America was shocked last Tuesday when Florida Sheriff Grady Judd announced the arrest of two girls, 12 and 14, charged with aggravated stalking of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Lakeland, FL.
Rebecca committed suicide, or what we in the freedom-from-bullying movement sometimes call “bullycide,” by jumping from a concrete silo on Sep 9, 2013.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told the Associated Press last week that one of the girls, a 14-year-old, had allegedly threatened and taunted Sedwick, urging her to “drink bleach and die.” Sedwick’s mother, Tricia Norman, says the girl also told her child, “You haven’t killed yourself yet. Go jump off of a building.” Police say the younger girl beat Sedwick up. But Norman also claims a group of up to 15 students were involved in the bullying, which included messages of “I hate u” and “You seriously deserve to die.” Norman says she’d changed Sedwick’s school, put her through months of therapy and monitored her online accounts closely. It was no use. Before she died, she sent online messages of farewell to her friend.
After Sedwick’s death, the 14-year-old suspect wrote on Facebook: “Yes I know I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself and I don’t give a f–k.”
That brazen and audacious statement compelled Judd to arrest the two juveniles.
Now, two girls are charged with felony aggravated stalking, accused of “maliciously harassing” Sedwick with “verbal and physical abuse and cyber-bullying.” But Sheriff Judd says he believes the parents should be charged as well, for their apparent failure to monitor their child’s behavior.
“Where do they get this hatred from?” Norman asks. “Who’s teaching the hatred to these kids, that they’re just going to be that mean to somebody.”
Seemingly in answer to his question, on Friday, the mother of the 14-year-old girl charged in connection with the online taunting of Sedwick was herself arrested by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Vivian Vosburg, 30, was booked into the county jail on two counts of felony child abuse and four counts of child neglect.
Judd said news of the daughter’s arrest prompted several people to alert the sheriff’s office to a video posted in July on Facebook in which the mother is seen beating at least one of her children.
The video shows Vosburg repeatedly punching a boy’s head while another older boy is seen laying on the floor, seemingly unconscious. “They were all laughing, cussing and throwing F-bombs everywhere,” Judd said, “which clearly indicates to us that this is a normal way of life.”
Judd also commented, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
When a vulnerable individual is bullied — bullied to the point of death — the desire for justice is intense. But the law is unclear on what constitutes accountability, especially for minors. In 2011, a 12-year-old Washington state girl received a suspended sentence for posting lewd photos and messages, including taunts of “slut,” on a sixth-grade classmate’s Facebook page. Last year, two years after the suicide of college freshman Tyler Clementi, a New Jersey judge sentenced his roommate Dharun Ravi to 15 criminal charges including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation. He served 20 days in jail.
So it’s unlikely there will be any severe punishment for the two girls who allegedly made another girl’s life hell for a year. But nowhere in the public conversation about the possible consequences has there been mention of getting them psychological counseling or behavior training. And if there’s anything sadder than the thought of a 12-year-old girl throwing herself off a building, it’s the possibility of the lives of two more girls being thrown away as well.
Clearly, at least one of the girls has grown up in an abusive household, and has probably been abused herself. What will happen to these girls if they are not given the help they need? What will happen to their peers once they are back among them?
Bullying and Substance Abuse
Unsurprisingly, there seems to be a link between bullying and substance abuse, both for the bullies and their victims.
A recent Ohio State University study concluded that middle- and high-school students who bully their classmates are more likely than others to use substances such as cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana.
Researchers found that bullies and bully-victims – youth who are both perpetrators and victims – were more likely to use substances than were victims and non-involved youth.
Prevention efforts can lessen these risk factors and strengthen protective factors in a child’s life. If a problem has already surfaced, learn to recognize the warning signs of bullying and being bullied, underage alcohol use, and drug use to intervene before the problem becomes worse.
If you or someone you love is in need of help with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll free 1-800-951-6135.