Deadly High Tech Bullying
of children and young adults
Fact based reporting
by Amanda Chen and Rob Roman
Middle school, High school, and even college students are being bullied to death by their peers. All of these children and young adults committed suicide after being tormented non-stop via Blogs, Facebook, IM’s, on home computers and mobile devices. High-Tech, deadly teen bullying is not just relegated to America, there are also incidents of deadly bullying in Canada and the U.K. But America is specifically culturally prone to this deadly phenomenon. Why are American youth particularly vulnerable to this sick and deadly game? What are the causes and what are some possible solutions? Why do these suicides happen even when parents are tuned in and sensitive to their children’s problems? Why do theses young people kill themselves even after parents and schools have intervened? This is one of America’s most serious and disturbing cultural problems.
First, let’s take a look at some recent cases of teen suicides due to bullying. The stories are varied and have different circumstances. The commonality is that a child or young adult is picked out, labelled or accused and relentlessly targeted over a period of months or years.
Polk, Iowa, USA
(1997 – July 27, 2013)
AJ was bullied for being gay, black, and having a cleft lip. The bullying continued for over a year, beginning when AJ was outed for being gay. He is the fifth Southeast Polk Student to commit suicide in the last 5 years.
The parents said they had no indication of what was happening with their son. He was kept on life-support for organ donation. It happened that AJ was helping other kids who had similar problems, helping and counseling them. Other gay and lesbian teens told his family that AJ had counseled them and saved them from committing suicide. Betts enjoyed singing in the school choir.
Felicia Garcia – 15 years old
Staten Island, NY, USA
(1997 – October 24, 2012)
Felicia jumped into the path of a moving train after being tormented for having sex with 4 football players, ages 15 and 16. Word got out and went all over the school and the incident reportedly had been recorded. Two 17 year-olds were the main instigators and tormentors. An intervention was set up at school, but it was too late to stop the suicide. Felicia was a foster-child with a history of problems with her foster families. She had run away from home many times. Felicia handed her cellphone to a friend and fell backward into the path of a train. Her last words were “Finally, it’s here.”
Mantorville, Minnesota, USA
(1999 – April 29, 2012)
Rachel’s battle with bullying began about 6 months before and appears to be due to jealousy. Someone got it in their mind to attack her in the school and on social media. When her chewing gum got stuck in her books, this information was broadcast to everyone and was unrelenting. Then the word “slut” was written on her gym locker. A group of kids continuously built on the “slut” motif in school and social media bullying that went on for months. Though she was outgoing, athletic and friendly, this didn’t stop students who didn’t know her from calling her such things as a “prostitute” behind her back, to her face and online. Rachel had never had a date and she had not yet even kissed a boy. Still, this small group of attackers tried to get many people on their stalking team, promising to force her to leave school and run her family out of town.
The community reacted to Rachel’s suicide with an overwhelming outreach of cards, flowers, gifts, and support to her parents and family. The school system has a bullying policy and states they will respond to and investigate threats within 24 hours of being reported. Rachel hung herself at home in her closet.
Olivia Penpraze – 19 years old
Mantorville, Minnesota, USA
(1993 – 2012) 19 years old
This is the young woman who famously broadcast her troubles on Youtube video using flashcards. After Olivia’s suicide at home, her father found her extensive suicide diary online.
Only after Olivia Penpraze’s death did her parents discover what was really happening online. Her painful experiences were revealed in more than 900 pages of posts and photos on Tumblr. People had posted, urging her to go ahead and kill herself. Even after her death, people were posting hateful messages. Her father noted that the ones who posted the hateful comments were anonymous, while the ones who posted supportive and understanding comments were not.
Olivia’s dad was in shock that such people could be so evil. He said: “I can’t understand how someone could sit there and egg someone on to kill themselves. They are pretty damn gutless people.” Some friends on Olivia’s Facebook and Tumblr pages knew her parents personally, and they could not understand why no one notified them in over a year of suicide related posts and even after she scheduled a date online to commit suicide.
Hundreds of tributes have been posted since her death. Olivia overdosed on pills and was declared “brain dead” at the hospital.
See Olivia’sYoutube broadcast: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5g4mvCJqHs
Jesse Buchsbaum – 17 years old
Douglass Townsip, Pennsylvania, USA
(1993 – October 25, 2010)
Jesse Buchsbaum was struggling with a learning disability. He was slow and didn’t have many friends. After speaking with two of his friends, his parents believe bullying to be a major reason for why Jesse took his life.
The school system already had a good policy and programs to deal with the problem of harassment. In response to the suicide, they augmented their programs with the addition of a “safe room” staffed with teachers and counselors for those who feel they have become targeted by bullies or are upset for any reason. The school has made this service available to parents, also. This is an excellent idea and one that should be implemented in all schools. The problem is when does an internet problem or an off-campus problem become the responsibility of the school?
The programs were also enhanced with a new cyber-bullying set of programs. The problem is that students are afraid to tell even their parents, and are reluctant to admit that they have this kind of problem or need to seek help. People have discussed whether bullying isn’t just an unavoidable age-old issue and a right of passage to adulthood.
The problem with high-tech is that the bullying continues for weeks and months, regenerates in numerous forms, and is joined in by numerous anonymous “players”. This causes a pervasive sense of fear and paranoia that would be difficult for anyone to deal with no matter how strong their self-esteem.
Jesse hanged himself in his bedroom. His parents had to raise money for his funeral and burial expenses.
A normal right of passage – Nothing New
Bullying is nothing new and many of us have been both the bully and the victim in the past. What has changed if anything? When you or I did it, or had it done to us, there were only a few people involved. In 7th grade, on a dare I took a folded napkin of donut powder and launched it into another kid’s face. I never thought about the donut dust getting into his eyes. He went to the nurse and I felt so bad that I may have injured this kid. After that, I was done with bullying. In High School, I had an evening band concert and band members all wore white button-down shirts to school that day. A classmate much bigger than me who I never even spoke to came up in the hallway and ripped my shirt open, buttons flying everywhere. In each of these incidents, nothing further happened. There were no consequences for the bullies and no further incidents for the victims.
Preserved and Enhanced by High – Tech
Today, everyone has the technology at hand a to capture an incident in photos or video. Fabrications and rumors can be targeted towards an individual and this information can be rapidly transmitted to an entire community of peers. These incidents don’t go away so easily. A target can be endlessly stalked and harassed by anonymous packs on social media. These fabrications, rumors and incidents can be highly embarrassing and humiliating. Add sexual matters to this insidious mix, and the result can be a nuclear assault which can overwhelm even the best defenses. Young people feel they are trapped with no way out. Even after leaving schools for home schooling or a new school, attackers form a posse and charge down the cyber trail to continue tormenting the exposed and vulnerable child or young adult. These incidents are now happening as early as age ten.
Healthy Self-Esteem vs. Selfish Egocentric Prince or Princess
Developing strong social skills and and a healthy self-image is crucial for children and young adults. Nourishing an egocentric little prince or princess who has no empathy or thought of others, assumes little responsibility, and faces no consequences goes too far in this direction. Children who are coddled as well as children who are treated too strictly and children who are exposed to abuse are all at risk to become cyber-tormentors. Children in seek of friendship and acceptance will unwittingly join in the “game”. Children who are vulnerable, have poor coping skills or emotional problems and are “outsiders” are more prone to become the victims of the cyber-stalkers. Children who resist falling in with these gangs are also likely to become targets.
Anonymous, lacking consequences
Hiding behind the anonymity of the internet, we can lash out at peers, amass weapons in the form of photos, videos, rumors, and fabricated allegations, and gang up on a target. These attacks can continue for weeks and months. New attackers cab be enticed to join in. New allegations can be synthesized, revived and made to re-appear. Attackers can join forces and mutate into new anonymous and ever-stronger online profiles.
The victim cannot know who is involved and who knows about this situation. Soon, the victim feels as if all the world is hiding in ambush, everyone is out to expose them and no one can be trusted. If the victim turns to their parents or the school system for help, they acknowledge their vulnerability and risk even further sublimation of their self-confidence and sense of self-worth. If the attackers find out the victim has gone to the school system for help, they are done for. The school system will try to resolve the problem in ways that many times sometimes intensify and aggravate the situation. Finally a young person will strike out at his perceived attackers or more often, strike inwards and destroy themselves and end their own lives.
Liberal Solutions to Bullying
These solutions will tend to more school system – based.
- More “zero tolerance” rules.
- Requests for more funds for counselors and psychologists.
- More visibility and attention to the problem (assemblies, posters, anti-bullying rallies).
- Requests that parents report problems to the school.
- Have victim’s family members speak to the students.
- Set up a “safe room” with counselors and teachers to help victims.
Conservative Solutions to Bullying
These solutions will tend to be more individual – based
- Home school or send children to a private school.
- Make it a criminal matter. Get the police involved.
- Ban cell phones during school activities.
- Bring bible study / religious activities back into public schools.
- Request that schools report problems to the parents.
- Monitor your child’s activities on computers and cellphones more closely.
- Suspend and expel students for stalking and harassment.
Cultural Evolution Solutions to bullying
- Create social and personal environments where compromise and cooperation are respected and rewarded.
- Set the example in society where adults are not behaving the exact same way.
- Teach kids in school about empathy, caring about other’s feelings, helping others, how to detect troubled children and setting good examples. Create required courses / classes for socialization.
- Include everyone in the process. Create incentives for the most popular and responsible kids to reach out to the less popular and less socially adjusted kids.
- Raise visibility of the bullying problem within the school.
- Allow the police to get involved in the more serious incidents.
- Provide counseling and assistance for the students who want or need it.
- Instruct all school personnel to look closely at grade changes and personality changes in students and send them to talk to a counselor.
- Give parents and children access to more information about bullying.
- Create an atmosphere of helping and cooperation.
- Involve all sports teams and major clubs in anti-bullying activities.
Exposure alone won’t reduce Bullying
The problem of deadly high-tech bullying is not going to go away. Children and young adults will continue to join forces against a weaker group or individual. They will continue to seek the Holy Grail of this sick and twisted game: a casualty, a dead body. Force the useless dope to kill themselves. One of the fourteen year-old who bullied this girl to death, stated “Yes I know I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself and I don’t give a fuck. After being arrested and realizing the gravity of the situation, and maybe with some therapy she might just learn to care about others. Because many of the bullyers are also victims themselves. They are victims of abuse, victims of violent households, and victims of neglect and / or bad parenting.
The case of Rebecca Sedwick: Law Enforcement Intervenes
Rebecca “Becca” Sedwick – 12 years old
Douglass Township, Pennsylvania, USA
(1993 – October 25, 2010)
- Rebecca Ann Sedwick, 12, was bullied online by a gang of up to 15 school girls
- She was found dead at an abandoned Florida cement factory last month after searching ‘What is overweight for a 12-year-old’
- Her family believed the abuse had stopped when Rebecca left the school
- One of the teens was dating Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend at the time
“Two girls have been arrested in connection with the death of a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after being bullied online for almost a year.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd identified the girls as Katelyn Roman, 12, and Guadalupe Shaw, 14, during a news conference today in Winter Haven, Florida, and revealed details of a heartless Facebook post written by Shaw on Saturday.
‘Yes IK [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd [sic] she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a fuck],’ Shaw allegedly posted.
And, just today (Oct 27, 2013), someone posted on her site “No one will ever know the truth because she’s in hell”.”
“Rebecca was ‘terrorized’ by as many as 15 girls who ganged up on her and picked on her for months through online message boards and texts. She jumped to her death from a tower at an abandoned concrete plant on September 10.”
“BARTOW, Fla. — Some 250 mourners thronged a funeral service Monday for a 12-year-old central Florida girl who authorities say committed suicide after being bullied online by several girls for nearly a year.”
“Many of those thronging the 45-minute service for Rebecca Sedwick in Bartow wore T-shirts with an anti-bullying slogan in neon green, the girl’s favorite color. Family members, who knew the girl as “Becca,” had asked mourners to wear colorful clothing.”
“Sheriff’s detectives say the girl was “terrorized” by as many as 15 girls who ganged up on her and picked on her for months through online message boards and texts. Authorities say they are investigating whether there is enough evidence to bring charges against any of the girls.”
This problem is not going to go away easily. It requires a cultural change as well as legislative and educational initiatives. This behavior mimics that of the adult society. It has turned into an exciting and deadly game with the ultimate stakes, and must be addressed on all levels, beginning with public awareness and education in schools.