RIP Phoebe Prince
“I ask the question, are the women of our future, bullies in today’s high schools?” ~ status report today.
This might be the bellwether case for bullying today in North America. For many years, I’ve been following morbid stories of bullying, noting escalating and growing female violence at schools. It’s the greatest fear I have for my daughter as she enters junior high.
Sometimes I see bullying among adults I know. Even cases eerily similar to Phoebe's story.
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Phoebe Prince, 15, hung herself after bullies allegedly tormented her relentlessly for months. She died after what Prosecutor Elizabeth Scheibel called a "torturous day." The bullying was "common knowledge." This story really hit home because Phoebe smiled like my own daughter (the head tilt).
Nothing school officials did prevented Phoebe's death on January 14, 2010—even after her mother complained of the harassment twice. Scheibel announced criminal charges on March 29, 2010, against seven girls and two boys. Something unheard of: she released their names. The details are disturbing. Before Phoebe hung herself, bullied 11 year olds had also hung themselves in America.
In the wrong hands, social media and text messaging are the new bullies. This can power bullying 24/7. CNN reports 42% of our children have been cyber-bullied. Additionally, 160,000 children were reported being so scared of their tormenters, they avoided school.
CNN also reports 20% of our children are bullies.
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It’s not easy to snitch. I only did it once in school. This is after I avoided school and was repeatedly asked why. My grades had slipped.
A friend sitting next to me was jabbing me daily in class with a pen, injuring me. He aimed at my ribs and my face when I wasn’t looking. I can take a lot of pain, and didn’t make a sound. In hockey, I threw myself in front of many pucks.
To this very day, 32 years later, I still feel guilty for snitching. Even though this friend, and our mutual friends, knew I had ratted him out, they didn’t make a big deal of it. Until then, i had never snitched. Not even for attempted hazings, racial slurs, fights, vandalism or thefts. And being shot at with a pellet gun.
The bully i ratted out received beatings at home. Later in life, he was heavy into drugs. He always said, “hello,” anytime I saw him. I don’t know what happened to him. I wonder if he is still alive. His best friend was a troubled NHL hockey player (now retired) who was in and out of jail.
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Bullies grow up and i always wonder where they end up.
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Two years ago, I was bullied by several men and a woman who launched a taunting campaign of reputation harassment. One man brazenly declared physical threats, inviting another to ambush me. For a while, I avoided posting my locations on Facebook. One bully stalked it and called three friends I was about to see and asked them to call back. Even my friends were being intercepted. Three friends in one week.
Then one day i was found by that bully who refused to leave me alone in public, following me to a restaurant. Many witnesses saw it firsthand. I left my dinner behind--after he suggested a physical altercation. When i read the prosecutor's statement for the Phoebe Prince case, it evoked haunting memories.
Why was I bullied? I'll never fully know. I can't enter their minds.
In my case, official letters from me and witnesses were written to the employer of the bullies. I had worked with them before. I was about to disclose illegal financial activity (why I think I was bullied). They denied the intimidation to everyone. But it was witnessed. Denial is a pattern in many cases of bullying.
School staffers were not charged as accomplices.
In my case, the intimidation stopped only after a message was sent from a lawyer.
Though i didn't know it, one bully had previously tormented another woman similarly for a year. She had said nothing until seeing my experience - which duplicated her experience. Bullying repeats itself as some morbid form of validation. Being bullied is a solitary experience. No one knows who will believe you, and what will be believed. The acts of a bully are often unbelievable. It is rare for victims to out their bullies. Many victims of bullies take the high road.
I was not afraid of my bullies. But I was tormented. Without one friend, who was there everyday for me, I don’t know where I would be today.
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Yesterday, I listened to how women I knew taunted another woman I knew. Some people can’t stop themselves. Tormenting can last weeks, and even months.
Bullies find it therapeutic to pick on people.
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DA Scheibel announced Phoebe Prince was taunted incessantly for three months. She was bullied until the day she died.
At school, teachers and administrators actually saw girls bullying Phoebe – bottles and cans thrown at her in a lunch room. Her mother Anne O’Brien Prince complained twice.
The school has gotten off scott-free, as you can see.
Phoebe spent her last day in life bullied in her school library in front of staff. Staff only reported this after Phoebe died.
The bullying continued into the hallways (with threats of physical abuse) and all along her way home where Phoebe's 12-year-old sister found her body hanging lifeless in the stairwell to her family’s apartment.
Moments before Phoebe died, her bullies drove by her and hurled vulgar insults and an energy drink at her. After Phoebe died, her bullies mocked her on Facebook.
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Why you ask? Reports say the girls disapproved of Phoebe dating a popular boy.
I posted Phoebe’s story yesterday online. Later that night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper discussed the story’s implications on air. Below is a transcript. One of the most insightful pieces on bullying.
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ANDERSON COOPER:But, first up, breaking news on a teen girl allegedly bullied to death. Just moments ago, we learned of new disciplinary action against more high school students in the connection with the death...Her name was Phoebe Prince, 15 years old. She came from Ireland. She was new to America, new to a school where she hoped she would find new friends.
Well, instead, Phoebe was bullied for six months, literally up until the day she died. That day was January 14. She went home and hanged herself.
Tonight, the school district in South Hadley, Massachusetts, announced it has expelled a number of students from the high school. Now, this is in addition to the nine teens who have just been criminally charged in connection with her suicide.
But I have got to tell you, kids are dying across the country, and, all too often, school officials kind of throw up their hands and say, oh, we had no idea.
Well, tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest."
I want to bring you over to the wall just to show you some (other cases), give you some sense of just how serious and widespread this problem is. I mean, Phoebe is just one of many who have allegedly been bullied to death.
This is Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover. He was 11 years old. Now, he lived not far from Phoebe Prince. He was taunted by classmates. They called him gay. His mother begged school officials to do something to stop it. He hanged himself as well, just 11 years old.
This is Jaheem Herrera. We told his story a while back. He also was 11 years old. His mother says bullies called him gay, called him ugly, and they called him the virgin, because he was from the Virgin Islands. He also hanged himself. I mean, imagine, an 11-year-old hanging himself.
Just a few months -- a few days ago, just outside New York, 17- year-old Alexis Pilkington took her own life. Her parents said she was already in a lot of pain, but she was taunted online at a social site before. And, even after her death, they were taunting her online. Police are investigating.
Now, we're going to talk tonight to Dr. Phil....about the problem of bullying, and why he says we all need to wake up about it.
But I want to give you some numbers...One in five children, according to Love Our Children USA, say that they have bullied somebody. One in four says they have been bullied. Forty-two percent of kids say that they have been bullied online. And as many as 160,000 kids across the country say they have been so scared of their tormenters, of their bullies, they have actually stayed home from school.
But I have got to tell you, not enough is being done about it. Kids are dying -- 41 states now have some kind of anti-bullying legislation on the books. Nine, including Massachusetts, don't, though a bill is making its way through the legislature.
Now, lawmakers say that Phoebe Prince's suicide is a big reason why that is happening in Massachusetts. But, "Keeping Them Honest" tonight, Massachusetts has been trying, unsuccessfully, to pass anti-bullying legislation for a number of years. So, why didn't they?
And what about Phoebe's school? I mean, teachers and staff knew about the bullying, according to the district attorney. So did other students. Did they do enough to stop it?
GARY TUCHMAN: Phoebe Prince spent her last day alive tormented by her classmates.
It began at the school library, where, according to prosecutors, the 15-year-old was harassed in front of a faculty member. The bullies then taunted and threatened Phoebe with physical violence in the hallways. And it continued as she walked home.
It ended when Phoebe's younger sister found her lifeless body hanging in the stairway, leading to her family's apartment. She was still wearing the same clothes she had worn to school. Officials say what happened to Phoebe in January was not an isolated incident.
ELIZABETH SCHEIBEL, NORTHWESTERN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: They (charges against 7 girls and 2 boys) were the culmination of nearly a three-month campaign of verbally abusive, assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm towards Phoebe on school grounds by several South Hadley High School students.
TUCHMAN: On Monday, prosecutors announced charges against nine teenagers, seven girls and two boys, in connection with Phoebe's death.
Two of the nine also face statutory rape charges. Phoebe Prince, who moved to Western Massachusetts from Ireland in the fall, briefly dated one of the accused, Sean Mulveyhill. Students say he was popular, an athlete.
Phoebe was a freshman from out of town. And, apparently, the other girls didn't like that she and Mulveyhill were dating. And, when the relationship ended, prosecutors allege a round of intense bullying started. According to students, books were knocked out of Phoebe's hands, her photo were defaced, and threatening messages were sent to her cell phone and over the Internet.
But it turns out, this wasn't the only incident. Phoebe Prince had allegedly been bullied for months, sometimes in front of faculty members.
SCHEIBEL: Prior to Phoebe's death, her mother spoke with at least two school staff members about the harassment that Phoebe had reported to her. Some bystanders, including at least four students and two faculty members, intervened while the harassment was occurring or reported it to administrators.
TUCHMAN: So, if faculty witnessed it and school administrators knew about it, as prosecutors say, then why wasn't it stopped? That's what Barbara Coloroso wants to know, an expert on school bullying.
She spoke to school administrators and faculty last year about the warning signs of bullying. Now she is wondering, was anyone listening?
BARBARA COLOROSO, AUTHOR, "THE BULLY, THE BULLIED, AND THE BYSTANDER": The bully....needed to know that, if they reported (bullying) to administration, it would be followed through with consequences where not only is the kid accountable, but the parents of those bullies are notified, so that they're working on the issue at home as well.
TUCHMAN: And she says Phoebe's death could have been prevented if school officials had just listened to her.
COLOROSO: Defining bullying for what it really is, the procedures in place that are truly effective discipline procedures and safeguarding the target.
TUCHMAN: Prosecutors say more charges could be coming. But, for Phoebe and her family, those actions will be too little too late. Her body was flown back to Ireland, where she was buried in a small cemetery next to the sea. Gary Tuchman, CNN.
COOPER: All right, let's dig deeper now with Dr. Phil Mcgraw, psychologist, bestselling author, and host of the nationally syndicated show "Dr. Phil."
Doctor, it's outrageous when you think about this. This young girl comes to the United States, 15 years old. She's from Ireland. She comes to this new country. She starts a new school. And, after six months of repeated harassment, which -- which a lot of people seemed to know about, she ends up dead, hanging from a stairwell in her home.
I mean, it's just sickening, when you think about it.
DR. PHIL MCGRAW, HOST, "DR. PHIL": Anderson, it is beyond outrageous. Let me tell you, this is a death that didn't have to happen. It's always tragic when a young person loses their life. It's doubly tragic when one takes their life. But when it is inside a system that is guaranteed, that's supposed to be protecting our children, nurturing our children, advancing our children, that is just unacceptable.
This is outrageous. And my concern here is, it's outrageous at many different levels. I have a belief, and that is that, if you stand by passively, whether you're an adult or another student, a peer, whatever, if you stand by passively and watch somebody being bullied, you are as guilty as the person that's doing the bullying.
COOPER: So, you -- you support the criminal charges that have been filed against the people accused of bullying?
MCGRAW: I do support the criminal charges.
Look, I don't want to destroy these kids' lives, because they are kids. And their brains are not even through growing yet. They don't have the ability to predict the consequences of their actions. I doubt, in their hearts of hearts, that any one of them would have wanted this kind of outcome, if they took a moment to think about it.
But, Anderson, we have got to have accountability. This is at epidemic proportions. It's happening on the Internet. It's happening on the schoolyard. It's happening more with girls.
And -- and here's a question, Anderson. Where are the parents of these bullies? How are these kids out there bullying someone to the point of taking their own life, and their parents either don't know it, or don't care, or condone it? It's your -- it's their job to know what their kids are doing.
COOPER: Yes, where are the parents? Where are the school officials? Where are the other kids in school?
We're going to have more with Dr. Phil after break. We will talk about why school staffers don't take bullying more seriously, why kids don't come forward with what they see.
The live chat is up and running at AC360.com. You can talk to viewers right now watching right now around the world...
COOPER: All right, just want to update you on the breaking news tonight: the school district in South Hadley, Massachusetts, announcing the expulsion of several more student following the death of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince.
A Massachusetts prosecutor says that Phoebe killed herself after months of brutal bullying at school. Nine teens were also charged in connection with her death, criminal charges.
We're now digging deeper with Dr. Phil.
COOPER: The parents of one of the girls who is charged said, well, look, my girl didn't -- didn't attack her, didn't physically attack her, never said, I hate you. They just got into a verbal altercation.
It seems like folks don't take this bullying as seriously as they should, whether it's parents, or school officials who said they didn't know anything about the bullying that was happening to this young lady, even though the district attorney says that is not true, that school officials had been notified, and that the whole thing was common knowledge.
MCGRAW: Well, what we know, Anderson, from psychological research is that emotional abuse, verbal abuse, those sorts of things that don't leave visible scars can have a more devastating effect than actual physical abuse.
I mean, think of -- it's like your psychological skin gets burned. And what happens with the victims is, they internalize all of these messages from the bully. They start saying these things to themselves. They -- they adopt those messages and pound themselves with it 1,000 times a day, even more.
And so it becomes a very insidious decay of their self-esteem. This is outrageous that this -- allowed to go on. And -- and the report says that they were throwing bottles and cans at this girl in the lunchroom, with faculty members watching.
I'm so curious to hear what the administration and teachers have to say about this, because my experience with most teachers is that they are loving, caring, dedicated folks that would not sit by with this. What in the world is going on here?
COOPER: Yes. One of things we have covered a lot on this program is this whole stop-snitching movement, and especially in inner cities throughout the United States, where people don't want to come forward and say what they have seen because they don't want to be labeled a snitch.
In cases like this, it seems like kids who witness the bullying are often afraid to speak up because they don't want to become targets themselves.
MCGRAW: Well, that's -- that's exactly right. They feel like, if -- if I align with this unpopular person, then I'm going to be lumped in with them.
And there is strength in numbers. The only thing that's ever going to stop this in the schools is if we're able to make it uncool to be a bully, if they become the outcast, if it's unacceptable, because there's strength in numbers. If they close ranks around this kids, hear their cries, their desperate cries, then the bullies won't have the confidence.
And, so, I think there's a real issue here with the students needing to close ranks and say, we're just not going to have this be part of our school. And one of the things that I think, Anderson, we can't fail to talk about here, is, I have heard so much when I grew up, in my generation -- and it may have been the same with you, Anderson -- the attitude among teachers and parents was, look, kids will be kids; they will work it out on their own.
MCGRAW: And a lot of bullying victims are afraid to be forthcoming with their parents because they're ashamed. They don't want -- they don't want to go home and tell their parents, look, I'm a nerd, nobody likes me, they're picking on me.
So, they hide that. Parents need to recognize the warning signs. If a kid is avoiding school, if they're getting injuries that are unexplained, and it's frequently from the same people, if they start coming up with illnesses that aren't warranted, they're avoiding school for some reason, they may be getting bullied.
And you don't want to go racing into the school like your hair's on fire, hysterically screaming at teachers and administrators, but you need to go in and partner with these folks and say, look, my child is reporting being bullied. I don't want this to be a he said/she said. I want to figure out what's going on.
But don't leave those kids to deal with this alone. It's the loneliest time they will ever have in their life. That's the time to step up and be an active parent.
COOPER: In the political realm, I know the legislature in Massachusetts has approved some anti-bullying measures, and a lot of states have done it, with varying strengths. But this is something that also really has to come from -- from within the schools and the kids and the administrators.
I mean, kids have to know that it is not -- it's not OK to bully. I mean, it's just -- it is unacceptable.
MCGRAW: Well, it is a grassroots program.
Look, you can do legislation. It's very bureaucratic. It's abstract. It is a beginning. And I certainly support it and -- and hope that we continue to see states adopt that and school systems to adopt it.
But this is a grassroots program that has to start from the inside out. The teachers needed education. They need resources. I mean, what's a teacher or counselor do when somebody comes and he says, "I'm being bullied," the other person says no?
Look, most of the bullies do this outside the view of the teachers. Now, in this case, it appears that some teachers knew what was going on and failed to take action. That is tragic.
But we have to -- we have to train these teachers. We have to give them the ratios they need to be able to see these things and help them. As I say, most teachers -- look, teachers don't take teaching jobs for the money. They take teaching jobs because they're passionate and they care about the students.
We need to give them the training. We need to give them the resources. But, Anderson, this has got to stop. We have got to raise noise about this, until people say, we're not going to have this anymore.
COOPER: Dr. Phil, appreciate you being on. Thank you.
MCGRAW: Anderson, thank you so much.
COOPER: This has got to stop.
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Many commentators of bullying don’t really know how ugly it’s gotten. The new kind of bullying is making up a story that you’ve been victimized to incite other people to attack another person. To Kill A Mockingbird.
I knew a girl I cared for, a friend’s daughter. She made up a story of being hit by a girl who made her feel left out. This tactic was used to get that girl in trouble.
Another teenager recently on trial in Toronto asked her boyfriend to kill a girl she didn’t like, and didn’t even meet. She was killed.
My daughter may be returning to North America for junior high, where bullying is rampant. It seems to start at age 11.
The difficulty is bullies tend to be classmates/friends of victims or children of people you know. What should I tell my friend whose daughter is a bully? Is it any of my business (if my kid is not the victim)? No one tells me how to parent.
There's also a big denial that females at an alarming scale are taunting classmates at school. What do i tell the mother who believes her daughter is good - a reflection of who she is? What do i tell the woman or man who only believes in the goodness of women/females? Is this gender bias to focus on girls? For my daughter, I am not afraid of the boys, I am afraid of the girls. The new kind of bullying uses social media and text messaging, uses fake stories of being victimized, and causes many people to attack, too many times, violently. Verbal abuse, dishonesty and defamation has reached a level never seen before. Sound familiar?
Many adults who pick on other adults are unaware adults teach its practice. And i think that's also why the practice is accepted.