Two horrible stories have made headlines this week, not for the newness of the subject but for developments in the story of the antagonist.
15 year old Phoebe Prince moved from Ireland last year and enrolled at a secondary school in Massachusetts where she endured months of bullying and abuse before taking her life on January 14 this year.
On Monday, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel announced criminal charges against 9 teenagers from the school and said that Phoebe’s death was "the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behaviour and threats of physical harm".
Prior to Phoebe’s death, her mother was concerned enough to approach several staff members, and there is evidence that the abuse was circulated on Facebook and by mobile phone. But it seems school staff failed to intervene and Phoebe was abandoned to the torment and her own inability to cope or escape.
Closer to home we heard news that 50 year old Victorian Gary Francis Newman will be jailed for 29 years for the brutal murder of 15 year old Adelaide teenager Carly Ryan.
The pair first met through an online vampire community and Carly subsequently fell in love with Newman, who identified himself as a guitarist and an adherent to the emo culture.
When Newman traveled to Adelaide to meet Carly in February 2007, Carly rejected him and her life ended brutally at the hands of the 50 year old.
Carly’s mother said in a statement: "I am relieved that Garry Newman is no longer a danger to the community and other innocent children." But one wonders what good that is when there are hundreds of others like him and thousands of girls like Carly with parents who don’t know what their children are doing online and who they are meeting.
In Phoebe’s case, the mother of one of the accused told the media she was shocked at the accusations about her daughter’s involvement, but that teenagers “call names”. The comment reveals an emotional numbing to what is actually anti-social behavior. How ‘name calling’ fits in with the healthy and happy lifestyle of a normal confident teenager is incomprehensible. The girl’s mother also said, "[My daughter] did not physically assault (Phoebe). I know she knows better than that. I wouldn't accept that." What hope is there for a bully who’s mother will accept that it is ok to verbally abuse, so long as it doesn’t go any further?
In Phoebe and Carly’s darkest hours, no adult was there to protect them. No parent, no teacher, no guardian who knew or comprehended what these girls had been doing and going through.
Children need their parents to stand up for them and to be close enough to them to know what is going on in their lives. If parents would only do this, school bullies and online stalkers might have significantly reduced chances of success.
© Eva Whiteley 2010