I've been following the story of Phoebe Prince, the 15 year old South Hadley by way of Co Clare teen who committed suicide on January 14th since the news appeared in the Irish Voice. Given that Irish America magazine shares the same office as the Voice, I've listened as my coworkers expressed shock, sadness, and anger about the the devastating fate of Phoebe.
Up until the last few weeks, when the news that nine of her classmates were facing criminal charges, I did not realize that this heartbreaking story had also caught the attention of the mainstream media. I opened the New York Times
one morning to find an article about Phoebe's suicide and the subsequent charges against her classmates. I was asked by a family member if I had heard about the girl from Massachusetts who had hung herself after being bullied. Its been nearly three months since Phoebe took her own life and yet the rest of the world is only hearing about it now. We all know that bullying takes place in schools, many of us have watched it happen or experienced it first hand. Schools run seminars for teachers and students on how to deal with bullying. Students are encouraged to tell teachers if they are being picked on. Teachers and parents are trained to look out for signs of bullying.
And yet all of this failed. In the end, all the plans put into place to protect children were not implemented. Some stories say that school officials saw Phoebe being tormented on the day of her death and did nothing. Her mother expressed concern over the threats towards her daughter. Phoebe cried outside of classrooms and told others of the harassment.
Blame is being placed everywhere: on school officials, the students, the internet, texting, and even on Phoebe herself. Blaming Phoebe will solve nothing. It will only allow for bullying to continue and more children to fall prey to bullies.
I don't think there is a clear solution. If the school is reprimanded and the students are found guilty, will that really stop the bullying trend? It might stem the tide for a bit but new methods will arise and the trend will continue. How many of us can remember the countless names of other victims of bullying, abuse, and rape? Their names, along with the anger people felt about their untimely deaths, fade away and are replaced with the latest pop star news. If we let what happened to Phoebe fade away then we will only be facing a similar story in the future.