On Monday, September 10, 2013, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, climbed up a former Cemex cement silo in Lakeland, Florida, and jumped off. Rebecca was 12 years old and attending middle school (Months of taunts preceded suicide of Rebecca Ann Sedgwick). Her death ended over a year of being terrorized physically and on social media by about 15 girls (Bullied 12-year-old Florida girl commits suicide).
From what police have gathered so far, the bullying started at her previous middle school where she was physically confronted and at one point pushed. Rebecca’s mother then switched her school and the bullying went on line.
Rebecca at first seemed to handle the situation well (Weekends with Alex Witt, 9/15/2013, 15 minutes into second hour). According to Robin Sax, a legal expert who comments on cyberbullying and sex-related crimes (Robin Sax), Rebecca’s mother took very necessary and correct steps. She removed Rebecca from the offending school and tried to monitor her access to the social media sites on which the bullies were attacking. Rebecca, herself, stood up to the bullies by responding to their demands that she kill herself that she was going to live.
As brave and steadfast as Rebecca was, she was in a very trying situation. Aside from the bullying, she was also dealing with the very sensitive issues that beset 12 year old girls. As a girl approaches puberty, the changes in her body shift the girl’s focus to sexuality. According to Anita Gurian, a psychologist at NYU, many pubescent girls become self-conscious of the changes and their self-esteem drops as they measure themselves physically against idealistic images (Girls and Self-Esteem). This probably made it more of a challenge for Rebecca to deflect the attacks.
Rebecca was outnumbered, constantly attacked publicly and struggling with her own self-image. She probably couldn’t have been more vulnerable.
At this point, Florida police are in the process of considering pressing charges against the 15 girls (At least 15 girls were part of 12-year-old's social media circle). While the parents of the girls have cooperated with the investigation and confiscated the girls’ cell phones and computers, they could be charged with cyberbullying, which in Florida is a felony offense (Florida's Anti-Bullying laws).
While the sequence of events is evident, many questions arise. The first of which is the obvious, how could this have been prevented. According to Robin Sax (Weekends with Alex Witt, 9/15/2013, 15 minutes into second hour), by Rebecca’s mother took away her access to social media, Rebecca was, in effect, the one being punished. This may have sent the wrong message. Rather, the bullies should have been prevented from accessing the media by their parents and had their devices confiscated when they started posting.
There are other measures that could have been taken to prevent the suicide. Obviously, officials in the school where the physical attacks occurred should have been more diligent in disciplining the offenders. By not intervening, it may have sent a message that physical attacks are OK because there are no consequences. The parents should have been involved here as well.
On the other hand, what would have prevented the bullies from continuing their attacks? Considering that there were over a dozen girls involved in the attacks conjures up images of mob rule. The large group of girls would reinforce each other’s behavior.
It is also important to emphasize role of the peer group, that some of these girls may have been forced by peer pressure to go along with the group (Bullying in early adolescence: the role of the peer group). While this hardly excuses their actions, it may explain what some of the motivation was as well as how to perhaps deal with it. As Robin Sax explains, it may take one of these being convicted of felony cyberbullying and spending time in custody to send a message to other would-be offenders. In fact, this may be the surefire way to prevent future bullying.
Consider these girls’ morality. With all the media exposure and school programs of anti-bullying, it is hard to consider that there are people who have not yet “gotten the message” that bullying is not OK. Yet, these girls continued to pursue their attacks for an extended period of time.
The ultimate solution, however, may rest with the psychology of the victim. Aside from removing exposure to the offending bullies, it is very important to strengthen their self-esteem.
Consider that a critical problem of bullying is the message that the victim is receiving from the bullying itself. There may the question of “why me?” or “what did I do to deserve this?” They may interpret the fact that they are being attacked as “I’m obviously no good” and “I obviously deserve this because I am no good”. In the face of this, bravado goes only so far.
A victim’s self-worth needs to be reinforced. A dose of reality may help, as in this case that the fact that this group needs 15 girls to face down one speaks to the nature of these girls’ character.
A circle of emotional and psychological support is needed to help strengthen the victims’ self-esteem. It is also important that there be counseling that centers on the victim feeling good about themselves, being their own best friend, and having unconditional love for themselves. Of course, this ought to be instilled in everyone, but more so to help the victim recover from the emotional wounds, or perhaps ideally, never get them in the first place.