Consequences for tragic cyberbullying suicide

October 17, 2013 

Girls Suicide Bullying

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd talks about the events leading up to the arrest over the weekend of two juvenile girls in a Florida bullying case at a press conference in Winter Haven, Fla., Monday, Oct. 15, 2013. Two middle school girls ages 14 and 12 have been arrested and charged with felony aggravated stalking in connection with the suicide earlier this year of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick in Lakeland. Judd said police arrested the 14-year-old girl after she posted online Saturday that she bullied Rebecca and she didn't care. The 12-year-old girl was Rebecca's former best friend, but Judd said the 14-year-old girl turned her against Rebecca. (AP Photo/The Ledger, Calvin Knight) TAMPA TRIBUNE OUT

CALVIN KNIGHT — ASSOCIATED PRESS

Actions have consequences. Bullies must be held accountable for their abusive behavior, especially youngsters. They must learn they cannot conduct torturous campaigns against other children and not pay a price with some form of punishment.

That should be the message the Polk County Sheriff's Office is sending with the arrests of two Lakeland girls who hounded a 12-year-old for a year until the girl leaped to her death on Sept. 10. Tuesday's arrests came in the wake of an ruthless posting on Facebook by the 14-year-old tormentor: "Yes I know I bullied Rebecca and she killed her self but IDGAF ..."

The heartless comment provoked detectives into arresting the 14-year-old and her 12-year-old ally in the bullying, both online and face-to-face. The two were charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony.

Where were their parents over all these months? The 12-year-old was suspended from middle school for allegedly physically attacking Rebecca Ann Sedwick, her former best friend, so her parents had to know.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd expressed outrage with the older girl's parents for failing to monitor their daughter's behavior and allowing her to keep her cellphone -- and then telling authorities her account had been hacked. Neither family cooperated with investigators, a sign they could be part of the problem.

Judd had some choice words for the adults during Tuesday's press conference: "I'm aggravated that the parents are not doing what parents should do ..." Then he spelled out sound advice for all parents: "Watch what your children do online. Pay attention. Quit being their best friend and be their best parent."

Indeed, parents should be held accountable, too.

The 14-year-old admitted to the bullying to authorities. The cruelty included calling the victim ugly and urging her to drink bleach and die, sent via text messages to Rebecca's cellphone.

We as a society must teach our children about bullying and social media abuse, and remain ever vigilant for the warning signs of torment. In this era of instant messaging, social media bullying has become too prevalent.

Our schools are on the front lines of bullying as classmates take a dislike to one another and lash out. Some 500 Braden River Middle School students heard an excellent message days after Rebecca's death, thanks to a motivational speaker once a victim as a youngster. Fabian Ramirez also issued this sage advice: "You know what suicide is? Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

"Bullycide," he called it.

Students mustn't suffer from such abuse. In addition to educating children about bullying and empowering them to end it, the Manatee County School District offers a website link for anonymous reporting should students not want to talk to an adult in person. That link is http://www.manateeschools.net/safe/bullying1.htm.

Bullying is commonly under-reported as victims endure the attacks. Here's where parents can help -- by noticing changes in mood and behavior and talking to their children.

Social media sites such as FaceBook and Twitter have a responsibility to fight cyberbullying, and indeed both feature pages with tools such as blocking an abuser. Check www.facebook.com/help/420576171311103 and https://support.twitter.com/articles/15794-online-abuse.

Bullies must face consequences for heartless behavior -- just like Polk County is pursuing.

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