HEARTS OF DARKNESS Dr. David Carll
The short sad life of a shunned Vancouver teen Amanda Todd, has tragically ended in a very heart rending and public forum. The saga began three years ago when the twelve year old grade eight girl naively went to the internet seeking companionship unavailable to her in the hyper cliquish environment of her public school. An adult internet predator intimidated her in to exposing her breasts to be captured on the internet forever. The images were then broadcast further resulting in greater ostracizing that included a swarming assault by no less than 15 male and female students. Two actually physically assaulted the youngster leaving her battered body in a road side ditch while the other thirteen shouted encouragement and videotaped the event. Several changes in school venue failed to prevent her stalker accessing her by internet. Appropriate parent intervention and professional counselling were unable to strengthen her fragile psyche from this continuum of harassment. There followed a series of psychiatric ward admissions, failed suicide attempts culminating in a dramatic Chaplinesque silent screen cry for help on the internet followed by her suicide.
Perhaps the parents will derive some solace from the overwhelming and sympathetic outpouring of condolences from the public. Unfortunately this legitimate public grieving has been superseded by a system covering its own ineffectiveness focussing on this cyber bullying word du jour.
I ask this question. If an adult walked up to a twelve year old girl on the street and used their adult life experience to coerce that child in to undressing her breasts, photographed her then disseminated those pictures he would be charged with criminal offence(s) and prosecuted. Why are we treating the internet any differently? For our children, social media are their highways. Disseminating pictures of a twelve year old girls breasts is PORNOGRAPHY. It is not cyberbullying. This sequence of events was monitored by a child protection group and the information given to the police more than two years ago. To date, there has been no charge laid. In fact, there was no investigation until the terminal event of the suicide
The more current event of the swarming assault, also known to school authorities, resulted in no suspensions, detentions or even reprimands and the two videotaped assailants have faced no criminal investigation or charges.
The criminal code of our country has clearly defined statutes regarding assault, uttering threats, stalking and physical and social harassment as well as clearly defined penalties for engaging in these antisocial behaviours.
We all experienced bullying as children and cyber bullying has certainly added a new more intrusive format for the harassment. Both are clearly catalysts for the peer isolation and depression experienced by our children today but they are only the face of a much larger issue.
Depression and suicide are words not often seen in our public forums. They are the uncomfortable bêtes noire in our society. There is an urgency to remove the stigma of mental disease and address the subject frontally and immediately. One in four of our children who die before the age of 20 do so by suicide. For the first nations population, the number is quadruple the national average and for marginalized teens with gender identification issues, the number of attempted self harm events is ten times that of the identified heterosexual teen population. The World Health Organization cites depression as the number one health issue now and for the future.
We are mistaken if we expect a political solution to the issue of child suicide. The issue begins in the home. Two clues you may have a problem. Does the family eat dinner as a unit away from the TV thus allowing meaningful dialogue? Do you have any monitoring locks on your home computer preventing predator contacts? Have you asked your child three questions. Are you sad? Are you being bullied? Who are you communicating with on the internet those many hours you spend in isolation in your room…are they your school mates or unidentified strangers? If the answer to any of these questions is a yes, get your child the school and professional help they need.
As for the internet, it’s time we shut down the abuses. The issue is not free speech. Web sites that indiscriminately target children should be shut down by the servers. The internet must be taken to task when it results in unfettered access by children or to our children. We don’t need any further political posturing. We already have an abundance of laws in place. As parents, we must insist their full weight be applied against the predators.
Amanda has escaped her hell. I pray she has found a happy place.