Rebecca Ann Sedwick was only 12 years old. But she hurled herself off of the top of an abandoned building last week in Florida in order to free herself from the daily torment of her peers.
The bullies’ weapons? Words. But their cruelty towards Rebecca didn’t happen on the playground, in the lunchroom, or next to the school lockers. It happened on social media, in particular through an app called Ask.fm. The app allows users to send anonymous comments to others over the Internet, making it a place where bullies flourish.
According to the local sheriff investigating her death, Rebecca was “terrorized” by bullies using social media. She received messages, apparently from a group of about 15 other middle schoolers, that repeatedly told her she was ugly and wished she would die. Months earlier, Rebecca’s mother had learned of the bullying, changed her daughter’s school, and shut down Rebecca’s social media accounts. But after a successful start at a new school, Rebecca got her phone back and the torment began again. (Social media knows no geographic limitation.) This time, she didn’t tell her mom. And the consequences were fatal.
The death of any child is always a tragedy - it’s a life cut short, with dreams unlived, and a future never realized. And when a child commits suicide, the tragedy is compounded. Her death speaks of despair, of cries unheard and wounds unhealed. When a child’s suicide occurs because other children goaded her into it, however, it’s more than a tragedy.
It’s an outrage.
So what are we going to do about it?
How to Save Your Family: Be Your Child’s Guard and Guide
Authorities in Florida are investigating Rebecca’s death, under Florida anti-bullying provisions. But the law provides for schools to enforce the anti-bullying codes and specifies no remedy. In Rebecca’s case, police may look to laws against harassment and stalking in general.