Shauna Sisk, 18, from Cobh, Co Cork, who sought help to confront the bullies, said she was going public about her experience to offer hope to others. “Talking to somebody about it was the best thing I did,” she said.
“My advice to others suffering from cyberbullying is don’t hide away. Don’t bury it. It’s not worth the pain. We have to stand up to and stop the bullies. People, especially young girls, are taking their lives because of this.”
Last October, Erin Gallagher, 15, from Co Donegal, took her own life after suffering at the hands of online bullies. Her sister, Shannon, took her own life a few weeks later.
Ciara Pugsley, 15, from Co Leitrim, took her life in September after a barrage of sickening messages on the controversial website Ask.fm.
And the unidentified girl in the images of a sex act at Slane which went viral on social media last week received medical attention amid concerns for her mental health.
Shauna said she is lucky that she is strong and confident enough now to tackle the bullies, but added: “We need more help and support for people, especially young teenage girls, suffering this kind of bullying.”
Shauna first suffered at the hands of bullies when she was 12. She was subjected to sustained physical and verbal abuse by a gang of about 10 people — eight girls and two boys — throughout her first year in secondary school and had to change school. “I never told anyone about the problem for 12 months,” she said. “I would cry in my room all day and started self-harming.”
She was bullied for a time in her new school, but when the principal responded immediately, it stopped.
Shauna said the online bullying began as she vied with other local girls for the title of Cobh Regatta Queen earlier this month.
Three girls were behind the abuse on Twitter and Facebook. They called her ‘a slag’ and said nobody liked her. One tweet hinted they would bring a weapon to the regatta to harm her. After she was crowned regatta queen, they tried to diminish her achievement by tweeting “it’s not Miss Universe”. Their hateful messages were retweeted dozens of times. “I was upset and traumatised,” Shauna said.
“I should have been on a high after winning but I was really upset at the comments. I knew those involved. Cobh is a small town. But I wasn’t going to let them win this time.”
She confided in her mum, Catherine, and her sister, Sarah. Catherine approached the mother of one of the bullies and the girl apologised. Meanwhile, Sarah posted a ‘stop cyberbullying’ poster on a discussion forum and Shauna was inundated with support. The bullying stopped soon afterwards. Sarah said she was heartbroken that her sister had to suffer such an ordeal. “I would urge people who are involved in cyberbullying to stop and think about what they’re doing, and the effect it has on the person,” she said.