Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide largely because of online bullying, authorities in Florida say. The sheriff wants to bring charges against the bullies' parents.
In the wake of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick’s suicide last month – in which authorities have alleged that relentless bullying, much of it online, played a significant role – the question of how to prevent cyberbullying attacks is reemerging.
On Monday night in Florida, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd arrested two of the girls, a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old, who he says were the worst offenders. And he has said that, if he can, he’d like to bring charges against some of the parents as well – though that may not be possible under current law.
The case is raising questions of culpability and responsibility in bullying. To what extent can bullies be held responsible for a suicide in which it certainly seems to have played a role? And who holds responsibility besides the bullies themselves? Their parents? School administrators? Peers who knew it was occurring but didn’t stop it?
“The laws are there, we just need to have a culture that tells us this is what’s right to do,” says Debbie Johnston, national legislative liaison for Bully Police USA, a group that works to get antibullying laws in place, and a Florida parent whose son committed suicide after relentless bullying eight years ago. “The problem is not the kids reporting, the problem is usually the adults who do not listen and follow up.”
In Rebecca’s case, Sheriff Judd has described the bullying as relentless and said Rebecca was “absolutely terrorized on social media.” She received messages, many of them through messaging applications like ask.fm and Kik, telling her to “drink bleach and die” and “go kill yourself,” and asking “wait a minute, why are you still alive?” The harassment continued despite Rebecca switching schools and interventions from her parents that included taking away her cellphone until they believed the problem had stopped and getting her counseling. On Sept. 9, Rebecca jumped to her death at an abandoned cement plant.
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