One year ago today, October 17th 2012, my daughter was assaulted at school by a girl she barely knew. Another girl video-taped the assault and shared it with other students moments afterwards, because it was the “cool” thing to do. As we pieced the details together, we discovered that a third girl, my daughter’s former best-friend, played a significant role in this event, as well. Apparently, there was a barrage of bullying and cyber-bullying events prior to that day. One of which included a pizza box with obscene language, directed at my daughter, being delivered to her in the school cafeteria during the lunch hour. I had no knowledge of the bullying by this group of girls, which apparently had begun three months prior. The first I had heard about this harassment was the day I picked her up from the nurse’s office at school. My daughter kept it from us, for fear of creating more drama and the embarrassment of having her parents get involved. She also knew the former friend’s parents most-likely wouldn’t do anything about it, as we had previous issues with this individual. Since the summer of 2012, when the cyber-bullying began, my daughter has experienced severe debilitating migraine headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Her grades took a nosedive and she was in jeopardy of not graduating on time with the rest of her class. She has been hospitalized twice, once for cutting and once for a suicide attempt. My husband and I have spent an ungodly amount of sleepless nights wondering if we were going to be among those parents who have “lost a child”. None of this has been shared with many people outside our tight-knit family and close friends, until now. The reason? It’s time to take a stand, and it takes a village to do so.
Unbeknownst to us, during the months prior to my daughter’s assault, a recent graduate from my daughter’s high school began following her on a popular social-networking site. She started to pay more attention to my daughter’s online discussions as they started to turn and now continuously included her desperate pleas to end the “blasting” by this group of girls. Reading the vile comments directed at my daughter generated a hurt so deep inside my heart, I wept for days… “stupid ass girl, they never learn”, “but you mean so f****** little and I know you’re way below me”, “a worthless piece of sh**”, “I hate you with everything inside me”, “everyone thinks you’re a stupid b****, it’s great”, “I hope only bad things come to you”, “just die”, “I should f****** kill you”… When the cyber-bullying escalated, this young lady sent my daughter a private message letting her know she had also been the target of bullying before and if she ever needed someone to talk to, she could call her. My daughter had taken this girl’s phone number and began to talk to her about her problems. They eventually became very close friends, despite the scrutiny this girl experienced by her peers because my daughter was younger than her and apparently didn’t meet their “standards”. The day my daughter was assaulted, after leaving me a message on my cell phone, this young lady was the next call she made. Without hesitation, my daughter’s friend came to be with her while she waited in the office for me to come pick her up. During that time, my daughter’s friend gave a very detailed statement to the campus police officer regarding the bullying that occurred prior to the assault. For at least an hour, she scrolled through the online posts and took screenshots of all the cyber-bullying and emailed each one to the officer. The girl who assaulted my daughter was immediately arrested. Since I was not directly available, the school’s Vice-Principal took it upon himself to press charges. After the video of the assault began to make its rounds, the girl responsible for recording it was also cited. Since there was no proof that the third girl played a role in the assault itself, other than being heard during the video laughing and supporting the assault, our hands were tied, and she was not cited for anything. That wasn’t good enough for us.
My daughter wrote out a formal complaint and took photocopies of the screenshots to the local courthouse. Within 24 hours, temporary restraining orders were issued for all THREE girls. Shortly thereafter in court, permanent restraining orders were issued for the maximum time allotted – three years. The restraining order against my daughter’s former friend is a tricky one, as she is also our next-door neighbor. During the time she had the temporary restraining order and prior to court for issuance of the permanent one, her family also began to harass my daughter and our family (the apple does not fall far from the tree). They blasted a radio on their side yard during the night and pointed it towards my daughter’s bedroom window, they installed high-wattage bulbs in their side yard light fixture and left them on all night to annoy her, they egged our home and cars and they made erroneous claims to the city about a supposed illegal shed in our back yard. Because of this, and since it could not be proven which family member was doing the harassing, the judge decided to add the rest of our family members onto her permanent restraining order so that we could all be protected. Since the time all three restraining orders were issued, two of the girls (our neighbor being one) have violated theirs and were subsequently arrested for it. They both continue to test the waters, and it’s only a matter of time before another arrest will be made – we’ll see to that.
In the meantime, my daughter is healing. The hurt, betrayal and cruelty have taken its toll on her, though. She is a changed person – once cheerful, optimistic and outgoing – she is now guarded, fearful and isolated. She has a very small handful of friends and doesn’t socialize much. Her “best friend” at school is a former teacher and coach of hers. She doesn’t eat lunch with everyone else; she prefers to eat inside with an adult, where it is safe. I can’t tell you she won’t hurt herself again – neither can she. While she does use her newly-acquired coping skills, there are times when her feelings are so overwhelming, these methods of coping still occasionally fall by the wayside. She struggles with the emotions that led her to hurt herself EVERY DAY. She still has sleepless nights, now has to take a handful of medications to prevent her migraines and combat her depression and anxiety and prefers to sleep on the pull-out bed in the family room, rather than her bedroom, because it feels safer and less “invaded”. She attended summer school and an extensive outpatient recovery program for her psychological issues, rather than doing “normal” fun summer activities with her friends this year. She sees a psychiatrist and psycho-therapist on a weekly basis, attends bible study and youth group regularly and requires tutoring in her most basic of subjects in school. Her grades have begun to finally come up and, at times, we see the “light” in her eyes, but these are too “few and far between” for our comfort level. We realize it takes time, and I have faith, but when she is not well, it is gut-wrenching to witness. She is forever different.
I am sharing this publicly for two reasons. One – bullying kills. So far, and I say this with trepidation, we have been graciously spared of that fact. But at the very least, BULLYING HARMS PEOPLE TO THE CORE. It needs to end. There need to be tough consequences for this cruel behavior AS WELL AS preventative education. We are fortunate in that our daughter attends a high school that instills and strictly adheres to a no-tolerance policy for bullying. She has always felt supported by the teaching staff and school’s administration regarding her assault and prior bullying incidents. More needs to be done, though. There are non-profit programs available for schools to tap into, and not enough of our schools are taking advantage of these resources. Programs such as The Bully Project, Stand for the Silent, Kind Campaign, and stopbullying.gov need to be explored and utilized by our educators. Much in the same way we need to be advocates for our children’s physical, emotional and spiritual health, we need to stand together and advocate for our schools to see these programs through. Start a dialog with your local schools’ administrators regarding school climate and student morale. You may find that all they need is ONE parent volunteer to champion these efforts. BE THE ONE. And two, encourage your kids to “BE THE ONE” friend who is willing to stand up against bullying and peer-scrutiny to offer the support needed to ANYONE who is being bullied and needs a friend. It is not “getting involved in other people’s drama” where bullying is concerned. It is different than it was when we were kids. We can no longer ignore the bully, hoping that he or she will stop, or pretend we didn’t witness someone else being bullied. Bullying doesn’t end when school lets out and kids walk through the front door. With the inception of cell phones and social media, it runs rampant 24/7. Just as I would never encourage my children (or ANYONE, for that matter) to turn a blind eye on an obvious crime being committed, I will NEVER encourage them to take a back seat and “mind their own business” when they witness this cruel behavior. I challenge all parents to take this approach and instill it in your children. Despite all surrounding efforts to thwart her actions, all it took was ONE person to reach out to my daughter to offer her a soft place to fall. ONE. It could save a life. It saved hers.
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