parents have asked the popular Web sites to crack down on allowing such videos to be posted. As of Wednesday night, YouTube was no longer allowing users to access the beating video.

A Polk County judge also issued a gag order in the case on Wednesday, following the appearance of some of the teens' parents and the sheriff on national TV shows. Judge J. Michael McCarthy criticized the sheriff's decision to release part of the video.

Girls and violence

The sheriff's clip shows two angry, cursing, screaming girls hitting Lindsay in the face as she curls up on a couch and again in a corner near the front door, crying. She tries to block the blows with her arms and legs but doesn't fight back.

At one point, a girl keeps asking Lindsay why she doesn't like her friends. From off camera, a girl tells the attacker not to hurt a nearby glass shelf, and another voice accuses her of MySpace improprieties.

The fact that the video showed girls involved in physical violence also seems to have fed into the public's interest.

"We are still surprised by girls' violence more than boys' violence," said Norrine Russell, chief executive of the Tampa-based Ophelia Project and Boys' Initiative of Tampa Bay. "There's something about girls' fighting or aggression that can get sexualized, which is totally inappropriate."

Although boys are three to 10 times as likely to be involved in violence, research shows girls are becoming more physically aggressive.

Part of it, Russell said, is the corruption of the girl power message.

"Girls are feeling more empowered now," said Linda Osmundson, executive director of St. Petersburg's Community Action Stops Abuse. "It's a very sad commentary on society today. It's not the kind of quality as a woman & that I think we want to aspire to. We don't want to become as violent as men."

The viral nature of the Internet and the ability to transmit video quickly also could play a part in its ubiquitousness, said American University communications professor Kathryn Montgomery, author of Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce and Childhood in the Age of the Internet.

"There are a lot of fight videos online people like to watch," she said. "There's always this voyeuristic fascination with violence."

For Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use in Eugene, Ore., the video offers a teachable moment.

Teens need to learn how to respond to cyberbullying or online aggression without resorting to violence. And adults, she said, need to better supervise their children's Internet use.

"It kind of boggles the mind," she said. "Young people engage in this behavior and videotape it, not understanding they're providing all the evidence to convict themselves."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at mave@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8813.

Stephen Schumaker and Zachary Ashley are accused of being lookouts while the girls attacked Victoria Lindsay.

Video of Lakeland teen's beating evokes outrage 04/09/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 14, 2008 3:52pm]
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