While the internet is being blamed for the surge in teenage bullying, name-calling and cold-shouldering have always been used as weapons against vulnerable teenagers.
Earlier this year, the father of tragic teenager Phoebe Prince said bullying was now an epidemic, causing suicide, and leading kids to indulge in drink and drugs. He spoke at the launch of the National Anti-Bullying Coalition’s Safe Schools programme.
Phoebe moved from Co Clare to the US with her family in 2009. A year later, on Jan 14, the 15-year-old hanged herself at home, following a campaign of bullying by schoolmates. The five teenagers accused of what was described in court as a “three-month campaign of bullying” were sentenced last year. Three of them received probation and community service sentences, while two others got probation.
The juvenile court in Massachusetts sentenced Ashley Longe, described by lawyers as the main “tormentor”, to probation until her 19th birthday, this year, and 100 hours of community service. Two other teens, including Sharon Velasquez, 17, (to be held on probation until her 18th birthday), were also sentenced, in May 2011, on charges of criminal harassment, for approaching Prince in the school twice in one day, using ‘disparaging remarks’ on at least one occasion. The other teen, 18-year-old Flannery Mullins, was sentenced to probation, until her 19th birthday, for a “civil rights violation” — without bodily injury — and with “disturbing a school assembly”.
Two other students, the 18-year-olds, Sean Mulveyhill and Kayla Narey, were sentenced on harassment charges to a year of probation and 100 hours of community service. Prince and Mulveyhill had a brief relationship that came to the attention of Narey, Mulveyhill’s girlfriend, and the couple and their friends bullied Prince as a result. While the majority of the bullying described in court referred to jostling, name-calling and face-to-face intimidation, there were instances of Phoebe being bullied online.
Narey apologised, in a statement, saying: “Phoebe … I’m sorry ... for the unkind words I said about you. I’m sorry for what I wrote on my Facebook page. Most of all I’m sorry for Jan. 14, in the library and in the hallway, when I laughed when someone was shouting humiliating things about you.”
An angry mother of a student at Phoebe’s school later spoke about the bullying of Phoebe. The mother remained anonymous to protect her daughter. She said the day Phoebe died one of the bullies wrote “accomplished” on Phoebe’s Facebook page.
The debate over school responsibility rages in the US. The superintendent at Phoebe’s school said the staff only became aware of the bullying one week before Phoebe’s death.
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* LETS TALK BULLYING: Buy the Irish Examiner booklet
* Anti-bullying centre in Trinity Colege Dublin
* The Department of Justice's Office for Internet Safety
* Webwise: Online collection of internet safety resources
* Cybertraining: Academic research on cyberbullying
* Internet Safety for Schools by UCC forensic psychologist, Dr Maureen Griffin
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