The fierce response of a Massachusetts district attorney to the suicide of a teen bullying victim — the prosecutor brought charges today against nine teenagers — reflects the increasing concern over school bullying, concerns that have grown as intimidation and taunting have gone viral over the Internet.
Pursued with unusual cruelty by a group of students at her new high school, Phoebe Prince, 15, hanged herself in January. She had enrolled at the school in the fall after moving to the United States from Ireland, which may contributed to her victimization at South Hadley High School.
According to the AJC story:
Phoebe, ostracized for having a brief relationship with a popular boy, reached her breaking point and hanged herself after one particularly hellish day in January — a day that, according to officials, included being hounded with slurs and pelted with a beverage container as she walked home from school.
Now, nine teenagers face charges in what a prosecutor called “unrelenting” bullying, including two teen boys charged with statutory rape and a clique of girls charged with stalking, criminal harassment and violating Phoebe’s civil rights.
Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, who announced the charges Monday, said the events before Phoebe’s death on Jan. 14 were “the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm” widely known among the student body.
School officials won’t be charged, even though authorities say they knew about the bullying and that Phoebe’s mother brought her concerns to at least two of them.
For those of you who work in schools, why would administrators and teachers let this persecution go unchecked?
Research shows that bullying occurs in all schools, private and public, and that it is often unseen by adults. In an earlier blog on bullying, I cited a 2005 U.S. Department of Education report that found 14 percent of students ages 12 through 18 said they had been bullied in the past six months.
In the early grades, bullies direct their attacks at almost anyone. As they get older, they target certain kids. Bullies go after younger and smaller kids, but victims also are chosen because they are more anxious, sensitive, cautious and quiet.
Bullying is often a spectator sport, with 85 percent of incidents involving other kids who watch the torment without stopping it. On the day of her suicide, Phoebe was abused her in the school library, the lunchroom and the hallways, according to the charges. Classmates threw a canned drink at her as she walked home, where her sister found her hanging from a stairwell at 4:30 p.m.
While Phoebe’s bullies used texting and social networking sites to harass her, the prosecutor said most of the bullying occurred on school grounds during school hours.
In the next few days, we will likely see the families of the nine teens charged defend their children, who are already being depicted as monsters.
What is happening that such cruelty could be tolerated? Why didn’t other students speak out? Why didn’t the adults step in?