South Hadley, Massachusetts, high school student, Phoebe Prince, committed suicide January 14, 2010. After having endured relentless bullying, name-calling, verbal assaults, insults, and stalking that crossed into the realm of cyberbullying, Phoebe Prince hanged herself in the family closet.
Will this ever-growing trend of suicide-by-bullying or bullied suicides remain in the closet as well?
Barbara Coloroso, in the wake of this tragedy, tries again to encourage stronger anti-bullying policies within school systems.
Coloroso, who made an appearance in South Hadley weeks before Phoebe Prince's suicide would look out to only a handful of interested people. This time, 300 people in South Hadley would fill the auditorium.
For those who have yet to know about the Phoebe Prince bullied-to-suicide tragedy and her mid-January suicide, Kevin Cullen shares the highlights in his article, Too little too late against bully tactics:
Phoebe, who moved to South Hadley from Ireland just weeks before school started, became a target after she dated a senior, a football player, and the coarse words and sneering insults that followed her around the school corridors were only part of the story. Cruel text messages inundated her cellphone. Internet postings followed her home. The torment was born in school but invaded her private space to the point that she had no respite.
And in another article entitled, The untouchable Mean Girls, Cullen poignantly and with great sympathy recounts her final moments of young life:
Ten days ago, Phoebe was walking home from school when one of the Mean Girls drove by in a car. An insult and an energy drink can came flying out the car window in Phoebe's direction.
Phoebe kept walking, past the abuse, past the can, past the white picket fence, into her house. Then she walked into a closet and hanged herself. Her 12-year-old sister found her.
Was it Phoebe's death that finally would allow the school system, parents, and students to begin taking the recommendations of Barbara Coloroso seriously? Cullen's article, Too little too late against bully tactics, continues:
"What the community, and even more so the students, needs is a strong antibullying policy that explicitly explains what it is. And it has to include cyberbullying and all forms of hazing," Coloroso said. "Secondly, there's got to be a procedure in place to determine how they handle the bully, how they protect the target, and what they are going to do with any bystander who may have contributed to this mess and protect them if they are a witness. They don't have that yet.'"
They don't have that yet.
One would also think that after Phoebe's death her teenaged tormentors would reflect, with compassion, at the end result of their bullying campaign. But as I witnessed first hand, the relentless assault on Phoebe's memory would continue even onto Facebook Memorial pages friends had set up to remember this lovely young lady.
Indeed, Phoebe's memory would continue being assailed in cyberspace from those same bullies who relentlessly pursued for her misery in life...
From the *Recent News* of a Facebook remembrance group, Phoebe Prince :
And from the Description of another Facebook group, In Memory of Phoebe Prince:
Bullied without Cyberbullying
I was bullied in High School. I remember one day seriously thinking that suicide must be my only option. I went so far as to write a note and plunder through the medicine cabinet. I remember hiding the pills in my room in case Bully and Friends did decide to come to my house and make good on their threat that she was going to kill me. My crime, much like Phoebe Prince, is that a football player liked me but the Bully had laid claim to him. During the school day I would manufacture different ways to route to class, stay extra long in a classroom in case she was outside waiting on me, and would avoid extracurricular places I knew she would be attending. Getting bullied or the avoiding thereof was on my mind a lot more than my schoolwork and no kid should have that to contend with. But at the end of the day I was in the safety of my home gathering the strength to face it all again the next day. Although I mentally and physically survived from this face-to-face bullying, when bullying crosses into cyberbullying, an entirely different and open humiliation is encountered.
Bullying in 2010 vs Bullying in 1990
Cyberbullying goes where no Bullying has gone before
Getting bullied in High School in 1990 (and earlier) looked a lot different than getting bullied these days. Over the past several years I have fallen onto MySpace pages erected for the sole purpose of targeting people to bully, and as recently as a few weeks ago was invited to a Facebook Group or Page dedicated to the defamation of a person. [This page was still standing 4 weeks after complaints to Facebook, whereas the MySpace pages would disappear not long after after reporting.] With Web 2.0, free and easy to join social networks, cell phones, web-to-text, youtube and other internet services making mainstream into the homes of teenagers, hate for a peer can manifest not only Monday - Friday through school hours, but can reach into the targetted victims' home 24 hours a day.
Bullies using advancing and readily accessible technology to harass, stalk, defame, verbally abuse, emotionally torture, or otherwise embarrass their teenaged peers [or anyone] - and made even worse because now it can be open for everyone to see is - is a twisted sort of Art in the Perfection of Bullying. For the victim, it gets no more humiliating than that.
No longer a personal humiliation and issue, the victim now knows that *the entire world* can see her humiliation. She may even hold her breath for even more enemies to begin participating in her online torture. And because online anonymity can be taken advantage of, can you imagine returning to school not knowing who the participants are? So then a sort of isolation and justified paranoia may settle among our victim, making her even less likely to bond with her real friends or potential friends. It's a psychological mess waiting to explode; Humiliation, harassment, abuse, isolation, distrust. All this, being experienced by a kid who someone else didn't like.
Bullying & Cyberbullying is a Problem
What is the Solution?
As we grapple with understanding that cyberbullying, cyberstalking, or cyber-whatever-that-seeks-to-target-humiliate-or-harass-an-individual-while-on-the-internet is a trending problem, we are simultaneously faced with seeking a solution.
Bullying, without the cyber, is atrocious enough. Harassment, without the cyber, is suicide worthy enough for those poor teenagers who felt there was no other way to make the pain stop. Humiliation, embarrassment, and incessant abuse during the days of Monday - Friday and hours of 8am - 5pm, while in school or on the bus or coming home from school is more than enough that some teenagers can take all by itself without the added "cyberbullying" coming into play. And as long as schools exist, it will be up to them, in tandem with parental oversight, to discourage bullying practices that originate on campus and enforce bullying policies.
Going to school should never force a student into taking alternate routes to class out of fear of being bullied, mocked, harassed, or verbally assaulted. Attending class should not be a toss up because your 'bully and friends' are waiting outside your classroom to confront, humiliate, and call you names. Going to school should never venture into the realm of internet abuse or harassment.
Going to school should never be more fearful than the prospect you forgot to do your homework or forgot to study for a test.
Bullying and/or CyberBullying Resources
- Visit WiredSafety.org for help and/or to report a cyberstalking incident or an online abuse incident.
- BullyPolice - Advocating for Bullied Children & Reporting on State Anti Bullying Laws
- Olweus Bullying Prevention Program - Protect Your Children from Bullying and Support Safe Schools
- Book: Bullycide in America - Moms Speak Out About the Bullying/suicide Connection
- Read Jared's Story and other stories involving bullying leading to suicide.