Phoebe Prince must have been nervous on her first day of school. Moving from Ireland to western Massachusetts would be a big change, especially as the new girl in a new high school.
No-one could have predicted how hard it would be or that her younger sister would come home from school one day to find Phoebe’s lifeless 15-year-old body hanging from her closet.
What led to this tragic ending?
Relentless harassment, name-calling, stalking, intimidation, and threatened physical abuse over multiple months. The reason for the bullying – Phoebe’s brief relationship with a senior football player that had ended weeks before her suicide.
When news of Phoebe’s suicide reached the hallways of South Hadley High School, her bullies did not demonstrate regret or remorse for their actions. Instead, they took to Facebook to mock her death and continued badmouthing her at school.
Yesterday, however, 9 students (the majority female) were charged in connection with Phoebe’s untimely death including charges of statutory rape, violation of civil rights, criminal harassment, and disturbing a school assembly.
In a press conference, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel announced that the bullying circumstances preceding Phoebe’s death “far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship related quarrels.”
“The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe was designed to humiliate her and make it impossible for her to remain at school,” said Scheibel. “The bullying for her became intolerable.”
Investigators also found that Phoebe’s harassment was “common knowledge to most of the South Hadley High School student body” and that certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school were also alerted to the intense bullying. While some students and faculty intervened on Phoebe’s behalf it was too little, too late.
This is a truly horrific story.
Imagine the deep desperation Phoebe must have felt to end her own life. And to think it all started because of a brief relationship she had with an older boy. Were the girls bullying her and calling her a slut because they were jealous of the new girl who landed a senior football player? Was Phoebe made a target simply because she was the new girl in school?
We may never know the answers to these questions, but in my experience I have found that in high school you are measured by three things: your relationships, your physical appearance, and your sexual activity, all of which calculate your popularity which is of utmost importance. If you’re a loner, date the wrong person, hang with the wrong crowd, or have too much sex, or none at all, you are harshly judged by your peers.
Phoebe could have been targeted for any (or all) of these reasons. It has been reported that her bullies called her a slut in the hallways and that some of the harassment stemmed from her relationship with an upper classman. For whatever reason, some students did not approve and so the campaign against Phoebe both in school and online using Facebook and other social networking sites began.
It’s interesting that as a female Phoebe was targeted for her relationship with another boy and her alleged promiscuity (2 of the boys in this case are charged with statutory rape). Was her ex-boyfriend targeted too? No reports indicate that this was the case so why was Phoebe targeted alone?
Would these girls have devoted so much time and energy into bullying their classmate if they had more self-esteem and confidence. Perhaps I’m being naive, but I do think that bullies do what they do so that they can make themselves feel better. If we worked with girls from a young age to build their self-esteem and develop their interests (beyond being popular or pretty) perhaps we can avoid such tragic ends like Phoebe’s.
Could Phoebe’s death have been avoided? What do you think we can do to eliminate bullying? Do you think girls and boys are targeted differently?
Phoebe Prince picture above; family photo - http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2010/03/holding_for_pho.html