Bullied to the point of Suicide

Here is what happened to Phoebe Prince, a girl from Ireland who moved to a school in Western Mass, USA.
“Nine Massachusetts teens were indicted Monday for driving a pretty 15-year-old “new girl” from Ireland to suicide in a case that has become a symbol of high school bullying.
The sweeping charges – which come after months of complaints that the bullies weren’t being punished – include statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, criminal harassment and stalking.
Phoebe Prince, a new arrival at South Hadley High School from a tiny seaside hamlet in County Clare, was mercilessly tormented by a cadre of classmates later dubbed the “Mean Girls” by Massachusetts newspapers.
“The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school,” District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said.
“The bullying, for her, became intolerable.”
Students said Phoebe was called “Irish slut” and “whore” on Twitter, Craigslist, Facebook and Formspring.
Her books were routinely knocked out of her hands, items were flung at her, her face was scribbled out of photographs on the school walls, and threatening text messages were sent to her cell phone.
Scheibel said she had drawn the ire of the “Mean Girls” by briefly dating a popular senior football player in her first freshman weeks at the school. One student later said it felt like the whole school ganged up on her.
On Jan. 14, Phoebe was harassed and threatened in the school library and in a hallway, Scheibel said. As she walked home, one of the “Mean Girls” drove by and threw a can of Red Bull at her.
Phoebe walked into her house and hung herself in a stairwell.
The nastiness didn’t even end there. Her tormentors posted vicious comments on the dead girl’s Facebook memorial page.”
There are some interesting things to note about these bullies, and bullies in general.  First of all, guilt seems to be missing.  If they felt guilty they would not have posted the vicious comments after she was dead.  And: “they told State Police detectives they did nothing wrong, had nothing to do with Phoebe killing herself.
And then they went right back to school and started badmouthing Phoebe.
They had a dance, a cotillion, at the Log Cabin in Holyoke two days after Phoebe’s sister found her in the closet, and some who were there say one of the Mean Girls bragged about how she played dumb with the detectives who questioned her.”
People Magazine interviewed some classmates of Phoebe, and found some more details.  Phoebe had a brief relationship with football captain Sean Mulveyhill, who did not mention he had a girlfriend.  Phoebe apologized to the girlfriend when she found out.   This happened again, with senior Austin Renaud, and she apologized to another girlfriend.
All this could not have endeared Phoebe to those girls and their friends.
In fact she was warned to stay away from “people’s men”.
Now here is an interesting sentence from People – most of the eyewitnesses who consented to be interviewed “asked not to be identified for fear of persecution by classmates”!
This is pretty odd – our brave, freedom loving, young men and women are really shaking in their boots in their schools.
One theory about bullies, that they have low self-esteem has been found to be false.  The low self-esteem theory has been used to explain terrorism, youth gangs, and domestic violence.  But in his book “Evil”, Roy Baumeister argues that this is not the case, and compares various groups, some with low self-esteem and some with high self-esteem to show that often its the groups with the high self-esteem that cause problems.  Think of the “master race” self-theory of the Nazis.  Roy even mentions an interesting trait of manic-depressives, people who cycle between manic phases and depressive phases.  When they are depressed they feel hopeless, helpless, and worthless.  When they are manic, they feel euphoric and have high self-esteem.  And “which phase is associated with violent, aggressive actions and hostility toward others? Mainly the manic state.”  Everyday experience and large masses of statistics show that low self-esteem does not cause violence.
The bullies in South Hadley don’t act as if they have low self-esteem.
There are mentions on the internet that some bullies become criminals later in life.  But I have read of bullies that turned out to be good adults as well.
One question about the South Hadley school is why the good kids did not comfort Phoebe and stand up for her.  They held a candlelight vigil for her after she was dead, but why not protect her when she was alive?  I think that the reason is that a school can be a bit like a jungle – everyone doesn’t want to be marked as different, because if you are different, you attract the bullies to you.
From another newspaper:
“The name-calling, the stalking, the intimidation was relentless.”
One has to think that the bullies wanted an emotional reaction from their victim (see ‘power’ category of this blog).
IF YOU’VE GOTTEN THIS FAR, I NOW HAVE TO TELL YOU THE ABOVE MAY BE NOT CORRECT!  7 years after publishing this post, I read a book by Emily Bazelon who actually talked to the students involved.  She wrote an article about it at slate.com titled What Really Happened to Phoebe Prince.  She says that Phoebe had depression, that she was given to the practice of “cutting” (slicing your arms to improve how you feel), and on top of that, there wasn’t the three month period of bullying that was reported, there was a much shorter period.  I was taken aback that the version I have here was up for 7 years, and possibly was mis-information.  You can see Emily’s article here.
Christine Williams, the Producer and Host of the Canadian National Talk show On the Line on CTS TV, and a regular National Columnist with Metro News, resisted bullies violently when she grew up.  This is what she says about bullies:
“When confronted with a bully, there’s a realistic fear of getting your keister kicked.  Bullies want power and they get it by forcibly conquering their victims especially when they cower. Victims become trophies, usually in front of spectators.  Bullies choose victims they deem to be weaker or unpopular for whatever reason. In my case, I was the ideal choice:  a tiny, visible minority girl in the late 60’s-early 70’s. It’s the amoral, survival of the fittest strategy: me being down meant they were up.  When victims do nothing, they invite other bullies to join in.  Eventually, their self-esteem and dignity get flushed and they become subservient, grovellers in the eyes of their peers. This was against my notion of what dignity meant, even from a young age.  I knew there was a risk in fighting back.  You could lose big time, but I was driven to send a clear message to bullies that I wasn’t an easy target.”
“Much of this was an unconscious process, but consistent with my mom’s value of human dignity. Deep down I was determined to not passively fall under the will of another human being. I’m not advocating violence here, but bullies need to be challenged. That could mean going to authorities.  In an alleyway confrontation, that’s another story: you either run, fight or take a beating.  I fought back and mostly won because of how my dad trained me.  The bullies eventually backed off and I ‘earned’ friends, even as the original unpopular visible minority.”
There are books on bullying, and there are organizations against bullying, and if you are interested in the topic, its worth looking at their research.  Some bullies do have excuses, and some bullies do change.  There even are some genetic traits that are often present in some bullies.  However, the bullies at South Hadley do not fit parts of the profile below in the article “What Causes Bullies?” by Jane St. Clair:
“Psychologists used to believe that bullies have low self-esteem, and put down other people to feel better about themselves. While many bullies are themselves bullied at home or at school, new research shows that most bullies actually have excellent self-esteem. Bullies usually have a sense of entitlement and superiority over others, and lack compassion, impulse control and social skills. They enjoy being cruel to others and sometimes use bullying as an anger management tool, the way a normally angry person would punch a pillow.
“All bullies have certain attitudes and behaviors in common. Bullies dominate, blame and use others. They have contempt for the weak and view them as their prey. They lack empathy and foresight, and do not accept responsibility for their actions. They are concerned only about themselves and crave attention.”
One point we should keep in mind is that school bullies grow up, and merge into the general population, and they don’t always lose their nasty character traits.

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