Sadly, the story of Rebecca Ann Sedwick is reminiscent of other stories of teen cyberbullying; police are currently investigating what role it may have played in her death.
Last Monday, 12 year old Rebecca jumped to her death from the tower of an abandoned business near her home in Lakeland, Florida. She’d struggled for months after being bullied excessively by former classmates. She’d been hospitalized for mental health issues, had been home schooled and transferred to a new school district, but the bullying followed her.
The Huffington Post reported yesterday that up to 15 girls were involved in the bullying of Rebecca, sending her online messages like “You should die” and “Why don’t you go kill yourself.”
Sadly, the harassment started long before Monday and lasted at least a year. Last year at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland, Rebecca and a former friend apparently fought physically over a ‘boyfriend issue.’ Rebecca was suspended, but the bullying continued after she returned.
In December of 2012 Rebecca was hospitalized for a suicide attempt when she cut her wrists. Rebecca’s mother said she had to Baker Act her daughter after finding cuts on her arms and legs that were self inflicted.
When she complained about being pushed in the hallway, her mother decided it was time to act and home schooled her daughter for a period. Rebecca was then enrolled in a new middle school; her mother stated that she appeared to love it there.
She told the Lakeland Ledger, “She put on a perfect, happy face, she never told me. I never had a clue. I mean, she told me last year when she was being bullied but not this year and I have no idea why.”
When police searched Rebecca’s social media and text messages they found an abundance of hateful bullying.
In Sheriff Judd’s view, the school and Rebecca’s mom did all they could do to help Rebecca.
He told the Jacksonville Observer, “At this point, it seems that middle-school drama led to the girl’s death — not a lack of oversight. Girls can get pretty catty as kids,” Judd said. “The system cannot manage all that cattiness. I truly believe the school system tried but we don’t live in a perfect world.”
Rebecca’s 19 year old sister, Summer Howard, described their relationship as ‘close,’ but even she was not aware that the bullying had continued online.
Yet Rebecca was bombarded with messages through Kik Messenger, Instagram and Ask.fm, an anonymous messaging site; one can only imagine that Rebecca’s family may never have heard of the very social channels that Rebecca’s attackers were using to tear her world apart.
In the years before social media, Rebecca’s mother’s decision to move her daughter to a new school district would have made it possible for Rebecca to make a fresh start; social media has made it impossible for the victim to escape.
Determined bullies can follow their victim anywhere.
What Happens to the Bullies?
If you haven’t experienced the loss of a loved one by their own hands, I don’t think you can understand the heartbreak Rebecca’s family and friends are feeling now, and will continue to feel for the rest of their lives.
A 12 year old was made to feel so worthless and hopeless that she took her own life; the sadness is indescribable. What I find almost as impossible to fathom is how the parents of the alleged bullies must feel.
Police report that the families of the accused have been cooperative, turning over cell phones and laptops.
Sheriff Judd told the Lakeland Ledger that there is ample evidence that Rebecca had been “absolutely terrorized on social media.” He continued, “If we can get any evidence of a criminal offence, the person or persons involved will be punished.”
Florida does have anti-bullying laws that cover cyber bullying and cyber stalking, and it appears that Sheriff Judge is ready to bring charges. Originally the number of bullies was being reported as as high as 15, but Sheriff Judd has indicated that the actual number of bullies may be much lower.
What Can a Parent Do?
The story of Rebecca Ann Sedwick is even more poignant because her mother tried to put a stop to her daughter’s misery. There is every indication that not only did Rebecca’s mother act quickly to change the dynamics in her daughter’s life, but she believed she had been successful.
Yet Rebecca kept the continued bullying, the hateful texts and messages, to herself. There were some clues online that things were not right; she told a 12 year old boy that she was going to jump, that she couldn’t take it anymore, but it is likely that he didn’t take her seriously, and that her mother wasn’t even aware of her friendship with the boy.
Just before her suicide, Rebecca changed her name to That Dead Girl on Kik Messenger. I’m a heavy social media user and I don’t go on Kik Messenger; it is likely that Rebecca’s mom has never heard of it.
Rebecca’s family told the local WTSP TV station that they had tried everything they could to stop the bullying, including shutting down the teen’s Facebook account.
What can parents do to have oversight of their child’s online activities while not invading their privacy? The question of teen privacy is a very personal one that every family must make on their own, but social media has made the question almost unanswerable.
There are so many platforms and applications, it is nearly impossible for a parent who isn’t tech-savvy to even know where to start.
Parents can start by visiting The National Academies Net Safe Kids and exploring open monitoring systems that allow them to track their child’s online activities openly.
Nothing will bring back victims of cyber bullying, but perhaps we can raise awareness of how a parent can try to keep up with what is happening to their child online.
VP of Content & Strategy at ArCompany. She has an extensive background in Sales, and focuses on generational marketing and content. With Hessie Jones she founded ArCompany’s Millnnnial, GenX and Boomer Think Tanks and writes and speaks on those topics from an insights/strategy perspective.