Two middle school girls were arrested by Florida authorities Monday evening and charged with felony Aggravated Stalking in connection with the case of 12 year old Rebecca Sedwick, who committed suicide in September.

Sedwick took her own life after months of alleged bullying, which included cyberbullying.

From USA Today:

Florida authorities have arrested two girls — 12 and 14 — on felony charges for allegedly taunting and bullying a 12-year-old girl who jumped to her death last month from an abandoned cement factory tower.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters Tuesday that one of the suspects had posted a message on the Internet saying that the victim should “drink bleach and die.”

Rebecca Sedwick, of Lakeland, Fla., who died Sept. 9, was “terrorized” by as many as 15 girls who picked on her for months through online message boards and texts, according to authorities. Some of the girls’ computers and cellphones were seized in the investigation.

Authorities said they moved more quickly on the arrests than they’d initially planned, because they worried that one of the girls would move on to a new victim after a social media posting that showed lack of remorse.  “Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a f***],” said the posting, according to USA Today.

Authorities believe that the bullying was likely a contributing factor in Sedwick’s fateful decision to take her own life.

From the NY Daily News:

“Detectives have determined that on Sept. 10, 2013, Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide by jumping from a concrete silo tower to her death, and that the malicious harassment by (the 12-year-old girl) and [the 14 year old] was likely a contributing factor in Rebecca’s decision to commit suicide,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Witnesses told investigators that [the 14 year old] harassed Sedwick by calling her ugly, told her to “drink bleach and die,” and suggested that she should kill herself. [The 14 year old]’s animosity may have stemmed from the fact that a boyfriend of hers had previously dated Sedwick.

“Several students corroborated stories of both girls bullying Sedwick on different occasions, through name-calling, intimidation, threats to beat her up and at least one actual physical fight,” the sheriff’s office said. ” [The 14 year old] also reportedly bullied anyone who was friends with Rebecca.”

The police statement recounts physical altercations between Sedwick and the two girls as well.  It also indicates that the 14 year old girl alleged to have been the primary bully “reportedly bullied anyone who was friends with Rebecca.  For this reason, some children did not want to be friends with Rebecca, out of fear of being bullied by [the 14 year old].”

The sheriff spoke on the above video about the responsibility of parents in such instances.

Ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to cyberbullying, and a lot of this occurred online, when it comes to cyberbullying, it’s very very important that parents understand they’re the first line of defense for either the person being bullied or the person doing the bullying.  Responsible parents check and balance, they follow up with their kids and when they see that kind of conduct, they take disciplinary action.  Instead, [the 14 year old’s] parents didn’t do that and she was free to post this, even though she said she was hacked, of course we don’t believe that.

I have to say, these cases always cause me to feel very conflicted.

On one hand, some bullying can in fact be especially vicious and psychologically taxing on anyone, let alone a young girl.  It’s not always as simple as just turning off the phone and computer and ignoring what’s being posted.  Often it’s more about a pattern of repeated harassment that does not relent and interferes with a person’s ability to carry out normal functions in life.  In Sedwick’s case, she had reportedly changed schools to try and escape the alleged harassment.

On the other hand, this always gets into issues of speech and liberties.

In addition, there are other complications when a suicide is involved.  Determining contributing factors in such tragic circumstances isn’t always so straight-forward.

I don’t know all the specifics of what was said or posted by the alleged bullies in this specific case, I only know what I’ve read in news reports since last month and in the police statements.  The investigation is still ongoing.  So it’s still too early for me to feel comfortable forming any opinion one way or another on the matter.

Separate and apart from this case though, I tend to think the cyberbullying issues in the long run are better handled by culture changes and responsible parents who instill good values in their kids and get involved in what they’re doing, rather than by laws.  Bullying isn’t a new problem.  It probably receives more attention now because of the relatively new emergence of social media, where it can be more widely observed.  While existing laws can often be applied to the more serious cases, there will always be an outcry for more laws unless the culture does start to change.  And as we know, laws can sometimes have some unfortunate unintended consequences.

Note:  while police and news reports use the names of the 12 and 14 year olds charged, I have opted not to use the names here, hence the substitutions.


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