Tag Archives: bullied

Florida bullying case raises questions for parents

When two girls, aged 12 and 14, were arrested in a bullying-suicide investigation in Florida, many wondered: Where were their parents and should they be held responsible?

The mother and father of the older girl went on national TV and defended their daughter – and themselves. They said they often checked their daughter’s social networking activity and don’t believe their daughter bullied Rebecca Sedwick to suicide, as authorities have charged.

Whether or not you believe the family, experts say parents should use Rebecca’s case to talk to their children.

“Sit down and say, `I know most kids won’t tell their parents, but tell me what you would want from me if you were being cyberbullied,'” said Parry Aftab, a New Jersey-based lawyer and expert on bullying.

She advocates a “stop, block and tell” approach. “Don’t answer back, block the cyberbully online and tell a trusted adult,” Aftab said.

In Rebecca’s case, she did talk to her mother about the bullying and even changed schools, yet the tormenting continued online, authorities said. About a month ago, Rebecca decided she couldn’t take it anymore and jumped to her death at an abandoned concrete plant.

It was a Facebook comment over the weekend that Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said led him to arrest the girls. He repeated the online post from the older girl almost word for word at a news conference on Oct. 15.

“‘Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don’t give a …’ and you can add the last word yourself,” Judd said.

The sheriff was aggravated the girl’s parents allowed her access to social networks after Rebecca’s death and said he made the arrest so she wouldn’t bully anyone else.

In an interview with ABC News that aired on Oct. 16, the 14-year-old’s parents said their daughter would never write something like that and the girl’s Facebook account had been hacked, a claim police don’t believe.

“My daughter don’t deserve to be in the place she’s in right now and I just hope that the truth comes to the surface so we can get out of this nightmare,” her father told ABC News.

A day earlier, he told The Associated Press by phone: “My daughter’s a good girl and I’m 100 percent sure that whatever they’re saying about my daughter is not true.”

The girls were charged as juveniles with third-degree felony aggravated stalking. The sheriff said even if they are convicted, they probably won’t spend time in juvenile detention because they don’t have a criminal history.

He identified the girls and showed their mug shots during the news conference, but AP generally does not name juveniles charged with crimes.

Police also considered charging the parents, but so far can’t prove complacency or that they knew about the bullying, sheriff’s spokesman Scott Wilder said.

Authorities said about a year ago, the bullying began after the 14-year-old girl started dating Rebecca’s ex-boyfriend. The older girl threatened to fight Rebecca while they were sixth-graders at Crystal Lake Middle School and told her “to drink bleach and die,” the sheriff said. She also convinced the younger girl to bully Rebecca, even though they had been best friends.

Judd said the younger girl had shown remorse while the older one was “very cold, had no emotion at all upon her arrest.”

The younger girl’s father told ABC News he wished he could have done more.

“I feel horrible about the whole situation,” he said. “It’s my fault, maybe that I don’t know more about that kind of stuff. I wish I did.”

He did not return a telephone call from AP.

David Tirella, a Tampa attorney who has represented the families of bullying victims in lawsuits against schools, said the publicity over Rebecca’s case and the charges may further awareness in a way that few cases have in the U.S.

“Victims are being empowered, families are talking about it,” said Tirella, who is also a Stetson University law professor. “We took a big step forward in Florida to help protect victims.”

Man on trek to honor gay son’s memory killed by truck

A man on a cross-country trek to honor his gay son who committed suicide was struck and killed by a truck in Colorado on Oct. 9.

A Facebook page set up by Joe Bell to chronicle his journey, which he dubbed “Joe’s Walk for Change,” announced his death this morning, according to the Baker City Herald.

“He will continue his journey now with Jadin (Bell, his son). Please keep his family in your prayers and thoughts,” the Facebook post said.

Bell undertook the journey as a way of handling his grief over losing of his son, who was bullied at school over his sexual orientation. Bell planned to walk across the nation and tell his son’s story to as many people as possible.

Bell was struck by a tractor-trailer on about 20 miles northwest of Kit Carson, Colo. A driver for a Texas trucking company was cited over the incident for careless driving resulting in death.

Colorado state troopers said Raven might have fallen asleep at the wheel.

Jadin Bell, 15, hung himself from school playground equipment in February after enduring what his friends described as relentless in-person and online bullying. He had complained about the bullying to a school counselor at La Grande High School, where he was a sophomore.

Gay Indiana teen settles bullying lawsuit for $65,000

An openly gay Indianapolis teenager expelled from an Indianapolis high school for bringing a stun gun to school to protect himself from bullies agreed to settle his discrimination lawsuit against the school district for $65,000.

The proposed settlement filed this week in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis also calls for Indianapolis Public Schools to remove all references of Darnell “Dynasty” Young being expelled from school from the 18-year-old’s academic record. The agreement still must be approved by a judge.

Young and his mother, Chelisa Grimes, filed a lawsuit last Aug. 31 seeking unspecified damages, accusing administrators of failing to stop the “relentless, severe harassment and abuse by other students” of Young while he attended Arsenal Technical High School during the 2011-12 school year.  They contended he was harassed “because his clothing, behavior and demeanor did not fit stereotypical notions of masculinity.”

The lawsuit said Young would sometimes wear “clothing and accessories that are stereotypically associated with women’s apparel,” but said it did not violate the school’s dress policy. Young said he told school staff about the harassment and he was told it was his fault because he was perceived as gay and he should try to be less “flamboyant.”

Young said he was spat at and other students threw rocks and empty glass bottles at him on his way home and called him homophobic slurs. The lawsuit says that on April 16, 2012, Young used a “self-protection flashlight” when he was surrounded by six male students threatening to attack him, raising it over his head, activating it and causing a loud noise, which led to him being expelled.

Young graduated from Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, a charter school, in June and plans to attend Atlanta Metropolitan College next fall. He said in a telephone interview Wednesday he’s pleased with the settlement.

“I think what I did and what I went through got things changed,” he said, saying he believes future openly gay students will be treated better by Indianapolis schools.

Young, who now lives in Decatur, 20 miles southeast of Fort Wayne, said he plans to use the money to launch an anti-bullying magazine next year and to run an anti-bullying campaign after he graduates college.

“I can help people. I can do a lot of things with that amount,” he said.

Indianapolis Public Schools spokesman John Althardt says the district doesn’t comment on legal matters.

Young said he plans to speak at schools in Indiana about bullying.

Oregon teen critically hurt after suicide attempt

A family friend of an Eastern Oregon teenager who tried to commit suicide says the boy had recently been bullied because he is gay.

“I won’t say that that was the whole cause, but it was a contributor,” Bud Hill told The Oregonian newspaper (http://is.gd/YjfMOx).

The boy, who is 15, attempted to hang himself on Jan. 19 in an elementary school playground. A spokesman at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland said the boy remains in critical condition.

His family has always been very supportive of his sexual orientation, Hill said, but some La Grande High School students called him names, and he had complained about bullying to a school counselor.

The (La Grande) Observer reported that about 200 people, most of them students, attended a vigil for the teen last week. Numerous classmates described the boy, a member of the cheerleading squad, as an outgoing person who lifts other’s spirits.

He “is one of the best people I have ever met. He makes everyone around him feel good all the time,” said Frankie Benitez, a junior.

He “always remembers people no matter what,” Benitez added. “If I felt bad, I would hang out with him and he would say something small like, `I love your sweater.’ He notices things you didn’t think anyone notices.”

La Grande High senior Edith Moore said the impact of bullying would be lessened if the victims were regularly told how much they are loved.

“I think that if he thought this many people would show up (at the vigil) he would not have tried to kill himself,” Moore said.

Federal trial begins over anti-gay harassment of boy with Tourette’s syndrome

A federal trial is under way in a lawsuit that accuses Harrisburg, Ore., school officials of failing to protect a middle school boy with Tourette’s syndrome from harassment and attacks.

The boy’s mother testified this week that he was shoved, slapped and taunted by students who thought he was gay.

She pulled him out of the seventh grade in 2010 after he was harassed in a locker room.

The child’s condition makes him socially different; he doesn’t have the same “coping mechanisms or off-the-cuff responses a normal kid has,” his mother said.

The paper did not identify her to protect the identity of the youth, now 15 and living in Alaska. He sat between his mother and lawyer in court.

The lawsuit seeks $250,000.

Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder that typically manifests in early adolescence, sometimes causing muscle tics and verbal outbursts.

The school district’s attorney, Karen Vickers, didn’t dispute that incidents occurred between the boy and other students. But each involved different alleged perpetrators, she said, so district officials could not have foreseen that they would occur.

She also said witnesses for the school district would contradict some of the boy’s accounts.

The district has policies, training and programs designed to discourage such behavior, she said.

Vickers reminded the jury of the setting, a public middle school.

“These are educators,” she said of the defendants. “They want kids to have a positive experience, to get an education — they don’t want kids to push each other and shove each other and mistreat each other . but let’s be honest here. Even if they want kids to treat each other kindly, that doesn’t always happen.”

Bullied teen arrested for taking stun gun to school

A bullied high school student in Indianapolis faces expulsion after going to school with a stun gun that his mother gave him for protection.

Darnell “Dynasty” Young, 17, said he raised the gun into the air and set off an electric charge after he was surrounded by a group of bullies threatening to beat him. The bullies fled and Young was arrested.

“I brought the stun gun ’cause I wasn’t safe,” Young told CNN’s Don Lemmon.

His mother Chelisa Grimes defended her decision to give Young the gun after school officials failed to do anything about his constant harassment. 

“I do not promote violence – not at all – but what is a parent to do when she has done everything that she felt she was supposed to do … at the school? I did feel like there was nothing else left for me to do, but protect my child,” Grimes said.

Meanwhile, officials at Arsenal Technical High School blamed the teen for bringing the bullying on himself by wearing effeminate clothing.

School principal Larry Yarrell said his staff repeatedly asked Young to “tone down” his flamboyant accessories.

“If you wear female apparel, then kids are kids and they’re going to say whatever it is that they want to say. … Because you want to be different and because you choose to wear female apparel, it may happen, Yarrell told the Indianapolis Star.

Young said it was unfair that he faces expulsion for firing the gun in the air as a warning while his bullies have not been punished. He said he “was at my wit’s end.”

“I didn’t know what to do and I thought about suicide,” Young told CNN “I hate saying that word because God blessed me with this life. I love life. I love my education. I would never … but this bullying got so bad that I thought about that.”

Bullied gay teen commits suicide in Iowa

The mother of a gay Iowa high school freshman who killed himself last weekend said she knew her son was being harassed but that she and the rest of the family didn’t realize the extent of the bullying, reported The Associated Press.

“When I talked to him, he blew it off like it wasn’t a big deal,” Jeannie Chambers, told the Sioux City Journal.

Kenneth, 14, died Sunday of what was described as a “self-inflicted injury.” The O’Brien County Sheriff’s sheriff’s office is investigating, and Chambers said detectives were examining her son’s cellphone, Facebook account and a computer he used.

After Kenneth came out about a month ago to family and friends, he became the target of threatening cellphone calls, voicemails and online comments, his mother said.

His sister Kayla Weishuhn, a sophomore at the school, said her brother’s life took a marked turn for the worse after he came out.

“He was pretty popular, he had a lot of friends, but once they found out he was gay a lot of them turned on him,” she told Sioux City television station KCAU.

Kayla, 16, said some of her classmates were the first to bully her brother.

“I was just really mad because those guys were supposed to be my friends and they were making fun of my brother. I tried to stick up for him a couple of times, but I guess it wasn’t enough,” she said.

Dan Moore, the superintendent of the South O’Brien Community School District, said administrators knew of only one incident. “I feel the school did address the issue that they were aware of when it came to their attention,” Moore said. “Obviously, we had no idea that we’d have an end result like this, or what was going on outside of here.”

Anti-gay Christians say they’re victims of bullying

As the gay-rights movement advances, there’s increasing evidence of an intriguing role reversal: Today, it’s the conservative opponents of that movement who seem eager to depict themselves as victims of intolerance.

To them, the gay-rights lobby has morphed into a relentless bully – pressuring companies and law firms into policy reversals, making it taboo in some circumstances to express opposition to same-sex marriage.

“They’re advocating for a lot of changes in the name of tolerance,” said Jim Campbell, an attorney with the conservative Alliance Defense Fund. “Yet ironically the tolerance is not returned, for people of faith who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Many gay activists, recalling their movement’s past struggles and mindful of remaining bias, consider such protestations by their foes to be hollow and hypocritical.

“They lost the argument on gay rights and now they are losing the argument on marriage,” said lawyer Evan Wolfson (pictured), executive director of the advocacy group Freedom to Marry. “Diversions, scare tactics and this playing the victim are all they have left.”

He added: “There’s been a shift in the moral understanding of people – that exclusion from marriage and anti-gay prejudice is wrong. Positions that wouldn’t have been questioned in the past are now being held up to the light.”

Among the recent incidents prompting some conservatives to complain of intolerance or political bullying:

– Olympic gold medal gymnast Peter Vidmar stepped down as chief of mission for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in May following controversy over his opposition to gay marriage. Vidmar, a Mormon, had publicly supported Proposition 8, the voter-approved law passed in 2008 that restricted marriage in California to one man and one woman.

– After coming under fire from gay-rights groups in April, the Atlanta-based law firm King & Spalding pulled out of an agreement with House Republicans to defend the federal ban on same-sex marriage.

– In New York, state Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat from the Bronx, contends he’s received death threats because he opposes legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. The alleged threats were cited last week by the New York State Catholic Conference, which also opposes gay marriage. “We are unjustly called ‘haters’ and ‘bigots’ by those who have carefully framed their advocacy strategy,” wrote the conference’s executive director, Richard Barnes. “The entire campaign to enact same-sex marriage is conducted under a banner of acceptance … Yet behind that banner of tolerance is another campaign – of intimidation, threats and ugliness.”

– Apple Inc. recently withdrew two iPhone apps from its App Store after complaints and petition campaigns by gay-rights supporters. One app was intended to publicize the Manhattan Declaration, a document signed in 2009 by scores of conservative Christian leaders. It condemns same-sex marriage as immoral and suggests that legalizing it could open the door to recognition of polygamy and sibling incest. The other app was for Exodus International, a network of ministries that depict homosexuality as a destructive condition that can be overcome through Christian faith.

In both cases, gay activists celebrated the apps’ removals, while the apps’ creators contended their freedom of expression was being unjustly curtailed.

“The gay-rights groups have shown their fangs,” wrote Chuck Colson, the Watergate figure turned born-again Christian who helped launch the Manhattan Declaration. “They want to silence, yes, destroy those who don’t agree with their agenda.”

Exodus International president Alan Chambers, who says he changed his own sexual orientation through religious counseling, said he was alarmed by the aggressive tactics of “savvy gay activists.”

“We have seen individuals, ministries and even private corporations that dare to hold to a biblical worldview on sexuality bullied into a corner,” Chambers wrote in a blog.

However, Wolfson said the Exodus app deserved to be removed. “They were peddling something that’s been repudiated as crackpot quackery.”

The campaign that pressured King & Spalding to withdraw from the Defense of Marriage Act case was criticized by a relatively wide range of commentators and legal experts, not just conservative foes of gay marriage.

“To think it’s a good idea to attack lawyers defending unpopular clients – I don’t have words for how stupid and wrong that is,” said Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer and writer who formerly served on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, the gay-rights activists involved in pressuring King & Spalding were unapologetic.

“If we made it such that no law firm would defend the indefensible, then good for us,” said Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign’s vice president for communication. “When you have people talking about the fact that it’s no longer politically correct to be anti-equality, it’s a show of progress.”

Sainz said it was important for activists to pick their targets carefully.

“We understand there are goodhearted Americans in the middle who are still struggling with these issues,” he said. “Different activists have different ways of getting to the same end, and some of those are bound to make certain people feel uncomfortable.”

Though same-sex marriage is legal in only five states, it has for the first time gained the support of a majority of Americans, according to a series of recent national opinion polls. For some gay activists, this trend has fueled efforts to make their opponents’ views seem shameful.

“Their beliefs on this issue are very quickly becoming socially disgraceful, much in the way white supremacy is socially disgraceful,” wrote Evan Hurst of the advocacy group Truth Wins Out. “They are certainly entitled to cling to backwoods, uneducated, reality-rejecting views … but their ‘religious freedom’ doesn’t call for the rest of us to somehow pretend their views aren’t disgusting and hateful.”

However, some gay-rights supporters see the public opinion shift as reason to be more magnanimous.

“The turn we now need to execute will be the hardest maneuver the movement has ever had to make, because it will require us to deliberately leave room for homophobia,” Jonathan Rauch, a writer and guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, wrote recently in The Advocate.

“Incidents of rage against haters, verbal abuse of opponents, boycotts of small-business owners, absolutist enforcement of anti-discrimination laws: Those and other ‘zero-tolerance’ tactics play into the ‘homosexual bullies’ narrative,” Rauch wrote. “The other side, in short, is counting on us to hand them the victimhood weapon. Our task is to deny it to them.”

As ideological foes spar over these issues, the American Civil Liberties Union is confronted with a delicate balancing act. Its national gay rights project battles aggressively against anti-gay discrimination, but, as a longtime defender of free speech, the ACLU also is expected to intervene sometimes on behalf of anti-gay expression.

For example, the ACLU pressed a lawsuit on behalf of the fundamentalist Westboro Baptist Church, which has outraged mourning communities by picketing service members’ funerals with crudely worded signs condemning homosexuality. The ACLU said the Missouri state law banning such picketing infringes on religious freedom and free speech.

Some critics – such as Wendy Kaminer – have contended that the ACLU now tilts too much toward espousing gay rights, at the expense of a more vigorous defense of anti-gay free speech.

However, James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s gay rights project, said the First Amendment protection of free speech only comes into play when a government entity is seen as curtailing speech rights – which did not occur in the Vidmar or King & Spalding cases.

“What we have there is simply the push and pull in public policy discourse … which is sometimes rough and tumble,” Esseks said. “Being stigmatized for expressing unpopular views is part of being in a free society. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Robert George, a conservative professor of jurisprudence at Princeton and one of the co-authors of the Manhattan Declaration, shared Esseks’ view on the often sharp-elbowed nature of public debate in America.

“Democratic politics is a messy business and sometimes it’s a contact sport,” he said, suggesting that those who hold cultural power are inevitably going to try to impose their viewpoints.

“The power to intimidate people, to make them fear they’ll be called a bigot or denied opportunities for jobs, only works if people allow themselves to be bullied,” George said. “Conservatives who make themselves out to be victims run the risk of playing into the hands of their opponents, suggesting that their opponents’ cultural power is so vast that there’s no way it can be resisted.”

To professional free-speech advocates ­– such as Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship – the gay rights vs. free expression cases are fascinating and often difficult.

“It’s very volatile – it requires you to parse the issues very closely,” she said. I’m of the school of thought that you should know your enemy. You need to know what people are thinking.”

David Crary can be reached at http://twitter.com/CraryAP

Grand jury indicts roommate in Rutgers suicide

A New Jersey grand jury on April 25 returned an indictment against a Rutgers University student who used his webcam to stream video of his roommate kissing another man. The broadcast of the romantic relationship allegedly drove freshman Tyler Clementi to commit suicide.

Days after roommate Dharun Ravi broadcast the encounter between Clementi, 18, and a man identified in court papers only as “M.B.,” Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge. It was the start of the 2010-11 school year, when more than a dozen boys and young men committed suicide after being bullied and harassed.

Ravi and another student were arrested for invasion of privacy for turning a web camera on Clementi’s bed and then boasting via Twitter about cybercasting another possible same-sex encounter.

One of Ravi’s Twitter messages said, “Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”

A couple of days later, he tweeted, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.”

About a month earlier, Ravi had tweeted, “Found out my roommate is gay.”

Clementi also used social media tools. After learning about the webcam, he posted on Facebook, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

The grand jury, in its 15-count indictment, alleges that the 19-year-old Ravi committed hate crimes that could result in 10-year prison sentences if convicted.

“The grand jury charged that the invasion of privacy and attempt to invade the privacy of T.C. and M.B. were intended to intimidate them because of their sexual orientation,” read a statement from the Middlesex County, N.J., prosecutor’s office.

The indictment also accuses Ravi of a cover-up, of tampering with evidence.

The prosecutor maintains that Ravi deleted a Twitter post alerting other students to watch a second encounter involving Clementi and “M.B.” and then created a replacement post intended to mislead investigators.

Further, according to the prosecutor, Ravi encouraged witnesses not to testify.

Clementi’s parents, in a joint statement, said, “The grand jury indictment spells out cold and calculated acts against our son Tyler by his former college roommate. If these facts are true, as they appear to be, then it is important for our criminal justice system to establish clear accountability under the law.”

New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow said the indictment was “an important step in this heartbreaking case.”

Since Clementi’s suicide, a number of developments have taken place in New Jersey and at the national level to protect students from anti-gay bullying and harassment. New Jersey lawmakers enacted a broad anti-bullying law, a measure considered the strongest in the nation. The White House convened a conference on bullying, and the U.S. Education Department has initiated several programs and policies to counter bullying.

Bullied best friends take lives during sleepover

Best friends Haylee Ann Marie Fentress and Paige Lee Moravetz took some secrets when they took their lives.

The eighth-graders at Marshall Middle School hung themselves on April 16 in a home in rural Lynd, Minn., in the southwestern part of the state. The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department said Paige was on a sleepover at Haylee’s house.

The double suicide prompted a rumor of a planned pact, which Marshall Public Schools superintendent Klint W. Willert said was unfounded. “There is no evidence of any kind of a suicide pact,” he told an ABC affiliate.

The suicides also brought out assertions that the 14-year-old girls had been bullied by other teenagers. Haylee, in a Facebook post, said kids were cruel. She told family members that other students made fun of her weight and red hair and she was struggling to fit in after moving to Minnesota from Indiana about a year ago.

Appearing on NBC’s “Today” on April 14, relatives of the two girls suggested they might have been more than friends. Haylee hyphenated her last name on Facebook to include Paige’s last name, and Haylee was expelled from school for defending Paige in a fight.

“I’m so nervous and I just want to get it over with … I love you, Paige,” Haylee posted on her friend’s Facebook page shortly before their deaths.

Haylee’s mother and older sister, in a joint statement, said, “We need to stop pretending this isn’t happening or that it is just a cry for attention because obviously it is not. This needs to be talked about, and we need to try to prevent this by teaching kids in school, community and at home. They need to know that they are not alone. It shouldn’t take more tragedies to realize this.”

Both girls suffered depression, but their mothers have said they saw no indication the girls planned to take their lives.

“There was nothing,” Paige’s mom, Tricia Behnke, said on a broadcast of NBC’s “Today.”

A service for Haylee took place April 23 in Highland, Ind.

“Haylee was a compassionate, loving, big-hearted person who will live on through her family,” her family wrote in her obituary.

Paige was buried April 20 in Wilno, Minn.

“Her enjoyments in life included playing hockey, snowmobiling, fishing (especially ice fishing), helping out and spending time on the farm, camping and tubing on Lake Shaokotan, camping and knee boarding on Lake Herman, playing music, going to concerts, playing with her dog Daisy, spending time with cousins and her brother Jake, spending time with friends and traveling,” Paige’s family wrote in her obituary.

Responding to the deaths, the school district provided counseling for students and hosted a forum April 19 for parents to learn how to help a children cope with their grief.

“Marshall Public Schools remain concerned about the safety and well-being of our students and staff at this difficult time,” Willert said.

The district also issued a warning to parents and teachers that publicity surrounding suicide can lead to additional suicides or attempts. The district, in a statement released April 20, cited a World Health Organization conclusion that “some forms of non-fictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide are associated with a statistically significant excess of suicide; the impact appears to be strongest among young people. Repeated and continual coverage of suicide tends to induce and promote suicidal preoccupations, particularly among adolescents and young adults.”