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Charged with harassing a classmate to death.
March 30, 2010 2:12 PM   Subscribe

9 Teenagers Charged After Classmate's Suicide. In April 2009, an 11 year old in Springfield, MA killed himself after enduring relentless anti-gay bullying. In January of this year, Phoebe Prince--a recent immigrant from rural Ireland to South Hadley, MA--killed herself after months of harassment from her high school classmates. And now, 10 days after the Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed an anti-bullying bill, 9 teenagers have been charged in Prince's death.
posted by availablelight (181 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I wouldn't wish going to high school on anybody. Kids are fucking VICIOUS to each other and there's nobody to protect you.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:15 PM on March 30, 2010 [25 favorites]


Glad to see the tide turning a bit in just one year.
posted by hermitosis at 2:17 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Massachusetts law is irrelevant. The alleged hazing took place before the law was passed, so the law doesn't apply to it. (Ex Post Facot, you know.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:18 PM on March 30, 2010


Unambiguously awesome (the charges, not the bullying, of course). When kids are taught there are no consequences or even shame for the mistreatment of their fellow human being, they become the kind of (voting) adult this country needs a lot less of.

I'm heartened to see some sign of changing the culture of violence, shame, and intimidation in our schools besides "zero tolerance policies" (that target the unpopular or different for the crime of not fitting in better).
posted by hincandenza at 2:18 PM on March 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


.
posted by Fraxas at 2:18 PM on March 30, 2010


How completely awful.

I would like to point out that statutory rape, which at least one of the teenagers was charged with, goes well beyond even a liberal definition of bullying, I think.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:18 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


The Massachusetts law is irrelevant. The alleged hazing took place before the law was passed, so the law doesn't apply to it. (Ex Post Facot, you know.)

That's correct. The write up is not meant to imply that the charges were filed as a result of the new law. However, they were filed on the heels of a massive show of support for taking a hard line towards bullying.
posted by availablelight at 2:22 PM on March 30, 2010


Welcome to Massachusetts' latest moral panic. Bullying is unacceptable, but I doubt any kid's life is going to get much better because of this; maybe for a couple weeks, as the sadists who actually got in trouble are fresh in everyone's minds.

But kids have short memories. Especially the mean ones. And eventually this vague law is either going to be used for the sorts of institutional fascism that school administrators love, or make work for defense attorneys who want to pick it apart like a leftover turkey.

Then something else unsavory will have three or four examples in the news in a short spate and the public will stop carrying about bullies while insisting something be done about the latest threat.
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:25 PM on March 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Ok, perhaps I'm just a little too old to understand, but how does one get bullied online?

I mean, if the denizens of metafilter decided I was too conservative for their tastes and started sending me nasty mail messages, I'd simply not come to metafilter anymore.
Same would seem to hold true for Facebook, etc.
posted by madajb at 2:25 PM on March 30, 2010


It was particularly alarming, the district attorney said, that some teachers, administrators and other staff members at the school were aware of the harassment but did not stop it. “The actions or inactions of some adults at the school were troublesome,” Ms. Scheibel said, but did not violate any laws.

Troublesome?!

We have good samaritan laws that require complete strangers to intervene. If the students were arrested for "bodily injury, harassment, stalking," then some of those teachers ought to be doing time as well.
posted by PlusDistance at 2:25 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


When kids are taught there are no consequences or even shame for the mistreatment of their fellow human being, they become the kind of (voting) adult this country needs a lot less of.

This.

I hope they prosecute the fuck out of those kids. And I hope those kids - and their parents - are so fucking ashamed of themselves.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:27 PM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


madajb, you could leave metafilter, but you're also not forced to come spend most of your day in a building with us either.
posted by davey_darling at 2:28 PM on March 30, 2010 [25 favorites]



I mean, if the denizens of metafilter decided I was too conservative for their tastes and started sending me nasty mail messages, I'd simply not come to metafilter anymore.
Same would seem to hold true for Facebook, etc.


I think most kids would argue that sites like Facebook and Twitter are so inextricably bound up to high school socialization now that it would be social death (a fate worse than bullying?) to completely disconnect.
posted by availablelight at 2:28 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would like to point out that statutory rape, which at least one of the teenagers was charged with, goes well beyond even a liberal definition of bullying, I think.

I'm thinking that was possibly consensual sex between teens with the no-no being that the two guys were over 16. I could be wrong and that makes me terribly sad for the victim.

I hope schools take bullying seriously. Teaching kids to be decent human beings and get along well with everyone and having manners seems like it should be a part of basic education.
posted by anniecat at 2:29 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, perhaps I'm just a little too old to understand, but how does one get bullied online?

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace....everything that helps these kids create content.

What if you googled your own name, or an employer/college googled your name and found all kinds of distasteful comments about you? Pretty awful when you're a kid or adult.
posted by anniecat at 2:31 PM on March 30, 2010


madajb, you could leave metafilter, but you're also not forced to come spend most of your day in a building with us either.

*phones reality-show producer friend*

...

*realizes he doesn't have one, sighs in relief*
posted by joe lisboa at 2:32 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Awful, awful thing about the suicides. Without thinking much about it yet, I like that law.

BUT

You cannot assume that a bully has bad parents.
posted by rahnefan at 2:32 PM on March 30, 2010


madajb, you could leave metafilter, but you're also not forced to come spend most of your day in a building with us either.

Totally true, that's why I wonder if this focus on "cyber-bullying"[1] isn't just the latest in a long line of parent-teacher panics, wasting resources they should really spend on actual interactions.

[1] Didn't appending "cyber" on to everything go out about 15 years ago?
posted by madajb at 2:34 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


iBully, madajb?
posted by rahnefan at 2:36 PM on March 30, 2010


We have good samaritan laws that require complete strangers to intervene.

I don't know anything about the requirements placed by law on, for example, teachers in Massachusetts, but to clear this up: Good Samaritan laws do not require complete strangers to intervene. They shield from liability complete strangers who do intervene, so that people don't refrain from, say, trying to help an injured person for fear that they'll be sued later for not correctly handling a broken limb. They encourage intervention, but do not mandate it - never mind that said intervention generally refers to aiding someone in immediate physical harm, not ongoing psychological harassment.

I am nobody's lawyer.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:41 PM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


I missed a few words: They usually don't mandate involvement, though in some states they do. Massachusetts is not one of those states, as far as I can tell.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:42 PM on March 30, 2010


You cannot assume that a bully has bad parents.

I read a book a couple of years ago, and am constantly annoyed that I can't remember its name because it has stayed with me but I don't remember it well enough to go into its arguments in detail. In general, though, it argued that the social structure of schools push kids into the roles of bully and victim (and other roles as well) that they might not enter otherwise. I hope I can find it again because I'll be able to talk more meaningfully about it.

(I was just thinking about it this week, watching my oldest son and his best friend--my oldest son can be inflexible and very persistent, and his best friend is unusually passive and afraid of conflict and raised voices. Even though they're both really decent, good kids, one effect of this is that when they play video games together, like Baldur's Gate, my son talks his friend out of every good piece of equipment his friend ever gets. It doesn't quite rise to bully/victim but it's definitely one of those friendships that has "the bossy one" and "the one that goes along," and it would be easy for it to get even more out of balance in certain circumstances. We parents are of course working on the problem.)

Also, I remember when that poor kid in Springfield killed himself and his parents were talking about suing the school. I wondered why the hell they kept sending him to school if they knew it was that bad. Yeah, the school has a responsibility to make things better if it can. But if that's not happening, how bad does it have to get before parents will stop putting their kids through this kind of thing?
posted by not that girl at 2:49 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just keep wondering how those charged feel? Are they full of crocodile tears? Do they, even now, realize what they have just accomplished?

I honestly can't comprehend being so spiteful that you would mercilessly drive someone to commit suicide.

And the teachers and staff should all be fired, no pensions no hearings, just take your crap and leave.
posted by Max Power at 2:54 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


The prosecutor brought charges Monday against nine teenagers, saying their taunting and physical threats were beyond the pale and led the freshman, Phoebe Prince, to hang herself from a stairwell in January.

Unfortunate choice of words there, considering the girl's country of origin.

Just saying...
posted by echolalia67 at 2:59 PM on March 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


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.
Wow. Just. Wow.
posted by disillusioned at 3:11 PM on March 30, 2010 [11 favorites]


I would like to point out that statutory rape, which at least one of the teenagers was charged with, goes well beyond even a liberal definition of bullying, I think.

I'm not sure I understand your comment 100%, but it seems to me that they had consensual sex that she was then hideously teased for (called an "Irish slut", which they mention in the article).

If he'd raped her he would be charged with rape (unless she didn't want to press charges for some reason ie more bullying, in which case I support drumming up whatever charges you can).

I do have issues with statutory rape charges against people less than 5 years or so older than their "victims" if the sex is consensual.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:12 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


madajb: I suspect it took the form of constant harassing text messages and facebook messages. Probably veiled and actual threats coupled with standard slut shaming.

In our day, we could get bullied, but it would more or less stop once we got home. Thanks to modern technology, your bullying experience never need end - especially if you're not especially tech savy.

Man, kids these days. They don't know how easy we had it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:13 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also... obviously, if the guy who she had (assuming consensual) sex with was one of the tormentors, I support charging him as well... but if he's just some guy she fucked (that was 16 when she was 15) that she then got teased for and that came out in the "why were you teasing her?" part of the suicide investigation... well that seems like a pretty shitty situation to get charged up in the same batch as her tormentors. No way to tell from this article, too little information.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:15 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


(note - for what its worth, the NYT article makes it clear that most of the bullying was RL bullying on the school grounds)
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:18 PM on March 30, 2010


“My daughter was bullied for three years, and we continually went to the administration and we really got no satisfaction,” Mr. Brouillard said, adding, “I was offered an apology a few weeks ago that they should have handled it differently.”

Yeah, that. I was stalked by a classmate when I was a sophomore in high school (in Massachusetts). Constant calls to my house, constant bullshit in classes, threats, notes, attempts to get everyone else in league. Parents went to the school, I went to the guidance counselor, my folks were told "Well, Fairytale just has to learn to bloom where she's planted."

It eventually escalated to other members of my class, and to my stalker making threats and plans to kill another girl. Nothing was done by the administration; she graduated with the all the rest of us like nothing had ever happened. After which, to most of my friends' shock, she was eventually briefly institutionalized by her parents and, at some point, semi-successfully reintegrated into society.

I'm still glad I live on the other coast.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:19 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


(Bonus, which I should've thought of: at one point, my mother casually mentioned that the usual tactic in these cases was expulsion... for both parties involved, victim and target.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:21 PM on March 30, 2010


I've been following this case on Boston.com and was thinking of making a post about it myself. From a legal standpoint, it's an interesting case and I'm impressed that the DA decided to prosecute. Although the bullies didn't directly kill Phoebe, they contributed to her death and broke several laws (stalking, harassment, etc...) in the process. I wonder if the obvious lack of any remorse also motivated the DA to throw everything she could at them. I do think there is justice in the fact that the Phoebe's tormentors won't be able to to carry on as if nothing ever happened. This whole story just makes me sad and angry.
posted by emd3737 at 3:26 PM on March 30, 2010


Her tormentors posted vicious comments on the dead girl's Facebook memorial page.

It's kind of hard not to want to see these kids publicly stoned or something. What the actual fuck.
posted by elizardbits at 3:27 PM on March 30, 2010 [13 favorites]


Are legal consequences really a deterrent to kids? Especially for something with a fuzzy line like bullying?
posted by smackfu at 3:29 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Unambiguously awesome (the charges, not the bullying, of course).

Can we at least admit that it's at least ambiguously awesome that some kids are facing criminal charges? Sure, what these kids are accused of doing is horrible, and there should be consequences, but people getting involved in the criminal justice system at that age is always a tragedy, even when it's necessary.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:31 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


There is a near-total lack of will on the part of schools to effectively police or stop bullying; perhaps the passage of laws is necessary, so that the police will have to do what school administrations ardently refuse to.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:32 PM on March 30, 2010 [15 favorites]


Are legal consequences really a deterrent to kids?

I really want to believe that the majority of bullies wouldn't think that it would apply to them because they think the target of the bullying would never kill them self. The stuff about the bullying continuing on the memorial page is just disgusting though, and makes me doubt it. I can somewhat fathom a bully not realizing exactly how much psychological trauma they're causing their target... I find it hard to fathom facing irrefutable evidence of the trauma (your victim's suicide) and not feeling remorse.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:33 PM on March 30, 2010


It's kind of hard not to want to see these kids publicly stoned or something.

Let the Mefite who hath never flamed nor trolled nor cowardly snarked on a real human being cast the first stone.

(hangs head in genuine shame)
posted by rahnefan at 3:37 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


In the Prince case, two boys and four girls, ages 16 to 18, face a different mix of felony charges that include statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, stalking and disturbing a school assembly.
Oh GOD! DISTURBING A SCHOOL ASSEMBLY!?!!!
posted by delmoi at 3:39 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


Are legal consequences really a deterrent to kids?

Get a bunch of high schoolers together at a house with some beer and no adults. After two hours, send a cop car over and watch kids sprint in all directions like ants fleeing from a stomped-on anthill.

The deterrence of course depends on enforcement--whether the kid bullies feel they might get caught.
posted by sallybrown at 3:41 PM on March 30, 2010


Can we at least admit that it's at least ambiguously awesome that some kids are facing criminal charges?

In particular, it might be very un-awesome that those criminal charges appear to have been triggered not by the kids' behavior but by the victim's response. There must have been some missed opportunities here to teach a lesson like "if I harass my classmate, I might be kicked out of this school" or "if I assault my classmate, I might go to jail". I don't think the lesson of "if and only if I commit suicide, my bullies will get punished" is a good substitute.
posted by roystgnr at 3:43 PM on March 30, 2010 [25 favorites]


The facts are so dreadful here, and the cruelty so revolting, that I hesitate to point out that the case raises some serious first amendment issues. I.e., how much can the government punish, consistently with the free speech rights the first amendment enshrines, the hateful criticism these defendants posted on their various sites or texted to others?

I personally have no problem with statutory rape charges, regardless of the level of consent, if the age difference was great enough under Massachusetts law, or for that matter with harassment and stalking charges based on actual threats and other behavior occurring at and around the school. I would also be fine with some disciplinary action, at least, against the adults who knew what was happening (mostly at school) and apparently did nothing to shield this young woman.

Just want to point out, though, that it is dangerous to let the government punish anyone for the negative things they say and write about others . . . assuming that those statements or writings don't cross the line into unprotected speech such as true threats.
posted by bearwife at 3:45 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think most kids would argue that sites like Facebook and Twitter are so inextricably bound up to high school socialization now that it would be social death (a fate worse than bullying?) to completely disconnect.
Facebook and Twitter both have block features. Also, Twitter is a middle age phenomenon. Kids don't use it. because it's stupid.

Also, these bullies are all horrible people, but I don't think charging them with statutory rape for having consensual sex with someone three years younger then you just because the relationship goes bad. And was this guy even involved in the bullying? The article doesn't say. We don't have any idea who did what here.
posted by delmoi at 3:49 PM on March 30, 2010


I personally have no problem with statutory rape charges, regardless of the level of consent, if the age difference was great enough under Massachusetts law

Well, she was 15, and he was a senior. So he was probably 17 or 18. So a 2 to 3 year age difference. You honestly feel like people should go to jail over that? Many states have "Romeo and Juliet" laws that cover this kind of thing.
posted by delmoi at 3:51 PM on March 30, 2010


If anything can help the situation it is schools taking bullying more seriously, and taking real actions to prevent it, which is possible and can help. And this kind of thing might actually contribute to this: I imagine your costly civil suit against a school could have better footing if you can show they were actually ignoring the commission of a crime, and indeed a particularly negligent administration or teacher might face prosecution themselves eventually.
posted by nanojath at 3:51 PM on March 30, 2010


I thought MeFi was all free-speech fundamentalist, or is that only in other countries?
posted by pompomtom at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


It is the schools responsibility to have a safe environment for the children that go there.

If the (alleged) bullies were conducting most of their inappropriate behavior on school grounds and not being punished by the school, do we as a society place full responsibility of the children who were acting inappropriately?

While these (alleged) bullies lives may be destroyed (their families finances undoubtedly are, their names will remain in google, i assume), will the teachers and administrators of the school have any disciplinary actions against them at all?

Try this: if these perpetrators were adults (some are being tried as such) and school was a workplace, and the supervisors and executives of the company were aware of inappropriate behavior that was continuing against their employees, would the employer be liable? What if there was a pattern of harassment and intimidation in the workplace, and the employers did nothing to create a safe atmosphere?

There are vindictive, mean, taunting, vicious teenagers in every school. Should we imprison the assholes everywhere, or is it our responsibility to ensure that our mandated school environments are safe?

There are places where we hold parents legally and criminally accountable for the actions of their children. In school environments the school is acting in place of the parents; it seems logically consistent that we focus our energies on the school and its staff.

I was a victim of bullying as a youth. The anger that remains in me is solely directed towards the educational institutions that did nothing when problems were brought to their attention, and fostered an atmosphere of fear, violence, and impunity.
posted by el io at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


I've been following this as well for the last few days. I understand that the teachers, guidance counselors and other school officials who witnessed things that students did to this girl on school grounds but did nothing to stop it may not be legally responsible, but I still hope they lose their jobs.
posted by rtha at 3:52 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Slate just posted an interesting followup to their original piece, with more background on the legal charges, and the school reaction.
posted by availablelight at 3:57 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, she was 15, and he was a senior. So he was probably 17 or 18. So a 2 to 3 year age difference. You honestly feel like people should go to jail over that? Many states have "Romeo and Juliet" laws that cover this kind of thing.

Regarding Mass Sex Laws:

Commonwealth v. Knap, 412 Mass. 712 (1992). "The only elements the Commonwealth must prove are (1) sexual or unnatural sexual intercourse with (2) a child under sixteen years of age".

Doesn't sound like age difference matters in Mass. They have accelerator clauses where your punishment gets worse if the age difference is +5 or +10, but I don't see anything that says anything about -5 or -3.
posted by nathancaswell at 3:57 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


From the link that available light shared:

District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, who outlined the criminal charges on Monday, "relationship aggression" means that a group of girls turned on Phoebe after she "briefly dated" a 17-year-old named Sean Mulveyhill. Sean is a star on the high school football team, and was the boyfriend of Ashley Longe, 16, one of the girl's who was charged yesterday. Phoebe also became involved (even more briefly, I've been told) with another boy, 18-year-old Austin Renaud, whose 16-year-old girlfriend, Flannery Mullins, also charged by the DA. Scheibel says that the nine students she charged participated in "a nearly-three-month campaign" of verbal assaults and physical threats against Phoebe.

...

This is not, obviously, how Scheibel came to see it. The DA isn't slapping wrists. These kids are facing felony charges that carry hefty penalties. Sean and Austin were each charged with statutory rape, presumably for having sex with Phoebe. She was 15, and they were 17 and 18, respectively, and under Massachusetts' broad statutory rape law, that's apparently all it takes, because a teenager under the age of 16 cannot legally consent.

posted by nathancaswell at 4:01 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


.
posted by ericb at 4:03 PM on March 30, 2010


Just want to point out, though, that it is dangerous to let the government punish anyone for the negative things they say and write about others . . . assuming that those statements or writings don't cross the line into unprotected speech such as true threats.

Why is it automatically dangerous to delineate limits to the first amendment? It already doesn't protect your right to issue a death threat, or yell "fire" in a burning theatre. Should it protect hate speech that drives a kid to kill themself? I certainly hope not. It seems simple enough to recognize that our rights end where others' rights begin, and that we are all entitled to a safe school environment.

It's clearly fucked up if the law finds that speech that threatens to kill is illegal, but speech that actually kills is legal. Many other countries already have laws against hate speech, because they recognize it incites violence and death.
posted by mek at 4:05 PM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


> I wondered why the hell they kept sending him to school if they knew it was that bad.
> Yeah, the school has a responsibility to make things better if it can. But if that's not
> happening, how bad does it have to get before parents will stop putting their kids
> through this kind of thing?

The moment you stop sending your kid to school you're breaking compulsory-attendance laws, and you can be sure you are in for unpleasant visits from social workers and cops. Funding for government-supported schools is calculated on number of students, so a missing student costs the school money. That they take seriously. For that very reason, compulsory attendance laws will remain in place even when schools get as bad as pmita prisons (if they aren't already.) There are private schools for the wealthy, and home schooling for people who can get by with only one working parent, but that still leaves the majority with no alternative but to comply no matter how hellish a kid's school experience may be--up to and (obviously) including the level of hellishness at which the kid picks suicide as better than continuing.
posted by jfuller at 4:07 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Doesn't sound like age difference matters in Mass. They have accelerator clauses where your punishment gets worse if the age difference is +5 or +10, but I don't see anything that says anything about -5 or -3.
I'm not talking about whatever the law says, I'm just talking about common sense. How could something be morally wrong in one state, but not another? Obviously, it could not. If this guy was involved in the bullying, then fuck him. But in general, I don't think kids should be charged with statutory rape just because a prosecutor gets a bug up his ass and decides he wants to throw the book at some kid.
posted by delmoi at 4:09 PM on March 30, 2010


The moment you stop sending your kid to school you're breaking compulsory-attendance laws, and you can be sure you are in for unpleasant visits from social workers and cops.

Moving to a different school district could be an option. But this girl may not have told her parents any of this.
posted by delmoi at 4:10 PM on March 30, 2010


Also from the link above:

Five of the teens—Sean, Ashley, Flannery, and two other girls, Kayla Narey and Sharon Channon Velazquez—were also charged with "violation of civil rights, with bodily injury resulting." That's another broad statute, with a maximum 10-year sentence. "You have to show force or threat of force in violation of a secured right—here, the right to an education," explains Richard Cole, a former Massachusetts assistant attorney general who consults on school safety and civil rights.
posted by rtha at 4:15 PM on March 30, 2010


Well, she was 15, and he was a senior. So he was probably 17 or 18. So a 2 to 3 year age difference. You honestly feel like people should go to jail over that?

I don't know that I think jail should result -- I'd be fine with a a criminal sanction like community service or a term of probation -- but yes, I do believe that it is a good idea to have a clear age limit for sexual partners and enforce it. I actually prefer a law like the one in Massachusetts, which apparently just makes everyone who is younger than 16 off limits, rather than law like those here in Washington, which define "rape of a child," also a strict liability offense, by the age of the child and the age difference. And the reason I prefer the Massachusetts formulation is that it is much easier to teach kids that a partner under age 16 is off limits, period, than to try to teach age range differences.
posted by bearwife at 4:16 PM on March 30, 2010


So, of the two boys, the 17 year old is being charged with the whole laundry list of civil rights and criminal harassment charges in addition to the statutory rape charges, and the 18 year old is not charged with anything except statutory rape. FWIW, if either is convicted of statutory rape, I'm pretty sure they'll end up on the sex offender registry for the rest of their lives.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 4:19 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Cyberbullying is a nasty problem. Bullies can spread rumors, reveal secrets, post doctored photos, or whatever cruelty strikes their fancy. The victim need not even be online, the damage may be done when other people see whatever was posted. And the teachers and administrators who overlook bullying in the hallways and locker rooms--do you really think they're going to be able to do a good job discovering this stuff online? We can't legally or technologically prevent people from hurting each other with words (or images). We have to keep trying to figure out how to get them not to want to.
posted by Songdog at 4:23 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


So in Mass it's illegal to have sex with someone under 16 years old. I really can't believe that several commenters have taken issue with the statutory rape charge. Obviously you have no idea about the difference between a freshman and a senior in high school. We aren't talking about the difference between a 38 year old and a 35 year old! Freshmen are little kids and seniors are semi-adults. I'm glad that the boys are being prosecuted. I'm a high school teache and there is a HUGE difference between my freshmen algebra students and my senior physics students. With all due respect, you have no idea what you are talking about.
posted by shrabster at 4:36 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like most Massachusetts folks, I'm shocked at this story.
What REALLY makes me angry is that not a single teacher or administrator will get so much as a slap on the wrist. The bullying occurred mostly in the school, personnel knew about the problem and NOTHING was done.
I sincerely hope none of those bastards gets a full night's sleep for the rest of their miserable lives.
Yes, I'm angry.
posted by pentagoet at 4:43 PM on March 30, 2010


Facebook and Twitter both have block features. Also, Twitter is a middle age phenomenon. Kids don't use it. because it's stupid.

Uh, some kids use Twitter.

And what, are you blaming her for not blocking everyone on Facebook who said something mean to her? Perhaps the ridiculousness of "I don't want to commit social suicide" seems silly to an adult, but I sure remember how much being "included" mattered at 15.
posted by desuetude at 4:43 PM on March 30, 2010


School officials won't be charged, even though authorities say they knew about the bullying and that Phoebe's mother brought her concerns to at least two of them.

The way I see this, those staff members are accessories, too.
posted by ShawnStruck at 4:48 PM on March 30, 2010


I want to add to my comment above: I don't know what role cyberbullying played in the Phoebe Prince case, but I get pissed off when people say that you can just avoid a bully, online or otherwise. It's very naïve to think that all bullies do is beat people up or threaten to do so. There are a lot of ways to torment someone.
posted by Songdog at 4:51 PM on March 30, 2010 [10 favorites]


I really can't believe that several commenters have taken issue with the statutory rape charge.

It's an arbitrary law, and laws shouldn't be arbitrary. Consider this example: when I was a senior in high school, I dated a girl who was a junior. She had skipped a grade. My birthday is December, hers is in January. So by being two years and one month older than her, had we been in Massachusetts, I would have committed multiple counts of rape over a three week period after my eighteenth birthday. Then after that twenty-one days, we went back to having consensual sex.

Does that sound fair?
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:55 PM on March 30, 2010 [8 favorites]


With all due respect, you have no idea what you are talking about.

That's not very civil, and I think we all have at least some idea of what we're talking about, since we were all those ages once. One of the happiest married couples I know started dating at the ages of 18 and 15, and it's hard to see how either of them would be better off if he were now a convicted felon who couldn't ever go within 1,000 feet of a school now because they were sexually active back then.

Obviously what was going on here was not nearly so rosy a picture, and if it comes out that those sexual relationships were abusive or coerced, which is eminently possible in light of all the other ugly stuff that was going on in this case, then by all means throw the book at them.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 4:58 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


As with the Lori Drew case, I'm concerned about the use of criminal charges to prosecute people who need a good old-fashioned shunning and riding-out-of-town-on-a-rail. When I saw the Boston Herald's big splash page in every vending box today -- THEY FAILED PHOEBE -- I thought, exactly what message is this sending vulnerable, isolated, miserable fifteen-year-old girls? That Phoebe got revenge on her community, the adulation and adoration and attention of a whole state, at the price of her life? There are those who'd pay that price. I hope to hell we don't hear about them.

I wish the laws mandated better mental health care for high school students. Americans all act as if our teenaged years are supposed to be miserable, and as if we're supposed to forget them instantly and emerge with Built Character. They aren't, and no one does.

High school is a completely artificial place, and I wish one could suggest some way that teenagers could pass their days in multigenerational company while learning real life skills, the way they did back when apprenticeship and toiling on the family farm/shop was where you spent your adolescence. There's no such way that I can see, however.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:15 PM on March 30, 2010 [13 favorites]


Mayor Curley: Does that sound fair?

strangely stunted trees: One of the happiest married couples I know started dating at the ages of 18 and 15, and it's hard to see how either of them would be better off if he were now a convicted felon who couldn't ever go within 1,000 feet of a school now because they were sexually active back then.

It's as fair as many other laws that are rules rather than standards (which is to say it's on the margins of fair or not fair). Statutory rape laws reflect a worry that someone who is immature and not fully able to consent to sex can be greatly harmed by it. Most jurisdictions consider this situation to be a big worry, something they want to prevent as strongly as possible. Yes, it's problematic that different kids reach different levels of maturity at different ages, but a law that operates as a standard and just says "sex between one older party and one party young enough that we think she/he is not able to consent" isn't going to be enforceable or deterrent enough, so the state chooses to frame the law as a rule and draw a clear line (similar to choosing a specific BAC content for drunk driving, even though the same BAC affects different drivers in different ways). In Massachusetts, they drew the line in a way you disliked. Even though you think it's arbitrary, lots of thought and discussion went into it. Speak up to the people who can change the law if you think it's unfair.
posted by sallybrown at 5:17 PM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm wondering if charging the guys with statutory rape is a mechanism to get them to testify against the other kids. If they really are planning to prosecute guys for ordinary consensual sex with someone two years younger than them, though, then I'll agree that seems to be missing the point in a pretty spectacular way.
And what, are you blaming her for not blocking everyone on Facebook who said something mean to her?
Even if she blocked it, everyone else could read it. They were following her around and throwing things at her and calling her a slut and a whore. How would you like it if people at work were constantly yelling at you that you were a whore and emailing all your co-workers about what a slut you were?
posted by craichead at 5:18 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I grew up near South Hadley in the 1970s and 80s. This is a small school. This is a small town. Population is around 17k. People know people. It would be hard to just switch schools in response to bullying. There is only one high school.
posted by sciencegeek at 5:18 PM on March 30, 2010


Day late. Dollar short.

This girl is dead, and the administration let it happen.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:19 PM on March 30, 2010 [16 favorites]


Is anyone noting that this type of thing is 100% standard in US high schools? Sounds like she had sex with a football player, the football player spread the word, the mean girls started the campaign against what they called a "slut" which led to this girl's tragic end. Completely par for the course in US high schools. Only thing unusual here is the suicide. Readers from other countries, are your schools as fucked up as US high schools?
posted by telstar at 5:23 PM on March 30, 2010


High school is a completely artificial place,

Everybody travels in hostile packs, everything is regimented, the administration is indifferent or hostile. Sounds more like prison than anywhere else, when you think about it.

Also, the fact that we live in a culture that elevates 'teen' life to such an exalted level of importance can't be helping. High school was 20 years ago for me and I could really give a rat's ass about anything back then. Someone from my da's or grandpa's generation, well, it probably barely registered on their radar at all, but these days, teenage nonsense is elevated to such an artificial level of importance.
posted by jonmc at 5:23 PM on March 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


these days, teenage nonsense is elevated to such an artificial level of importance.

Well, we are talking in this post about two dead children. That seems important all by itself.

Then there are the other topics thus far, which among other things include whether underage sex should be criminalized, how far the government should be able to go in regulating hurtful speech, why US high schools tolerate a culture of cruelty, what responsibility supervising adults should have who know about abusive behavior and do not act, and so forth.

In short, there's a lot more here than "teen nonsense." I am also very bothered by this use of the phrase to trivialize a child and an adolescent suicide.
posted by bearwife at 5:37 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The legal age to be tried as an adult should be 14 minimum; in pioneer days you were treated like an adult at 12.

It's long past the time that today's 'almost-adults' learned there are dire consequences for their actions.

I wonder how many of the bullies experienced genuine shock and remorse when they learned of the suicide brought about by their torments. Those who went on as though death doesn't matter need to be slapped down hard.

And then they'll learn what torment feels like.
posted by bwg at 5:38 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


bearwife: you misunderstand. I am not calling the suicides of these kids 'teen nonsense.' I am calling a culture that makes people think someone talking to your boyfriend is worth hounding somebody to death over is 'teen nonsense.'
posted by jonmc at 5:40 PM on March 30, 2010


these days, teenage nonsense is elevated to such an artificial level of importance

Yeah, I hate to get all TV HURTS THE CHILDREN, but I know some of my grade school and high school classmates would have gladly pilfered social strategy from Gossip Girl had we had it (instead we got the emo navel-gazing unrequited love of the Van Der Beek). It's a playbook for school cruelty.
posted by sallybrown at 5:41 PM on March 30, 2010


In general, though, it argued that the social structure of schools push kids into the roles of bully and victim (and other roles as well) that they might not enter otherwise.

Sure. That would have been obvious to anybody who went to my high school. It was the fucking Zimbardo experiment writ large. Except there wasn't anybody to shut it down after a week. Or a month. Or a year.
posted by Justinian at 5:42 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's long past the time that today's 'almost-adults' learned there are dire consequences for their actions.

14 year olds don't have fully developed brains. Punishing them as adults is ridiculous and cruel.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:48 PM on March 30, 2010 [14 favorites]


We live in a culture that ultimately rewards aggression and economic (as well as a great deal of personal) bullying. Any feeble, hastily constructed legality drawn up to appease those who get all quivery inside when anything bad happens is bound to fail in the face of that. It's not a very nice reality. But if you teach people from birth --not with words and classes and feel-good videos and stuff, but just by letting their childish powers of observation note the way things actually work in the world-- that being an asshole has it's rewards, it's hard to dissuade the more alpha oriented from getting all bully-y. From He-Man to Donald Trump, there's a my-way-or-you-get-punched-or-fired smell in the air to almost all of our heroic figures that even Fabreze can't hide.....

I hate it. But surprised....? No. Humans have been ostracizing since they've existed. It's been a survival strategy for the majority of our existence as a species, if not its entirety; it's going to be hard to eradicate no matter how heavily armed with noble outrage we are.
posted by umberto at 5:51 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


14 year olds don't have fully developed brains. Punishing them as adults is ridiculous and cruel.

I'm favoriting the hell out of this.

And the statutory rape charges? I'm appalled. appalled.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:53 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is anyone noting that this type of thing is 100% standard in US high schools?

Is it?
It didn't happen in my school.
It didn't happen in the next school district over.

We did not, however, have a culture that promoted sports (and by proxy, sports adulation).
I wonder how much of this stuff correlates to a "pep rally" atmosphere.
posted by madajb at 5:58 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


We did not, however, have a culture that promoted sports (and by proxy, sports adulation).
I wonder how much of this stuff correlates to a "pep rally" atmosphere.


Eh. I've known 'jocks' who were great people, and I've encountered bullies of every social type. Blaming any subculture for something that exists everywhere is not helpful.

Also, it's worth noting that in my my experience, bullies are not 'the popular kids,' in the true sense of the term. In my high school there were some kids who were truly popular-well-liked by everybody from the elite to the geeks to the stoners to the kids in special ed. There were maybe 20 of them in a class of 550. These people were not bullies. The bullies were either psycho sadists who grew up to become adult criminals (I encountered my share of those by winding up in the stoner/rocker crowd) and people who wanted to be like the truly well-liked but couldn't pull it off through genuine likeablilty.
posted by jonmc at 6:04 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It just occurred to me: Carrie (also set in a small New England town) is almost two generations old, and even today, high school is pretty much the same.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:06 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I went to a large (1800-student) public high school in the 80s, and while it was not a school without problems, we didn't have problems like this. I was in groups that would seem to be ripe for abuse by The Popular Kids or by The Mean Kids (e.g. choir, literary magazine, hippie alternative program that operated within-but-kind-of-separately from the rest of the school, drama club) and I never witnessed or heard about anyone I knew being bullied like this, or even bullied at all. So no, it's not 100% standard. Or at least it wasn't then, and I have a hard time believing it is now.
posted by rtha at 6:08 PM on March 30, 2010


Also, it's worth noting that in my my experience, bullies are not 'the popular kids,' in the true sense of the term. In my high school there were some kids who were truly popular-well-liked by everybody from the elite to the geeks to the stoners to the kids in special ed.
In American high schools, I don't think that "popular" really means "well-liked by everybody". It's the name for a clique and a type of kid, not a reflection of how much people like any individual. Many people hated and feared the "popular kids" at my junior high, but they were still popular because they had a certain kind of social power. At my high school, there was considerable overlap between the "popular kids" and the kids who were liked by everybody, and that made things a lot easier for a freak like me.
posted by craichead at 6:12 PM on March 30, 2010


In American high schools, I don't think that "popular" really means "well-liked by everybody". It's the name for a clique and a type of kid, not a reflection of how much people like any individual.

I know what you're saying, I'm just saying that misuse of the term has muddied the waters somewhat.
posted by jonmc at 6:14 PM on March 30, 2010


Pope Guilty: "14 year olds don't have fully developed brains. Punishing them as adults is ridiculous and cruel."

Is it? As cruel as hounding someone to death?

I concede that adult prison would be too much, but there has to be a punishment that suits the crime. Not saying juvey isn't hard, but I wonder whether some of these bullies will come away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
posted by bwg at 6:15 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Read the first few paragraphs of this story, scrolled down to find out what criminal charges the school administrators are facing, since if anyone is getting prosecuted it should be them first . . .

scrolled down some more . . . what the hell, nothing? School officials use in loco parentis to justify all sorts of violations of civil liberties, and now when we have a situation where the school drops the ball on saving a kids life, the bullying teens are prosecuted and the adults paid to be in charge of them walk? Whose idea of justice is this?
posted by chaff at 6:15 PM on March 30, 2010 [14 favorites]


Just want to stress again that the articles mention the bulk of bullying was standard at-school bullying. The online aspect of this was comparably minor, at least according to the Old Gray Lady.

I know that the story is being framed as OMG cyberbullying, and I recognize that we're in an online environment, but this is not a case that's first and foremost about online behavior.
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:16 PM on March 30, 2010


I mean FFS these kids' actions were so blatant that they're being charged with disrupting a school assembly in order to bully this girl! And we're expected to believe that teachers and staff either didn't know it was happening, didn't know who was doing it, or were somehow powerless to do anything about it? I know we're hurting for teachers in this country but at the very least the senior admins of this high school should already be fired.
posted by chaff at 6:20 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


i went to 3 different high schools: one in georgia (USA), one in hong kong, and one in california. the only one that had these kinds of problems (straight out bullying, slut-calling, suicide resulting from bullying) was the school from my small town in georgia. i did not encounter viciousness at the other schools- sure, there was the usual proportion of jerks but no large scale bullying or instances where a girl would be too ashamed to come to school because people were circulating rumours of all the guys she was rumoured to have slept with while drunk at a homecoming party. oh, georgia. wondering if this kind of thing is small town America syndrome.
posted by raw sugar at 6:37 PM on March 30, 2010


I was bullied in elementary school, and I thank god that there was no internet then. Those poor kids.
posted by pinky at 6:45 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Scheibel says that the conduct of the nine students she charged "far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship-related quarrels." That interpretation of the student behavior is shared by some, though not all, in the town. Teachers at the school are aghast at how it's being treated in the media. "I wouldn't teach here if the climate truly was as it's being portrayed," one told me. When I talked with a group of South Hadley students earlier this month, the prevailing sentiment was that, yes, Phoebe had been mistreated but not in some unprecedented way. "A lot of it was normal girl drama," one girl told me. "If you want to label it bullying, then I've bullied girls and girls have bullied me. Her history made it affect her more. It wasn't the school being terrible. It was really bad, it was one of the worst things I've heard of some girls doing to another girl. But it wouldn't have hurt most people that much." Emphasis mine.

Jesus Christ, the culture at that school must be completely fucked up. How could someone even think something that messed up.
posted by nooneyouknow at 6:51 PM on March 30, 2010 [10 favorites]


I wish one could suggest some way that teenagers could pass their days in multigenerational company while learning real life skills, the way they did back when apprenticeship and toiling on the family farm/shop was where you spent your adolescence. There's no such way that I can see, however.

Take Your Daughter/Son to Work Day Year for Four Years
posted by rahnefan at 7:30 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


sallybrown:

>Mayor Curley: Does that sound fair?

It's as fair as many other laws that are rules rather than standards (which is to say it's on the margins of fair or not fair). Statutory rape laws reflect a worry that someone who is immature and not fully able to consent to sex can be greatly harmed by it.


So given my example, in your eyes am I a rapist? Not de jure, but de facto.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:44 PM on March 30, 2010


So given my example, in your eyes am I a rapist? Not de jure, but de facto.

I'm not sure why you want my opinion. Frankly, I'm not even sure how I personally feel about statutory rape laws, let alone how I feel about Massachusetts' law or what I think about two teenagers I've never met having sex. I was just trying to explain why Massachusetts might see fit to draft its law the way it is.

I generally don't consider people rapists unless they're convicted de jure rapists, and even then I divorce emotion (rapist = evil bad person) from the legal fact (rapist = person convicted of rape). In that sense I would call both a person convicted of consensual statutory rape and a person who brutally raped someone without his/her consent rapists, but I would have wildly different personal opinions of those two people (this is why I think harassment campaigns against registered sex offenders are really shitty). Unless you've been convicted of rape you're not going to be a rapist in my eyes.
posted by sallybrown at 8:00 PM on March 30, 2010


How nice of all those students to attend her vigil. Precisely the same students, I'll wager, who had selective sensory perceptions for the weeks, months and years of cruelty that Phoebe had to endure, and who never said a single fucking word, not of support for Phoebe nor of condemnation for her tormentors. Who never bothered to report it, or stand against it. It's good that they had something to be collectively distressed by, for a day or two. Fuck every single one of them.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:02 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is it? As cruel as hounding someone to death?

The existence of one cruelty is not a reason to create more cruelties; quite the opposite, in fact.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:08 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


who never said a single fucking word, not of support for Phoebe nor of condemnation for her tormentors. Who never bothered to report it, or stand against it...Fuck every single one of them

I don't know how high school works where you're from. You're talking about a bunch of kids who were likely also insecure and scared and full of crazy teenage hormones and completely absorbed in this bizarre social hierarchy--and like most kids, really stupid and lacking good judgement. If that environment can cause someone to kill themselves, it can certainly also scare someone into inaction. This is a bit much considering we're talking about people who went to mourn.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:19 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


I graduated high school in 1993, and this sounds absolutely par for the horrible fucking course for what happened in junior high school. I was moved after sixth grade to a private school; in the new school, one of my classmates leaned me out of a 2nd story window and threatened to drop me if I wouldn't suck his cock. I've blocked most of 6th grade out of my memory, except for where I have actual physical scars, but what I remember thinking after that incident is how happy I was to be at the new school where things were so much better.
posted by KathrynT at 8:26 PM on March 30, 2010


I don't know how high school works where you're from.

It works exactly the same way and fuck all of them too. This is not a new problem. The year is 2010. It should be systemically knuckled into every child, and every teacher. It should be a social science class: "You Are A Moron And Bullying Kills", with graphic pictures of self-mutilation and suicide drilled directly into their stupid, spotty little faces. Regale them with tales of bullied children who grow up pissing their pants and then progress to napalming skullfucked dogs or making cockbangles out of the teeth that they chiselled from a homeless woman's head.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:46 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


I wish there were more details on the boys. I have a feeling they are likely to end up on the sex offender list for the rest of their life, and that seems unfair, given the little bit about their involvement that I've been able to glean.

The girls? Almost nothing evil that a teenage girl can come up with to do to another teenage girl would surprise me. I've been a teenage girl. It sucked. I left and became a scholarship student in Europe, rather than doing high school at home. It was just easier.

If Facebook and analogs therein had been as ubiquitous as they are now...I couldn't even have escaped by moving across the world. It's terrifying how intertwined technology has become into our social culture. These kids live their whole lives not just observing, but by prepping themselves to be observed. To *not* be observed is to almost not exist. Online presence becomes a prerequisite for lunch table presence.

To suggest that this young woman could have just "blocked" or shut down her page, is to miss the essence of both how the tool is used, and is a form of victim blaming by suggesting that "well, you shouldn't be out on the net if you can't take the heat".

Of course, I say this as one of the few who refuse to have a Facebook page because (amongst many other reasons) I have absolutely no interest in hearing from people from my long buried past, lest I have to dig up the venerable "Oops, now what" ask.mefi thread.
posted by dejah420 at 8:47 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


The statutory rape charges are the most damning part of the entire incident; a clear example of overzealous prosecution, which is unfortunately par for the course these days. Let's not forget the kids who were charged with child pornography for photographing themselves.
posted by mek at 8:54 PM on March 30, 2010


I really can't believe that several commenters have taken issue with the statutory rape charge. Obviously you have no idea about the difference between a freshman and a senior in high school.
Because obviously we. never went to highschool or have known anyone in that age range. The year before I started HS, I did a summer work program with some other kids in that age range. One of my co-workers was a 15 year old girl who had just finished her freshman year and was dating a senior. She didn't seem traumatized. And her dad was actually a judge.
Uh, some kids use Twitter.
Right, but it's been less popular with teens then it has been with people, say, in their 30s.
And what, are you blaming her for not blocking everyone on Facebook who said something mean to her?
Uh, no? Why would I say that? I was replying to someone who said teens couldn't give up facebook in this day and age. Which is probably mostly true, but they can certainly block people. But she couldn't block people in school which was where the problem was.
Even if she blocked it, everyone else could read it. They were following her around and throwing things at her and calling her a slut and a whore. How would you like it if people at work were constantly yelling at you that you were a whore and emailing all your co-workers about what a slut you were?
Well, the school should have done something about the harassment she was getting. But do you really think that gossip should be a crime?

Actually thinking about this statutory rape thing. Now that I think about it, if you have consensual sex with a 15 year old, then run around telling everyone what a slut and whore and trying to ruin her life, maybe a rape charge isn't such a bad idea. (But did that happen? Or did they just do stuff and then other girls started bashing her because of it? Maybe they were jealous or something?)

(Also, can I just say that while a lot of people my class thought middle school was terrible, by highschool, especially junior/senior year everyone seemed to mellow out quite a bit)
14 year olds don't have fully developed brains. Punishing them as adults is ridiculous and cruel.
I don't know if I would go that far. I think kids have a sense of right and wrong, the problem is that human beings don't really ever have fully developed brains. But Children that age are especially stupid, and lack perspective and life experience. And I think it's cruel to end someone's life of stuff that happens at that age. Everyone makes dumbass mistakes. It seems like half the people in this thread want these kids hanged.
posted by delmoi at 9:01 PM on March 30, 2010


(But did that happen? Or did they just do stuff and then other girls started bashing her because of it? Maybe they were jealous or something?)
According to the article in Slate, two of the girls who bullied her are the girlfriends of the guys who are charged with statutory rape. It doesn't say whether the accused girls were dating the guys at the time Phoebe Prince slept with the guys, and if so it doesn't say whether she knew they had girlfriends. But it sounds like she had the very bad misfortune to have flings with the boyfriends of the school's meanest mean girls.
posted by craichead at 9:14 PM on March 30, 2010


Blaming any subculture for something that exists everywhere is not helpful.

I'm not blaming anyone. I'm wondering if there is a correlation.
posted by madajb at 9:15 PM on March 30, 2010


Regarding the law in MA. This is the state where The Amirault case took place, where social workers basically goaded children into making up horrific charges of abuse, despite no physical evidence existing. But the people charged were kept in prison for years. It's also where people freaked out about blinking lights
But it sounds like she had the very bad misfortune to have flings with the boyfriends of the school's meanest mean girls.
Ah, I see.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty said: 14 year olds don't have fully developed brains. Punishing them as adults is ridiculous and cruel.

And then delmoi replied: I don't know if I would go that far. I think kids have a sense of right and wrong, the problem is that human beings don't really ever have fully developed brains.

Sorry, no:
Another series of MRI studies is shedding light on how teens may process emotions differently than adults. Using functional MRI (fMRI), a team led by Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd at Harvard's McLean Hospital scanned subjects' brain activity while they identified emotions on pictures of faces displayed on a computer screen.5 Young teens, who characteristically perform poorly on the task, activated the amygdala, a brain center that mediates fear and other "gut" reactions, more than the frontal lobe. As teens grow older, their brain activity during this task tends to shift to the frontal lobe, leading to more reasoned perceptions and improved performance. Similarly, the researchers saw a shift in activation from the temporal lobe to the frontal lobe during a language skills task, as teens got older. These functional changes paralleled structural changes in temporal lobe white matter. cite

------

Jensen says scientists used to think human brain development was pretty complete by age 10. Or as she puts it, that "a teenage brain is just an adult brain with fewer miles on it."

But it's not. To begin with, she says, a crucial part of the brain — the frontal lobes — are not fully connected. Really.

"It's the part of the brain that says: 'Is this a good idea? What is the consequence of this action?' " Jensen says. "It's not that they don't have a frontal lobe. And they can use it. But they're going to access it more slowly."

That's because the nerve cells that connect teenagers' frontal lobes with the rest of their brains are sluggish. Teenagers don't have as much of the fatty coating called myelin, or "white matter," that adults have in this area.

Think of it as insulation on an electrical wire. Nerves need myelin for nerve signals to flow freely. Spotty or thin myelin leads to inefficient communication between one part of the brain and another. cite

------

A. In the last five years, as neuroscience has moved forward with functional magnetic resonance imaging and with research on animals, there have been dozens of new studies of adolescent brain development. These show that the brain systems providing for impulse control are still maturing during adolescence. Neuroscientists have shown that the part of the brain that improves most during adolescence is the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in complicated decision-making, thinking ahead, planning, comparing risks and rewards. And the neuroscientific research is showing that over the course of adolescence and into the 20s, there is this continued maturation of this part of the brain. So now, we have brain evidence that supports behavioral studies. cite
posted by rtha at 9:35 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


delmoi: But it sounds like she had the very bad misfortune to have flings with the boyfriends of the school's meanest mean girls.

Ah, I see.


Not that thats a good excuse, but it can explain what lead to this campaign of hate. Think of high school's closest real-world analogue: prison, where people get killed over a thoughtless glance or gesture that wouldn't get a second look on the outside. Regardless of intention, if you show active disrespect toward the social system, you will be dealt with harshly. Messing around with a queen bee's boyfriend is the equivalent of mooning Don Corleone.
posted by dr_dank at 9:44 PM on March 30, 2010


For those who want to do more research on the phenomena of suicides caused as the result of depression from bullying try the search term bullycide.

The LGBT documentary series In The Life just addressed this issue: The Right To Live.

Angry about the culture of hate that is tolerated in many schools? Consider supporting the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network. "GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community".
posted by khedron at 10:09 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


What really sucks is that 2 older boys were charged with statutory rape AFTER she hung herself. Fuck that school system, and fuck the local PD. Kids can be fucking vicious at this age, and turning a blind eye towards it will only yield more tragic acts when one feels they have no recourse.

Fuck you administrator assholes.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:32 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Regarding the law in MA. This is the state where The Amirault case took place, where social workers basically goaded children into making up horrific charges of abuse, despite no physical evidence existing.

It was a travesty. It was also over 20 years ago. I don't want to hear shit about it from an Iowan as long as Steve King is in congress.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:33 PM on March 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is a horrific story and it's made worse by the number of adults using it to further their careers.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:17 AM on March 31, 2010


The nastiness didn't even end there. Her tormentors posted vicious comments on the dead girl's Facebook memorial page.

It's my understanding (word of mouth) that some of this at least was that it got leaked to 4Chan, most likely by a relative or friend of the students involved. Several of the comments on the page (which I had the misfortune of seeing) were made by someone in Texas. Texas?

Which explains at least some of the LOL dead girl comments.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:24 AM on March 31, 2010


"not a single teacher or administrator will get so much as a slap on the wrist.... I sincerely hope none of those bastards gets a full night's sleep for the rest of their miserable lives."

It would help if we knew more about such details. I was threatened a lot while I was in school, and 95% of the time it was out of earshot of teachers. Nowadays class sizes are bigger and schools are much bigger. Teachers may have done all they could; until there's contrary evidence finger-pointing doesn't help.

I completely understand the anger and frustration, but pointing in all directions doesn't help. A teacher can suspect that a kid is being abused, but has to be very careful how they approach the matter, or could get into trouble themselves. Just being *alone* with a kid to ask them questions can be dangerous these days.
posted by Twang at 3:20 AM on March 31, 2010


rahnefan: You cannot assume that a bully has bad parents.

Depends on how you define "bad parents." If parents are ignorant of their kids' actions, personalities, or "roles in their school," then you can assume that a bully has entirely inattentive and uninvolved parents--bad parents. If the parents are kind-of-somewhat aware of any of this, and do or say nothing, then they are negligent parents--bad parents. If they are highly aware of this, and do or say nothing, then they are, well, shitty people, and possibly criminals--bad parents.
posted by tzikeh at 3:27 AM on March 31, 2010


I bet cell phones and social networks could also be used to fight bullying if you gave kids a safe way to report assholes to someone who could be counted on to act immediately and not let everyone know who reported the asshole.

Identify, isolate, and treat bullies.
posted by pracowity at 3:39 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pope Guilty: "The existence of one cruelty is not a reason to create more cruelties; quite the opposite, in fact."

I'm not asking for cruelty, I'm asking for just punishment. I fail to see how exacting justice for the senseless loss of a life is cruel.

It's about admitting and taking responsibility for one's actions. I don't know about others, but I knew right from wrong at 14 and knew there were consequences to my actions. At least that's the way my dad raised me.

I'm not out to hang the perpetrators, but we're talking about loss of life that probably wouldn't have happened without the bullying. Maybe I'm just sensitive to it because I was bullied too (in Junior High, mind you, and for a different reason).

What would your punishment entail, Pope Guilty? [/not sarcastic in any way]
posted by bwg at 3:55 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


tzikeh, the parents could possibly be quite aware, quite active, and thoroughly ineffective. Children and teens are hardly the moldable putty we would like to think we can easily redirect via vigilance and sincerity.
posted by rahnefan at 4:12 AM on March 31, 2010


Yeah, and we just can't know what our kids do away from home unless someone reports them, and bullying isn't always reported or even reportable. When no adults are looking, one kid slams another while a crowd of other kids enjoy the show or are just afraid to do anything. If the bullied kid never says anything, no one will ever know, and one skinny kid's dumbass jock bully will remain some proud mother's handsome son. You can't blame her if all she hears from school are good things.
posted by pracowity at 5:15 AM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well I for one am for it 100%

I mean, this is America. When we have a goddamn social problem, we send people to prison. Address the problem? FUCK THAT, prison IS the solution.

/hamburger.
posted by TomMelee at 6:15 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, I spent my seventh grade year subject to more or less consistent abuse by a circle of female friends I'd had since earliest childhood. I didn't do anything, I didn't act any different, I didn't look any different. I just showed up to class on the first day of the seventh grade, after spending a summer in their close company, and the rules had changed.

Over the course of my public school career, there were probably a half dozen of us that, for reasons vague, trivial or just plain non-existent woke to find ourselves blackballed by our friends at the cool table. I used to think the boys had it worse because they would get the shit kicked out of them by the kind of polo-shirted sadists who would deliberately hold their punches until the school bus was on the expressway and the driver couldn't stop the guys in the back breaking a rib or two on another another guy they hated just because he had the misfortune of a comical-sounding last name.

I went to junior high and high school in a very liberal small southern city, where hippie parenting was rather the norm (at least among the people I knew). The kids responsible for bullying were not jocks or thugs. They were tracked into high level classes, their parents had white collar jobs, big houses and European cars. They all went on to collage, and a significant proportion of them attended at least Ivy caliber universities. Just like most of us that got bullied. We had the same backgrounds, the same interests, the same labels in our clothes. Who was victim and who was aggressor was arbitrary, determined by some perceived slight or failure to conform precisely to some tribal standard. It was infighting that bled out and entertained the larger school population, who usually ignored us, for a couple of days or a couple of weeks.

I mention this because it's impossible to generalize about where this happens or who this happens to or why it happens to them. Bullying is not logical, even if the means by which it is committed are disturbingly well thought out. I don't know what the solution is. I will say that what I knew as standard clique bullshit and bullying wasn't as prevalent at the private school where I finished high school. That may have had something to do with incredibly restrictive boarding school environment, bolstered by a hard-line anti-hazing rules that could get you expelled if you (notoriously, in my time) wrote "I hate (student name)" across the back of your notebook. Or may just have been the not-exactly-coincidental result of having a significant chunk of the student population comprised of asylum-seeking former public school pariahs.

The ability to just transfer from one school to another, to start over completely at age fifteen was a real luxury (Thanks, Dad!) and not one available to the vast number of high school kids currently hiding in a bathroom stall after walking down the hall to a chorus of slurs and threats. I feel for them. I know what's that like. I'm thirty-four years old and still, every time I walk into a room full of people, there's a little piece of my brain that is still terrified they'll turn on me, that they'll find the cracks in my facade and scorn and deride and belittle me until I'm that thirteen year old girl, crying in the corner waiting for them to get bored or distracted enough that I can just disappear.
posted by thivaia at 8:08 AM on March 31, 2010 [17 favorites]


All of which is terrible; and all of which makes me think we're about to try to throw kids in jail --horrible kids, true-- for acting like almost every group of kids to have ever existed anytime anywhere.

You can't regulate and legislate the ugly side of evolution no matter how hard you try. Well, you can, actually. But you can't expect it to do much more than assuage the inner feelings of the people pushing for the legislation. It won't have the slightest effect on anything in real life. You got hundreds of thousands of years of biological imperative versus a scant few hundred years (or less) of social guilt. Who's gonna win?
posted by umberto at 9:25 AM on March 31, 2010


> 14 year olds don't have fully developed brains. Punishing them as adults is ridiculous and cruel.


Which is why there needed to be adults stepping in and "helping" them see this. The adults chose not to do so.

I am not necessarily saying that there should be no charges to the little shits who did this (come on...if the 14-year olds didn't think it was torment, they wouldn't have done it. That's the PURPOSE of bullying.) But the school cannot wash its hands of this.

High school is one of the reasons I'm glad I decided to not have children. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
posted by Legomancer at 9:27 AM on March 31, 2010


Anger turns toward staff in bullying case
"Enraged that staff members at South Hadley High School knew that Phoebe Prince was the target of harassment before her death, residents and officials yesterday called on top administrators to resign."
posted by ericb at 9:28 AM on March 31, 2010


District attorney faces unique challenges in prosecuting teens.
posted by ericb at 9:29 AM on March 31, 2010


From 4th-8th grade I was threatened and intimidated daily by 3 boys in grammar school. When I look back at it, it was silly for me to be threatened/intimidated by them telilng a teacher I wish she would die. I mean, seriously the teacher would have blew it off after a few days. But to me, I was terrified of them telilng her. Plus I had a very abusive home life so it was 24 hours of something scaring me.

You have no idea how good it felt when a teacher in 8th grade asked me what was wrong because I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and she saw how afraid I was of them. I told her what happened, for how long ,etc. She reamed those boys a new asshole and told me never to be afraid again. It was a huge weight off my shoulders and I remember her to this day.

But I saw via classmate on FB recently an update on those 3 boys and I still wish that they would walk in front of a train. I hate them to my inner core for what they did to me for 4 years. I totally can see why Phoebe and the others killed themselves. No child should ever feel that horrible. I know I did and tried feable attempts just to escape them.

If I ever see them in person, they need to watch out. I'm a different person now.
posted by stormpooper at 9:33 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


All of which is terrible; and all of which makes me think we're about to try to throw kids in jail --horrible kids, true-- for acting like almost every group of kids to have ever existed anytime anywhere.
Is that true? I only ask because I have friends from other countries who find the whole American high school clique thing really weird and were shocked that I said that movies like Mean Girls were not entirely divorced from reality. My sense is that it's not actually true that teenagers everywhere behave like this.
posted by craichead at 10:48 AM on March 31, 2010


These kids bullying were total jerks.

BUT

The adults should have noticed and stepped in. They're basically covering their own asses right now.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:02 AM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


This made the news over here yesterday and today (anything involving an Irish person will hit the headlines back home). Looks like the family had only emigrated in the past year, so Phoebe probably would have been isolated by that fact, probably had very few friends/support structures as well as suffering from culture shock, and then to be bullied as well!

.

I don't recall any bullying on that scale when I was in secondary school (our version of high school), sure a few 2nd years might comment on first years, and there were cliques, but nothing at all like that hazing that seems to go on in some American schools. Have to say that I think the school staff have just as much to answer for as the bullies. Staff should be the ones to set the limits, they should know what was going on in a school, especially as the bullying seems to have caused a disturbance at a school assembly! Or have I misread something, and that is a separate issue?
posted by Fence at 11:09 AM on March 31, 2010


All of which is terrible; and all of which makes me think we're about to try to throw kids in jail --horrible kids, true-- for acting like almost every group of kids to have ever existed anytime anywhere.

You can't regulate and legislate the ugly side of evolution no matter how hard you try. Well, you can, actually. But you can't expect it to do much more than assuage the inner feelings of the people pushing for the legislation. It won't have the slightest effect on anything in real life. You got hundreds of thousands of years of biological imperative versus a scant few hundred years (or less) of social guilt. Who's gonna win?


So your point is...we just throw up our hands and go "Oh well, it's evolution what can you do nothing I guess too bad"?

acting like almost every group of kids to have ever existed anytime anywhere.

And this part's just plain wrong. Not all or even most kids have acted or do act like this.

In three years, from 5th through 7th grade, I went to four different schools. One was a private school in Paris. One was a private school in England. One was a public school in Hawaii. One was a public school in Brookline, MA. In each case, I was the New Kid coming into an established class - well, except for Paris, actually, where we were all foreigners (American, English, Spanish, Hungarian, bunch of other places) - where most of the kids had been together since kindergarten. I got picked on in England a little and briefly bullied in Hawaii, and despite being super dorky at the beginning of my time in Brookline (for 7th grade), was not picked on or bullied or anything except befriended there.

I know that the plural of data is not anecdote, but your generalization is so sweeping as to be meaningless, and really just seems like a great excuse to allow the terrible things that happened there to continue, because according to you, there's nothing anything anyone can do about it. If evolution really worked the way you think it does, then all the kids in all the different schools I went to should have behaved in the same way, and they didn't. Different mores in different places, different rules - written and un - in different places, different expectations in different places. Culture matters.
posted by rtha at 11:17 AM on March 31, 2010


@The various people talking about the horror of people under the age of 16 having sex.

I was sexually active at 14 (not completely, but enough to trigger stat-rape laws, despite using protection and practicing this only with a male close to my age). The age of consent in Canada was only recently raised to 16, and prior to this, I don't think there was any harm in recognizing that people under 16 having sexual feelings and acting on them is not abnormal.
posted by Phalene at 11:21 AM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking as someone who was bullied and harassed in junior high to the point of skipping school and generally living in fear (they would follow me from the bus stop to my house yelling and taunting me among other things), I say throw the fucking book at them. It is an unbelievably shameful experience to be bullied and even when a counselor at my school tried to intervene I wouldn't out my attackers because I felt so weak to be in that position in the first place and I didn't want everyone to know. It is still painful to think about over 20 years later.

Schools need to have a zero tolerance policy about things like this. If someone can get suspended for bringing advil to school, they sure as hell can suspend people for harassment and cruelty.

I read an article last year talking about how the most effective way to combat bullying in school is to educate peer witnesses to intervene when they see it going on. Those kinds of anti-bullying programs have to start when kids are young though, so the idea that bullying is unacceptable is ingrained before it gets to the malicious levels that we're talking about here.

This is unbelievably sad.
posted by Kimberly at 11:48 AM on March 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm curious to read more/learn more about the bullies, but I can't find anything about them that talks about what they were like or what they did. I did find one journal on Livejournal from a current student who is a freshman who texts some guy to say "Let's bang," but it seems like there aren't any SHHS students who keep public livejournals that are regularly updated that would let me get a sense of the culture at the school. It seems really small -- only 700 students. I wonder what will happen to them in the future.

My cousin pointed out this article about a hazing and beating that went on near where he went to college in 2003 where girls beat other girls. Apparently the ringleader I've linked to it because it's public anyway) of that is now a student at University of Chicago's law school, which sort of shocks me. Top law schools accept people with records of physically abusing classmates as a senior in high school?
posted by anniecat at 11:50 AM on March 31, 2010


Top law schools accept people with records of physically abusing classmates as a senior in high school?

Some law firms still have the old sorority/fraternity mentality. I think she'll fit right in.

Riggle said the situation might have turned ugly in part because of the presence of alcohol. Videotape shot before the attacks shows a number of girls chugging beer directly from keg taps while being held aloft by teenage boys.

Yeah, she's in.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:05 PM on March 31, 2010


Some law firms still have the old sorority/fraternity mentality. I think she'll fit right in.

Sigh. I am far too naive. Racy pictures online -- no hire. Beat a classmate for no reason -- no biggie.
posted by anniecat at 12:08 PM on March 31, 2010


My thoughts may not be all that coherent here, so I apologize in advance.

I was bullied in 8th and 9th grades to the point that I attempted suicide twice. Serious attempts. It's really a fluke that I'm here typing this.

I'm not all that bitter towards the kids in this case - in fact, quite a few of them are now my friends on a certain social media website that ends with the word "book". Chalk it up to a lot of things - me growing up, me trying to take all that forgiveness stuff seriously, me not wanting to spend my life angry at people who probably didn't care all that much - but there you go.

The people I still can't help wondering about, though, were the teachers and administrators. 8th grade - the most hellish year of my life - was spent in a small Catholic school on the East Coast run by the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia out of Nashville, TN. (These Dominicans, by the way, are widely admired throughout the American conservative Catholic subculture as an example of "orthodox" (small "o") nuns who are growing because of their conservatism and fealty to the Vatican).

My 8th grade class couldn't have had more than 20-25 kids in it, and the teachers, both nuns and non-nuns, were very involved with the daily life of the kids. There was no way they could have not noticed the torture. Nothing was ever physical - luckily, I'd spent several years in martial arts, and no one tried anything - but the verbal attacks and the ostracism were intense beyond imagining. The nuns and other teachers went beyond just noticing it, though - in several cases, these "brides of Christ" actually participated. When my parents tried to complain, they were told in no uncertain terms that it was my fault for provoking the bullying.

It came to a head near the very last day of 8th grade. Most kids were lined up to go to the Catholic high school the next city over. However, the principal, a 70-something nun, called my parents in for a conference and recommended that I not be sent to that school because I did not "fit in". Shortly thereafter, the main bully was finally suspended - one day before the end of the school year and after he was safely headed towards the most exclusive private school in the area. I stupidly decided to go on the senior trip, and I was completely ostracized by every student on the bus to the theme park. Not a word. Nothing. It was as if I didn't exist.

9th grade wasn't much fun, either, but nothing can compare to the pressure-cooker bullying I went through the year before. Afterwards, I found out that there was a sort of tradition of mercilessly bullying (with the full consent of the administration) one kid in almost every 8th grade class at that school. I doubt the nuns would have paid much attention to a borderline heretic like René Girard, but at times in retrospect the scapegoating seemed almost ritualistic.

I still can't quite muster up the words to say much coherent about Phoebe Prince, beyond thinking that there's something about American society that makes this that much worse - maybe a kind of social Darwinism or something. Whatever it might be, I can't help but think that those bullies most likely felt they were carrying out their duty to enforce social boundaries againt outsiders and inferiors. The "mean girls" aren't monsters - they're the ideal, the goal that our culture is reaching for. These kids will go far in many institutions of our society - they played the game exactly as they are expected to. Far from punishment, the qualities that made them drive an innocent girl to suicide are exactly the things that will get them rewarded. Power, domination, all of that - it seems like their justifications and cushions and ameliorating masks are disappearing in some way, and I worry about the future that these kids will make as they become adults. I just hope she's found some peace, and I hope that these prosecutions are the beginning of some kind of backlash, some sort of saying "no, this is not who we want to be as a people".

I hope.
posted by jhandey at 12:12 PM on March 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


Another series of MRI studies is shedding light on how teens may process emotions differently than adults. Using functional MRI (fMRI), a team led by Dr. Deborah Yurgelun-Todd at Harvard's McLean Hospital scanned subjects' brain activity while they identified emotions on pictures of faces displayed on a computer screen.5 Young teens, who characteristically perform poorly on the task, activated the amygdala, a brain center that mediates fear and other "gut" reactions, more than the frontal lobe. As teens grow older, their brain activity during this task tends to shift to the frontal lobe, leading to more reasoned perceptions and improved performance. Similarly, the researchers saw a shift in activation from the temporal lobe to the frontal lobe during a language skills task, as teens got older. These functional changes paralleled structural changes in temporal lobe white matter.

Cool, so we have evidence that some teens are not mentally capable of determining right from wrong. Doesn't that mean that some of the worst offenders may have exceptionally poor mental development for their age and are mentally incapable of being a humane member of society. If that's the case, institutionalize the little sociopaths until their brains are fully developed. Why force the general public to attempt to correct something that can only change with age?
posted by Procloeon at 12:29 PM on March 31, 2010


What I think is this: for the most part if you don't notice the bullying going on in some school, it's cause you aren't being bullied, or are one of the bulliers. As has been pointed out, even by people victimized above, the bulliers don't even really seem to have that much of an awareness that they are behaving extremely.

Entire societies have class/caste systems that work like gigantic versions of this, so I think I will believe it's a much stronger impulse than some of the rest of you, as opposed to being some isolated horror/American tale.

Do you give up on it? No, we taught ourselves to quit peeing in the living room, didn't we? But --at least in the United States-- you shouldn't act surprised that a society that is set up to reward cliquish aggression has trouble eradicating it. And randomly tossing the book at kids acting like kids just so you can feel better about yourself taking action in the face of some specific news story is ridiculous.

And you better start paying teachers and administrators a lot more if you want them to teach your kids, babysit 'em, instill morals into 'em, police 'em, and figure out how to decide which of the 1000 kids tormenting which of the 100 kids is the one situation that is gonna blow up and get you in the news and have a bunch of whiny softhearts crying for your head and so deserves more of that extra attention and time that a typical teacher has in such abundance these days.
posted by umberto at 12:37 PM on March 31, 2010


And randomly tossing the book at kids acting like kids just so you can feel better about yourself taking action in the face of some specific news story is ridiculous.

In this case, at least, I can't see that the book is being tossed randomly. Too late, sure, but not randomly.

for the most part if you don't notice the bullying going on in some school, it's cause you aren't being bullied, or are one of the bulliers.

Then why, in the reports about this incident and others, are there mentions of other students, teachers, and administrators who were aware of what was happening? They were aware because they witnessed it, they were aware because they were told, etc. Part of the problem with shit like this is exactly what you articulate: Oh, it's kids being kids, what are you gonna do about it? I don't think that teachers or administrators require a hike in pay in order to grok that "kids will be kids oh well" or "shit happened to me and I turned out fine" should be an unacceptable attitude if you want to work in schools. It's not like it should come as a surprise to anyone who wants to work in a school that your duties will not end with "Open your book to page 52," and "Put your pencils down and turn your papers over." Classroom management and noticing who's a troublemaker and who gets picked on are not newfangled things that suddenly appeared in the last five years.
posted by rtha at 1:06 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not asking for cruelty, I'm asking for just punishment. I fail to see how exacting justice for the senseless loss of a life is cruel.

Because there's no such thing as justice. There is nothing that can be done that can make it right; nothing at all will bring back Phoebe Prince. Bells can't be unrung. It may be viscerally satisfying to treat the bullies terribly, but to do so is obscene, especially given their underdeveloped teenage minds. Rehabilitative care- trying to fix what's wrong with the bullying kids that makes them behave the way they did- is helpful and useful to society. Vengeance helps nothing.

It's about admitting and taking responsibility for one's actions. I don't know about others, but I knew right from wrong at 14 and knew there were consequences to my actions. At least that's the way my dad raised me.

This is nonsense. You may have had some moral sense at 14, but your brain wasn't done developing. You also have no idea how the bullies' parents raised them, or what they've gone through- you've seen only a small subset of their lives and have decided that you know everything you need to. That's smug and self-congratulatory.

I'm not out to hang the perpetrators, but we're talking about loss of life that probably wouldn't have happened without the bullying. Maybe I'm just sensitive to it because I was bullied too (in Junior High, mind you, and for a different reason).

I'll put my bullying stories up against yours any day. To this day I'm missing a few years of my life, with only a tiny handful of painful and violent flashes and images remaining where middle school should be. I pretty much don't remember Junior High, and it wasn't all that long ago- I remember more of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade than I do of seventh and eighth. I was angry- really angry- about it for a long time, and to be honest I kind of still am, but I try not to let that anger overcome my reason and my values. That I'm angry about the way I was treated doesn't make brutalising bullies morally righteous; it doesn't make the situation black and white. That we're angry about our victimization does not mean that we should abandon the better parts of ourselves and succumb to our worst impulses.

What would your punishment entail, Pope Guilty? [/not sarcastic in any way]

Punishment? I'd give them care. Psychological care, social rehabilitation, that sort of thing. While it would be emotionally satisfying to say "throw the book at them!", I think figuring out what's wrong with them and fixing it would be far more productive for society.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:29 PM on March 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


Then why, in the reports about this incident and others, are there mentions of other students, teachers, and administrators who were aware of what was happening?

It is a bit of a leap to assume they were aware of the full extent of it and what effect it had on the victim. Even more difficult is being able to foresee this would lead to the victim of the bullying committing suicide, rather than developing self esteem issues or any number of less severe outcomes.

Me and the guys I used to hang out with in high school went through a phase when we were 15-17 years old where we were totally obsessed with coming up with the best "burn" on each other -- like when Kelso on that 70s show says "Burn!" We thought it was harmless.

Some guys got it worse than others, but we all kinda laughed it off when it was our turn -- or sometimes we got mad, which made it even funnier to the rest of us. For my part, I was fat, greasy, zitty, and had a really stupid haircut that made me a pretty easy target. I also had what at the time were considered "zippy comebacks." (In retrospect, nope.)

I'm still friends with most of them, but recently found out one of the guys now hates all of us and these "jokes" were to blame. They affected him in ways they didn't affect me or the others. He's been carrying this anger and hurt feelings around with him for the last 15 years, so much so that he wrote a bunch of us angry screeds when we tried to Facebook friend him.

I shudder to think what he must have been feeling when he came out with us all those nights and we started going at it with our stupid little insult game. He certainly didn't react any different than the rest of us. And this is from the microcosm of people he considered "friends", not even the high school at large.

I'm really having difficulty seeing what measures can be taken to ensure that what happened to Phoebe doesn't happen again to someone else.
posted by Kirk Grim at 4:03 PM on March 31, 2010


It is a bit of a leap to assume they were aware of the full extent of it and what effect it had on the victim.

Those teachers make judgment calls on all kinds of aspects of these kids' lives. In fact, in loco parentis means that teachers and administrators accept a hell of a lot of responsibility in an environment where teenagers do not actually enjoy the same freedoms as ordinary citizens.

Whether or not a depressed and tormented teenager will successfully commit suicide is yes, unknowable. But I find it impossible to believe that more intervention could not have been made. I don't know any high school teachers (and I know quite a few) who are unaware of when the bullying of one of their kids has escalated.
posted by desuetude at 5:39 PM on March 31, 2010


14 year olds don't have fully developed brains. Punishing them as adults is ridiculous and cruel.

That's as may be, but they certainly deserve a FUCK of a lot more than just, say, detention.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


Punishment? I'd give them care. Psychological care, social rehabilitation, that sort of thing.

If you also want to offer psychological care and social rehabilitation for the victims, I'm down.

Otherwise, to my ears, it sounds like you're saying "oh, they're just a troubled soul, they can't help it, we have to try to be understanding and forgive them because they're at a disadvantage." And the bullied, like me, wonder why people are bending over backwards trying to be so understanding to the bullies, and when ANYONE is going to come along and say, "you know what, YOU were put at a disadvantage too and we want to fix that."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:18 PM on March 31, 2010


That's fair, desuetude...I should probably disclose that I work in matters of liability so I have other reasons for questioning what can be done and who should be held responsible or blamed and to what extent. My example was meant to point out the difficulty in determining what's bullying and what should be reported, because a lot of it seems to depend on factors such as the sensitivity of the target of the abuse--what's the reasonable standard here? How do you determine what was fair game and what was not, and when the proverbial line was crossed and by whom?

These are a couple of sad, painful, tragic cases here. A lot of mefites seem to have been victims of bullying at some point and still carry the scars. A lot of bullying goes on ON Metafilter (I still occasionally read jabs at konolia and sixcolors in Metatalk etc). But I'm asking honestly, what can be done? All I'm hearing is "intervention" and "something".

When I went to school the teachers were concerned about these issues, but reporting it to them often made it worse. Now instead of getting made fun of at lunch, you were getting your ass kicked after school. We had this program called "Quest" that we had to do in middle school. It was taught by the guidance counselor to address these issues, and drugs etc. Bullying and drug use didn't stop, and a lot of us with our chemically-imbalanced teen-aged brains thought the whole exercise was stupid and ridiculous.

Where I grew up, high school teachers see you for 40-50 minutes at a time, 4 days of the week, for 9 months of a year. That's not a lot of time to make an informed judgment on how a student is being treated by his peers. Complicating matters for my teachers was that I went to high school during a period where being a snarky depressed asshole was cool: the grunge years. I really don't know how they were supposed to keep up on all the gossip on who's "a slut" and who's "a fag" and who got an atomic wedgie.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:39 PM on March 31, 2010


If you also want to offer psychological care and social rehabilitation for the victims, I'm down.

Otherwise, to my ears, it sounds like you're saying "oh, they're just a troubled soul, they can't help it, we have to try to be understanding and forgive them because they're at a disadvantage."


Pardon; I did not think it was controversial in the slightest that the victims of bullying are underserved and deserve the best we can give. I was not discussing the needs of the victims; I was discussing the issue of punishment for the bullies. I have no idea why you are presuming either that I'm not a victim of bullying myself or why you think that arguing for care instead of vengeance for the victimizers makes one an enemy of the victims.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:48 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's as may be, but they certainly deserve a FUCK of a lot more than just, say, detention.

Pope Guilty's suggestion of social therapies sounds good. Are these little shits so screwed-up that they can not be salvaged? If they are, by all means life imprisonment is what's required: they'd clearly be a major harm to society. But if they can be taught to be positive, productive members of society, then… well, at the very least, it'd be one hell of a lot less expensive for the rest of us if they can become tax payers instead of tax burdens. Let alone other, humanitarian reasons for fixing them.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:16 PM on March 31, 2010


Pope Guilty: "Punishment? I'd give them care. Psychological care, social rehabilitation, that sort of thing. While it would be emotionally satisfying to say "throw the book at them!", I think figuring out what's wrong with them and fixing it would be far more productive for society."

Perhaps. But they must also pay some of price for having helped end a life, just as the school must also pay a price as they are partly responsible.

"Social rehabilitation" has to be more than group therapy. How about, say, a few years (not months or weeks) of community service? Maybe serving others instead of terrorising them is the solution.

Because no matter how underdeveloped you think their brains may be, there are 14 year olds who will see "care" as an easy way out and tell you just what you want to hear so as to escape the worst consequences of their actions.
posted by bwg at 12:12 AM on April 1, 2010


Video: Outrage grows in Massachusetts bullying case.
posted by ericb at 7:08 AM on April 1, 2010


Schools head defends response to bullying -- "South Hadley schools superintendent Gus Sayer defended school officials’ handling of the bullying that preceded student Phoebe Prince’s suicide."
posted by ericb at 7:12 AM on April 1, 2010


Otherwise, to my ears, it sounds like you're saying "oh, they're just a troubled soul, they can't help it, we have to try to be understanding and forgive them because they're at a disadvantage."

There's a whole lot of ground that could be covered that falls in-between "throw the assholes in jail" and "talk with them about their bullying feeeelings" and "do nothing."
posted by desuetude at 9:16 AM on April 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


That's fair, desuetude...I should probably disclose that I work in matters of liability so I have other reasons for questioning what can be done and who should be held responsible or blamed and to what extent. My example was meant to point out the difficulty in determining what's bullying and what should be reported, because a lot of it seems to depend on factors such as the sensitivity of the target of the abuse--what's the reasonable standard here? How do you determine what was fair game and what was not, and when the proverbial line was crossed and by whom?

These are a couple of sad, painful, tragic cases here. A lot of mefites seem to have been victims of bullying at some point and still carry the scars. A lot of bullying goes on ON Metafilter (I still occasionally read jabs at konolia and sixcolors in Metatalk etc). But I'm asking honestly, what can be done? All I'm hearing is "intervention" and "something".


I actually don't think that individual blame or liability per se is the most realistic angle to pursue. Schools already don't necessarily do so great with strict policy guidelines that are based to some extent on liability (handcuffed children for penknives or aspirin!)

But we do already charge teachers to be mandated reporters of suspected child abuse.

Now, I'm not suggesting that CPS be called in for bullied children -- it's beyond their mission and good lord, that system is overburdened already in most places. But it seems to me that reports of severe bullying could be handled very differently. Not because ohmygod the kids might hang themselves and then we'll be in trouble, but because the school should do right by the kids. And this is part of running a school.

Let's not compare school bullying to snarky behavior between adults on one community website. As someone pointed out upthread, I'm not forced to spend all day in a building with MeFites. Yes, online communities were used to further torment this poor girl, but it was among classmates IRL.
posted by desuetude at 9:33 AM on April 1, 2010


But they must also pay some of price for having helped end a life

Really? To what end? What benefit is there? If such a "price" helps to reinforce the wrongness of what they did without being cruel for cruelty's sake, then surely it can be covered under the heading of rehabilitation. If not, then it becomes vengeance, a motivation which serves nobody.

Because no matter how underdeveloped you think their brains may be, there are 14 year olds who will see "care" as an easy way out and tell you just what you want to hear so as to escape the worst consequences of their actions.

This is a call for intelligent rehabilitators, not against rehabilitation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:42 AM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I actually don't think that individual blame or liability per se is the most realistic angle to pursue. Schools already don't necessarily do so great with strict policy guidelines that are based to some extent on liability

Agreed, definitely--unfortunately that seems to be exactly what this bill is aiming to accomplish though:


"...the bill...requires school officials — bus drivers, cafeteria workers, teachers, and others — to report bullying to a school’s principal.

The bill defines bullying, in part, as 'the repeated use by a perpetrator of a written, verbal, or electronic expression, or physical act or gesture . . . directed at a victim that causes physical or emotional harm or damage to the victim’s property; places the victim in reasonable fear or harm to himself or of damage to his property; [or] creates a hostile environment at school.’

If principals determine that the bullying constitutes a criminal act, they would be required to report the incident to law enforcement."


This opens the door to so many possible allegations of who should have done what and when it makes my head spin. Not to mention it looks a lot like there isn't much here to address the problem of knowing what's "a criminal act" until something terrible like this happens and it's too late. I'm disturbed by the calls for the school officials' heads based on an allegation that some of them might have been aware of ... something bad happening to this poor girl at some point.

I agree about the problem comparing Metafilter to high school, didn't notice it upthread. It's not a comparison I was making btw--just pointing out bullying doesn't only exist in school and is commonplace in all aspects of society.
posted by Kirk Grim at 12:57 PM on April 1, 2010


just pointing out bullying doesn't only exist in school and is commonplace in all aspects of society.
Maybe, but when grown-ups do to their co-workers what Phoebe Prince's schoolmates allegedly did to her, we call it sexual harassment and, at least in the U.S., allow the victim to sue the hell out of the perpetrators and the employer. And school, unlike work, is mandatory. I don't see why kids at school should have any less protection from harassment and intimidation than grown-ups at work have.
posted by craichead at 1:19 PM on April 1, 2010


I don't see why kids at school should have any less protection from harassment and intimidation than grown-ups at work have.

Strictly speaking, do they not already? I think the only difference would be in terms of consequences for the bullies because we're dealing with minors. And of course there's still the issue of the victims not wanting to come forward due to the shame and fear that often comes with being victimized like this, as others have noted.
posted by Kirk Grim at 2:54 PM on April 1, 2010


Kids fighting in school can in most cases look forward to suspension or at worst expulsion. People fighting in the street can look forward to jail time for assault.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:59 PM on April 1, 2010


Strictly speaking, do they not already? I think the only difference would be in terms of consequences for the bullies because we're dealing with minors.

No, they do not -- companies have a much bigger vested interest in not allowing employees to be victimized. Not in the least because it affects their bottom line. craichead is right, this would be sexual harassment and hostile environment if it occurred in an office.

Plus, of course, an employee can quit. A student can't just quit school, legally.

And those consequences for the perpetrators are a whole different ball of wax, too, because their schooling is also compulsory.
posted by desuetude at 3:17 PM on April 1, 2010


The kids that got charged were charged under existing laws, not the provisions of the anti-bullying bill. And they got charged with these things because they were doing something illegal--illegal if you're an adult working for a company and illegal if you're a kid in school.
posted by Kirk Grim at 3:41 PM on April 1, 2010


Some tribes in Canada are engaging in restorative justice, in which miscreants like these bullies are brought face-to-face with the people they have harmed and generally get a big-picture understanding of why it all matters.

AFAIK, it works out pretty well most of the time.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:46 PM on April 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


And they got charged with these things because they were doing something illegal--illegal if you're an adult working for a company and illegal if you're a kid in school.

Almost certainly because of the massive amount of attention being paid to this case in the wake of a suicide. NOW it's a big fucking deal that they committed crimes. Great.
posted by desuetude at 4:08 PM on April 1, 2010


And they got charged with these things because they were doing something illegal--illegal if you're an adult working for a company and illegal if you're a kid in school.
Yes, but the only reason they were charged with anything was that their victim killed herself and further that she was a pretty, photogenic girl with a compelling back-story which made the media take notice. Otherwise, there would probably have been no consequences.
posted by craichead at 4:10 PM on April 1, 2010


I have no idea why you are presuming either that I'm not a victim of bullying myself or why you think that arguing for care instead of vengeance for the victimizers makes one an enemy of the victims.

Because all too often, that's precisely the position that I've heard others espouse. That's why I introduced my position with "as long as you ALSO advocate services for the victims, then good".

I just see victims get short shrift way too often; I admit to a bit of a bias as a former target myself. But I just am flashing back now to the thread about the guy who wrote a bitter essay about why he wasn't going to his high school reunion -- because he'd suffered bullying just as cruel, if not crueller, than Phoebe Prince suffered. And the majority of the comments to the FPP were all about how they thought he was being whiny and should get over it.

I absolutely support constructive support for the bullies. But I really, really also want to see constructive support for their targets as well, rather than just shrugging and figuring that "well, now that the bullying's stopped I guess our work here is done". Because the bullies left scars in the victims that ALSO stand to be treated.

Just treat them both, is all I ask. And I ask because all too often, I've seen people forget the victims need treatment too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:14 PM on April 1, 2010


Pope Guilty: "Really? To what end? What benefit is there?"

Didn't I say the purpose was to help others? Or are you just being obtuse on purpose?

In this discussion I've tried to be flexible and see things from your point of view, but clearly the effort has been entirely one-sided.

At this point we might as well agree to disagree and move on.
posted by bwg at 4:32 PM on April 1, 2010


So your argument is that we must extract vengeance to help others? That's just nonsense. That it helps nobody is what makes it vengeance.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:32 PM on April 1, 2010


Yeah, I'm not seeing the relevance of the media attention here considering my whole point was that the laws already exist, apply to everyone, and were applied in this case. Or the work/school distinction you're making in this context, because I'm pretty sure people drop out of high school all the time and that legal concepts like sexual harassment in the workplace and "hostile environment" were created specifically because most people cannot, in fact, simply quit their jobs.

I agree if what you're saying is that when crimes go unreported, they don't generally have consequences. With bullying, not reporting the crimes is common and problematic. The bill tries to address that, and I think it might go too far in doing so--like many people here have done in assigning blame to school officials and other students based on the very limited information we have available regarding what they knew and when.

With that, I'm outta here. I don't think we disagree, we're just bickering at this point.
posted by Kirk Grim at 6:55 PM on April 1, 2010


Yeah, I'm not seeing the relevance of the media attention here considering my whole point was that the laws already exist, apply to everyone, and were applied in this case.
They were only applied in this case because there was huge international outrage, and therefore the DA scrambled to find anything to charge the bullies with. Some of the charges had nothing to do with the bullying, as with the statutory rape charges. And it's not clear that the charges will stick.
Or the work/school distinction you're making in this context, because I'm pretty sure people drop out of high school all the time
Phoebe Prince was fifteen years old when she died, and therefore she was legally required to go to school. Your solution to her problem is that she should have broken the law? You do realize, right, that she and her parents could have been arrested for that? Or that a good resolution would have been for her to miss out on the education to which she was entitled?
and that legal concepts like sexual harassment in the workplace and "hostile environment" were created specifically because most people cannot, in fact, simply quit their jobs.
Similarly, most students cannot drop out of public school, because their parents cannot afford private schools or homeschooling and children are legally required to attend school. It's even harder for kids to drop out of school than for adults to quit their jobs. However, schoolchildren do not have similar rights to sue their schools for permitting sexual harassment or a hostile environment, which means that schools have less incentive than workplaces do to prevent harassment.
I agree if what you're saying is that when crimes go unreported, they don't generally have consequences. With bullying, not reporting the crimes is common and problematic.
With bullying, if you report it, it's not treated as a crime. It's treated as an interpersonal problem, and often the victim is blamed as much as or more than the perpetrators. To treat it a a crime would be to assume that children are full citizens, with the same rights to dignity and security as anyone else, and our society won't do that. Harassment and violence do not become less criminal or more acceptable because they happen between classmates at school.

I don't know if they need a new law. But the entire culture around bullying definitely needs to change, and it strikes me as a tad bizarre that you seem to think things are just hunky dory.
posted by craichead at 7:17 PM on April 1, 2010


Where did you get the idea that "my solution" is for bullied kids to drop out of school? What relevance does the legality of dropping out have to this discussion? It happens, you're aware of that, right? 5% of students in the US aged 15-24 dropped out of grades 10-12 in the year 2000 according to the National Centre for Education Statistics.

You're looking at an example of bullying being treated as a crime, a piece of legislation making bullying a crime, in a post about bullying as a crime, and telling me it's not treated as a crime, and then throwing points back at me that I made upthread that you earlier objected to.
posted by Kirk Grim at 8:26 PM on April 1, 2010


What relevance does the legality of dropping out have to this discussion?
Because we generally don't ask people to deal with being crime victims by breaking laws that are designed for their own protection?
It happens, you're aware of that, right? 5% of students in the US aged 15-24 dropped out of grades 10-12 in the year 2000 according to the National Centre for Education Statistics.
Why is that relevant to the discussion?

When you say that the reason that sexual harassment laws apply to adults is that adults can't quit their jobs and then point out that some children quit school, you seem to be suggesting that the solution to harassment at school is for the victims to drop out.
You're looking at an example of bullying being treated as a crime, a piece of legislation making bullying a crime, in a post about bullying as a crime, and telling me it's not treated as a crime
Yes. In this extraordinary case, in which the DA faced totally unique pressures to prosecute, bullying has been treated as a crime. The DA has had to stretch current laws to the breaking point to do that. That doesn't prove that bullying is usually treated as a crime or even as a serious matter. Only in truly extraordinary cases involving death and massive media attention is bullying treated as a crime. I don't think anyone has been able to find any other instance of bullies in Massachusetts being prosecuted.

I honestly can't tell if you're deliberately being dense or if you really are this stupid!
posted by craichead at 8:45 PM on April 1, 2010


I don't and haven't asked for any victim to drop out of school or break any other laws. Settle down. You are drawing conclusions based on things I never said or implied.

I said that sexual harassment laws exist and were created in large part because it's unreasonable and unfair to ask someone to "just quit their job" if they don't like their boss/co-workers harassing them, as YOU stated they could do when you said work is not "mandatory" like school is. That was a point you were making, not me. What I pointed out was when bullying in school was comprised of sexual harassment and a hostile environment, for example, that students are also enjoy protections from harassment and intimidation much like people would in the workplace. When it's violence or something criminal, they are also protected by law. We agree that a problem exists in that a lot of the time it's not reported.

Now I don't really want to get into a long discussion of why it's more difficult to hold a public institution (like a school) liable in tort than it is a private company. But your link does not say that students don't have similar rights, it says they may have a larger burden of proof. Title IX actually guarantees they do have those rights.

I quote: "First, in Gebser v. Lago Vista Ind. Sch. Dist.,8 a case involving
teacher-student sexual harassment, the Supreme Court determined that for an educational
institution to be liable for damages for sexual harassment under Title IX, an appropriate
school official must have had knowledge of the harassment and, in the face of that
knowledge, been deliberately indifferent. The Court echoed that same standard in the
context of student-on-student harassment and, in Davis v. Monroe County. Bd. of Educ.,
held that a private damages action in a peer harassment case will succeed only where “the
behavior is so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it denies its victims the
equal access to education that Title IX is designed to protect.”

I don't find that unreasonable. Note that it says nothing of the legal consequences for the guilty teacher, just the liability of the district, who may not have had any awareness of the activity. I also note that the second case they speak of means the DISTRICT is only liable if the bullying was severe and interfering with their access to education. And whether the district shelling out a fat stack o' cash to a victim of bullying will solve any bully problems is anyone's guess. The district would certainly have less resources to accomplish that goal now, let alone providing the other students in the district a decent education.

Stay in school, kids. Say no to craic.
posted by Kirk Grim at 9:44 PM on April 1, 2010


I said that sexual harassment laws exist and were created in large part because it's unreasonable and unfair to ask someone to "just quit their job" if they don't like their boss/co-workers harassing them, as YOU stated they could do when you said work is not "mandatory" like school is. That was a point you were making, not me.
I was pointing out that school for children is analogous to work for adults. In fact, students are even more stuck than adults are at work. But children do not have the same rights to be safe from harassment than adults do. That's all. I don't think that children are any less deserving of protection from harassment than adults are. At the moment, they get less protection.
What I pointed out was when bullying in school was comprised of sexual harassment and a hostile environment, for example, that students are also enjoy protections from harassment and intimidation much like people would in the workplace.
That's not true, though. Students do not enjoy protections at all like people in the workplace do. Workplaces bend over backwards to prevent sexual harassment, not because they really care, but because they worry about being sued. Before they faced the threat of lawsuits, sexual harassment was as endemic in American workplaces as bullying is in American schools. The reason that schools tolerate it is that there are no consequences for them for tolerating it.
When it's violence or something criminal, they are also protected by law.
No they aren't. Victims of bullies are almost never able to use the law to remedy their situation. The law didn't "protect" Phoebe Prince until after she was dead, and nobody can find another instance of a bully in Massachusetts being prosecuted.
We agree that a problem exists in that a lot of the time it's not reported.
We don't agree about that. That's your victim-blaming hang-up, not mine. Reporting it often doesn't help. By all accounts, Phoebe Prince reported it, and the school's response was to offer her counseling. The source of the problem was seen as her feelings, not the bullies' behavior.
I don't find that unreasonable.
That's not terribly surprising, given that you've made it very clear throughout this discussion that you don't think bullying is a problem.
And whether the district shelling out a fat stack o' cash to a victim of bullying will solve any bully problems is anyone's guess.
Maybe that's true, but it's the remedy that is available to adults, and it's not available to school children. And since there is no alternative remedy for school children, that means that children in school have less protection than grown-ups do. I think that's a problem and that it partially explains why harassment is so much more common in schools than in most workplaces. It's very clear that you disagree, which is your right. But I'd like to think that the tide is turning against people like you.
posted by craichead at 4:47 AM on April 2, 2010


Maybe that's true, but it's the remedy that is available to adults, and it's not available to school children

Your link. Upthread. Cites case after case of children suing school boards. For sexual harassment. On the first friggin page: "the Supreme Court has made clear
that Title IX bars sexual harassment and that a damages remedy is available in actions
brought to enforce this prohibition." It also outlines what I think are very reasonable limitations that the bullied may face in suing the district (rather than pursuing those directly responsible or pursuing criminal charges). These include establishing that district officials knew about it and did nothing, and that it was severe enough as to interfere with the victim's ability to exercise their right to an education. Frankly, I would hope the corollary for sexual harassment in the workplace was similar and would be surprised if it wasn't. Also, kids most certainly have the right to go to the police with allegations of assault when they are victims of violence. On these points, you are just wrong, craichead.

The reason that schools tolerate it is that there are no consequences for them for tolerating it.

See above. We can disagree here, but I don't necessarily think *all* examples of bullying require criminal charges and law suits. The occasional name-calling or even wedgie isn't the end of the world and is often just part of growing up. It's very hard for school staff to determine what's fair and what's over the line. Is this not a relevant, practical concern to you? How about the fact that people like cafeteria staff and school bus drivers are being asked to make this distinction under this new bill? They'll be partially responsible now if something like this happens. It's not an easy call. It's one of those "zero-tolerance" things that ends up with ridiculous outcomes like desuetude pointed out upthread--handcuffs for aspirin etc.

These kids crossed a line, and they're not the first. There are lines drawn, have been drawn, and this bill draws another one: principals now have to report to the authorities if he decides the bullying constitutes criminal behaviour. That's a good thing. However, if he doesn't know about it, this won't happen. That's a problem. Pointing this out to you seems to mean I blame the victim. Sorry to spoil your outragefilter, but that's not really a fair characterization.

I'm really not sure what evidence of bending over backwards to avoid sexual harassment you're seeing in the American workplace, but I also don't care. You've simply decided I don't care about kids being bullied to death because I haven't peppered my posts with statements about how sad I am and calling for the blood of everyone at her school.
posted by Kirk Grim at 12:36 PM on April 2, 2010


The moment you stop sending your kid to school you're breaking compulsory-attendance laws, and you can be sure you are in for unpleasant visits from social workers and cops. Funding for government-supported schools is calculated on number of students, so a missing student costs the school money. That they take seriously

jfuller, homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.
posted by not that girl at 9:13 AM on April 5, 2010


jfuller, homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.

I'm fairly certain you have to submit some kind of educational plan, though, and I don't know if you can just keep your kid home to be "homeschooled" if the parents or a designated tutor aren't there to teach or supervise. I think it would be really expensive and difficult to actually set this kind of thing up. I'm pretty sure Phoebe's mom was working.
posted by anniecat at 10:47 AM on April 5, 2010


*expensive in the sense of lost wages of having a parent supervise rather than go to work and make money.
posted by anniecat at 10:47 AM on April 5, 2010


I'm fairly certain you have to submit some kind of educational plan, though, and I don't know if you can just keep your kid home to be "homeschooled" if the parents or a designated tutor aren't there to teach or supervise.

Whether you have to submit a plan or not depends entirely on the state. Here in Michigan, we don't. We do get to just not send our kids to school. In other places there are much more stringent regulations.

I think it would be really expensive and difficult to actually set this kind of thing up. I'm pretty sure Phoebe's mom was working.

I was reacting to the case last year where the 11-year-old boy was being harassed so badly that he killed himself. I don't know how much this girl's parents knew about what was going on for her at school, but I think I remember that the boy's parents were trying to get the school to step in, without success. I know there are costs involved in taking a kid out of school, but sometimes I do wonder just how bad it has to get for a kid before a parent who could bear the cost, albeit with difficulty, to do that? After their son died, these parents had the money to sue the school. Why didn't they use their resources to rescue him before it got to that? Sometimes I think people just don't realize that school isn't like the weather, it doesn't just happen and you don't just have to put up with it.

I don't mean to sound so completely lacking in compassion. I just wish the parents of that boy had been able to see the options available to them.
posted by not that girl at 8:17 PM on April 10, 2010


How Not to Raise a Bully: The Early Roots of Empathy
posted by homunculus at 12:58 PM on April 18, 2010


I'm fairly certain you have to submit some kind of educational plan, though, and I don't know if you can just keep your kid home to be "homeschooled" if the parents or a designated tutor aren't there to teach or supervise. I think it would be really expensive and difficult to actually set this kind of thing up.'

Homeschooled (through elementary school) person here.

We (in Maine) didn't have to do any of that nonsense. We checked in with a certified teacher every year, showed her what we'd been doing, and that was it.

Tutoring? Ha.
posted by dunkadunc at 1:05 PM on April 18, 2010


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