Queens girl, 12, hangs herself. School cyberbullies revealed to be the cause.
Cyberbullying has become an epidemic in this country. This story and the countless others we see in the news every year make my heart shatter. As a therapist, and a former victim of middle-school bullying, it is so devastating to see these young kids take their own lives because of something so senseless. Bullying is something that is so accepted in our society as a product of that age group, but when are we going to wake up and realize the devastating toll it is taking on our youth? This issue is very near and dear to my heart. Kids have no idea the impact they can have on an individual. It is genuinely frightening to see what kids can do when put under this ‘mob mentality’ to ‘kill or be killed’. If just one person had stuck up for Gabrielle, Ryan Halligan, Megan Meier, Phoebe Prince, Billy Lucas, or Jamey Rodemeyer — or simply reached out to them, I’m willing to bet they might still be here today. I have never told my story before, but this is why I feel the need to. For anyone out there that has kids, or younger siblings, to bring up the discussion of bullying and see if your loved one is suffering at school or on other social media outlets. Forty-four states have anti-bullying laws. But many of these laws are not comprehensive and lack specific definitions of what bullying entails, which makes the implementation of policies nearly impossible.
I was in seventh grade when it all started. To be honest, I’m not sure what caused the change or why it all started happening, but I can remember one day feeling extremely uncomfortable in my own skin. The boys were whispering and laughing as I walked by, a percentage of the girls wanted to distance themselves from me, and things started happening that I didn’t understand. Balls were thrown at me at recess. Balls were attempted to be dumped on me during class. People tried to trip me in the halls. Two boys put their arms together like a gun and would make loud beeping noises as they pointed them at me when I walked by (what I later found out to be a “hair-o-meter”). And a friend finally had to clue me in — they were making fun of me because they claimed my forearms were too hairy. Suddenly the whispers became real words, “hey gorilla”, “want a banana?”, “razor”, and “shave”. “Freezer” was added to the list of names, because I wouldn’t ‘put out’. Screen names started popping up on AOL Instant Messenger that were created for the sole purpose of harrassment. “kelseyISaGORILLA”, “kelseyisacrybaby”, “shaveHAIRY”, and countless others. These screen names would come up saying horrible things about my weight, about how I had no friends, and asking why I didn’t just “do the rest of the world a favor” and shave my arms? It escalated to such an extreme that they told me they would be happy if I would just kill myself. I was twelve/thirteen years old. An extensive website was created for the sole purpose of making fun of me, with my picture being uploaded and put onto a gorilla’s body, with fake journal entries supposedly written by me — one even claiming I said I was going to bring a gun to school, a “spotted” section logging my whereabouts saying things like “I saw kelsey walking down the street walking her dog and her fat stomach was sticking out of her shirt”, and polls about whether I should shave, and whether I should kill myself. I attended a football game and was slide-tackled from behind, landing on my neck, and leaving the game in a stretcher.
Things got so bad that I legitimately contemplated suicide. Everything I knew, my entire world, was complete misery. I dreaded going to school. I tried to fake sick on several accounts just to stay home. It got so bad and I felt so desperate that I ended up printing off the website and giving it to my mom and her boyfriend at the time (who is now my step-dad, Thom), and had to explain everything that was happening. Thom drove to each of the boys’ house who created the website and showed their parents what they had done. As you can imagine, the website was gone within the hour, but the bullying at school didn’t stop — in fact, “tattle tale” and “mama’s girl” and “cry baby” were added onto the list. It wasn’t until graduation day that I was free from it all. I survived the junior high bullying, but I can 100% understand the situation that caused these kids to take their lives. Bullying is no joke, and definitely not something to be brushed aside. This is an unbelievably serious problem that we have in our society. We need to raise awareness and create stricter policies. I have no doubt in my mind that my teachers and school administrators knew what was happening to me. I know this because I went to them, I pleaded with our assistant principal that action should be taken, and none ever was. I tried to handle it on my own before it became too much to bear. Luckily, I chose to involve my parents instead of something drastic against myself. But I truly feel that’s all it was — simply luck. It is so easy to see why some kids would not want to get their parents involved. In certain ways, things got worse for me once I did. That is why it is so important for parents and older siblings to be aware. I remember my mom saying, “who cares what they say? When I was in high school, they called me a “freezer”, too. It just means you respect yourself and you should be proud they think that of you.” She has no idea the impact that had on me. That is what kept me going through each day, knowing that to some degree my mom had been there, too, and she made it out just fine. Parents, older siblings, and most of all to the peers: bullying is not something to take lightly. Don’t let your loved one be the next victim to hatred and disapproval.
Now I am 25 years old, with my master’s degree in mental health counseling. I currently have two publications under review in peer-reviewed journals researching the topic of social exclusion, and plan to start my PhD in clinical psychology in the fall of 2014. My experiences have forever changed my life, and as I am now working as a therapist with adolescents dealing with some of these very same issues, it is alarming to realize that it has only gotten worse for them. Instead of just AOL Instant Messenger, now these kids have Facebook, Instagram, an anonymous site called ask.fm, Twitter… the list is endless. How many deaths do there have to be before we figure out how to get a handle on this?