Tim Collins/Sooke News Mirror
The mother of a Grade 8 Middle School student (who we’ll call Anne in order to protect her identity) is speaking out about her situation in the hopes of alerting parents and young people in the community about the silent threat of cyber-bullying.
The situation for the family (whose surname is being withheld by request) started innocently enough. The 13-year-old student moved into the community with her family about two years ago and everything seemed to be fine. She made friends and seemed to be enjoying school, much in the way one would expect.
Then, according to Anne, things went off track very suddenly, and for the most inane of reasons.
It seems that her daughter’s friend called her a few weeks back and asked her to come to watch her play a soccer game in the community. When her daughter declined, saying that she preferred to “chill at home” the harassment began.
First the friend, and then an expanding circle of hangers-on began sending her daughter texts that went from insulting to physically threatening and finally to the extreme of advising her daughter that she should commit suicide.
A brief respite in the harassment, following an intervention by parents, was short lived. A new imagined slight set the same “friend” into yet another tailspin and the harassment not only began again, it intensified.
“I got a call at work and was asked to come home, and when I got there, I was met by my daughter and the RCMP. It seems my daughter had sent a text in reply to some harassing texts she’d received that said that the only thing that was keeping her alive was the support she was getting from her family. A real friend at school saw the text and the RCMP was notified,” said Anne.
“The RCMP were very concerned and spoke to us about the situation and that led to our contacting the school. They took it very seriously.”
The middle school administration also took the situation seriously and on Friday (Oct.13) a meeting was held between school administration, a school councillor, the RCMP and Anne. By this time Anne’s daughter had missed three days of school, frightened to venture back to class for fear of being bullied or physically assaulted.
Corporal Joe Holmes of the Sooke RCMP explained that the police find these situations difficult, but they will not ignore them or put them off as harmless childhood conflicts.
“It can be difficult at times, as some forms of bullying actually fall under the School Act and are generally left to the school to resolve. But it’s possible that bullying can spill over into criminal harassment and then the people doing the bullying could be liable for criminal charges,” said Holmes. “This situation was approaching that threshold.”
The preferred method of dealing with bullying behaviour is education, added Holmes. He explained that the RCMP has a program in place, called DARE, in which on-line behaviour is addressed and young people are given information on their responsibilities when communicating on-line, the dangers of the cyber world, and what to do if you are the victim of on-line harassment.
“I have two older children who are adults now, so this isn’t my first rodeo raising kids,” said Anne. “But I’ve found that, now, we are in a whole new world of problems that come along with our increasingly connected society. Kids can harass each other…threaten each other…without ever having to look the person they’re hurting in the eye.”
She said its not her intention to get any sort of punitive payback against her daughter’s tormentors. Instead she has gone public with her family’s situation as a cautionary tale to other parents and children.
“Parents have to monitor what their children are doing on-line so they are aware if their child is being bullied or if they are hurting others with their own on-line behaviour. They need to teach their kids what to do if they’re bullied and how much harm they can do if they bully others. This is not a joke. It can have life and death consequences,” said Anne.
Holmes backs up Annes warning to parents.
“This is definitely not just some harmless childhood behaviour. We saw the tragic consequences in the Vancouver area a few years back when a young lady committed suicide after being harassed. Other cases have come out since that time and charges have been laid. It’s no joke, and it’s not harmless.”
As for Anne’s daughter, the school, RCMP and the school councillor have put a framework in place to address the situation. There have been some misteps along the way, notably that the RCMP liaison visited Anne’s home and spoke to her daughter without Anne present; something Anne had expressly said she didn’t want happening.
“That was not appropriate but today (Oct 16) we had another meeting and the situation seems to be back on track,” said Anne.
The Grade 8 student will be returning to class soon, apprehensive but hopeful that the harassment will stop.