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Doing enough to stop bullying?

September 18, 2013
Salem News

Among the most heart-wrenching, deeply troubling stories in the news last week was that of a 12-year-old Florida girl who committed suicide after being bullied for nearly a year.

Investigators are looking into whether charges can be filed against some of the 15 or so girls who ganged up on Rebecca Ann Sedwick, probably goading her into killing herself. Let's hope charges come. In spades. Cyber fingerprints are very traceable.

The victim's diary and computer are full of evidence of mind-numbing cruelty by the other girls. Some urged her to commit suicide. And it's not just Facebook. The final cyberbullying that tormented Rebecca - who felt she was overweight, according to reports - came not through Facebook, after her mother deactivated the account, but via social media messaging and photo apps available on smart phones. Computer search records revealed that she had been looking for ways to commit suicide on the net prior to her death. She chose jumping to her death from a tower at an abandoned cement factory. Could you even begin to imagine the frame of mind - the bad mental way - that she must have been in to scale a tower and then jump? What were her final thoughts? Think of the agony her family is going through after burying her on Monday.

In December, Rebecca was hospitalized for three days after cutting her wrists. At the time, she said she did so because of bullying. So pervasive was the harassment at her middle school that finally her mother withdrew her and began home-schooling the girl. Despite her leaving school, the relentless bullies did not stop.

The enormous amount of bullying the poor girl suffered - and the sometimes public manner in which it was delivered - poses a question: How was it that no one did anything effective to stop the harassment? Most school systems have anti-bullying programs and policies. Almost undoubtedly, so did the district in which Rebecca attended school.

We ran a letter to the editor this past Sunday from a 2013 Salem High graduate. It was poignant and a real heart-tugger. Read it. If you aren't touched, frankly, something is wrong. The young letter writer, Heather McClaskey, has Asperger's Syndrome. It is a form of autism.

Heather approached our newsroom last spring. She wants to write. We are working with her and offering encouragement. Once you peel back the layers of timidness and awkwardness, you are presented with an engaging and likeable young person. We are happy to have made her acquaintance. We want to help her cultivate self-confidence and not flinch when it comes to looking someone squarely in the eye.

In the letter to the editor she relates the trials and tribulations she confronted during her time coming up through the Salem Schools. Her peers - not all, but some which sadly is way more than enough - brutalized her. Absolute bullying. She admits to having considered suicide. It was heartening for Heather to stress that the Salem teachers, counselors and administrators were always good to her. That is how it should be in any school district. Hers isn't an isolated incident. And anybody believing otherwise is either incredibly naive, blind, deaf or just plain ignorant of what goes on within the daily lives of our young. The evolution of social networking has provided a platform for bullying unlike anything ever seen by past generations. It can be a tool for criminals. Which are what bullies are.

Our area hasn't seen an extreme grave consequence of bullying such as that of Rebecca Ann Sedwick. That precious little girl is dead, a victim of vicious bullies who had to have known the danger in what they were doing.

Again, how could it have happened? Administrators and teachers in local school districts should think about that, and about whether anti-bullying programs in this area really are effective. Vigilance is paramount. We don't want a dead child to be our wake-up call that we aren't doing enough.



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