It’s been five weeks since the heartbreaking suicide of 12-year old Rebecca Sedwick of Florida, the young girl who authorities say was “absolutely terrorized” by cyberbullies for more than a year.
But, at least it seems there will be a modicum of justice for “Becca,” as she was known to family and friends; two girls aged 12 and 14 have been arrested on felony aggravated stalking charges.
A Year of Terror
One of the greatest tragedies in Rebecca’s case is that her mother did everything right. So did Rebecca — she told her mother what was going on, at least in the beginning.
The bullying began in 2012 over (surprise, surprise) a boy, and became increasingly hateful as time progressed – messages like “why don’t you just die” punctuated the girls Facebook account with great regularity. At one point, Rebecca’s mother pulled her out of Crystal Lake Middle School and home schooled her the rest of the 2012 school year. At the beginning of the current school year, Rebecca enrolled at another middle school.
But the tenacity of the mean girls in this situation proved to be something very nearly tangible; they tracked Rebecca down and the whole sick, sad cycle began all over again. For whatever reason, this time Rebecca didn’t tell her mother about the harassment.
“I Can’t Take it Anymore”
The evening of September 8, Rebecca’s mother reportedly saw her daughter texting — the following morning just after 7:30, she texted a boy she knew with this message: “I can’t take it anymore.” She made her way to an abandoned concrete plant and threw herself off of a tower.
The abject despair Rebecca so obviously felt is difficult to think about — but think about it we must if we’re going to reign in cyberstalking atrocities such as this one. The message must be clear: assault with an electronic device is just that, assault – and it will not be tolerated. Period.
Many of us have memories of junior high that are anything but pleasant — I remember, vividly, being teased by older girls on the school bus I rode every day until my mother figured out what was behind all of those “tummy aches” I claimed to have so I didn’t have to get on the bus. She had me transferred to another bus with kids my own age. End of bullying story.
But cyberbullying is a much more complex animal — there literally is no safe place, no escape from its far reaching tentacles; kids can be targeted 24/7, anytime, anyplace. Other differences between traditional bullying and cyberstalking include the following:
- The audience has the potential of being a very wide one — far beyond a handful of mean girls on a school bus in rural South Texas.
- Cyberbullies have the protection of the internet – they can hurl insults remotely, which can lower their inhibitions and increase the intensity of vitriol
Additionally, unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullies have the ability to take matters a giant leap further by:
- Pretending to be someone else
- Breaking into someone’s account and sending damaging messages
- Circulating unflattering or sexual pictures and/or messages
These are some of the harsh and very real potential dangers of cyberbullying, yet there are some precautions parents and educators can take when it comes to protecting children. More details on this to come in the next post.