By “extreme,” I mean bullying that has led to teen suicide attempts. Two such cases involving three New Zealand girls have come to my attention in the past week – one through our BlogSafety forum and the other covered in that country’s national news media.
The Sunday News in NZ reported this week that two 15-year-old secondary-school students were tricked by another girl into believing two teenage boys whose online profiles she’d created with scanned photos of magazine models had become their online boyfriends. The scam was discovered by the mother of one of the victims, according to the Sunday News, when she “found a scalpel under her daughter’s mattress and an email on the teen’s computer from her ‘boyfriend,’ instructing her how to kill herself.” When the mother called the imaginary boyfriend’s cellphone number, she found it belonged to the bully’s mother. The girl had conducted these online “relationships” with her victims for 10 months, the Sunday News reports, even going so far as to send both victims a number of gifts from the “boyfriends,” “including flowers, teddy bears and T-shirts.” This peer-to-peer grooming process culminated in an unfulfilled suicide pact between the two victims, the Sunday News.
My awareness of the second case started with this post in the forum: “Four weeks ago, my daughter, in a weak moment, attempted suicide because she was grieving a boy that she had met and communicated with” online and via phone texting. The mother, Karen, later emailed me a copy of her full story, detailed in a letter to New Zealand’s Health Ministry (published here, with her permission). The “boy,” she wrote, was – as in the Sunday News case – imaginary, the creation of another teenage girl, who enlisted the help of another friend to create the profile of this imaginary surfer sponsored by Rip Curl and named “Ben.”
I had read many posts about imposter profiles created about real people; this was the first I’d heard of profiles created about fake people – yet another kind of cyberbullying.
But that’s not the worst of the story. Before this experience, Karen wrote, three young people in their small community had been lost to car accidents and suicide, one a friend of the family. Then this past January “Ben” committed suicide while texting her daughter, Karen wrote. “Sophie [who believed he was a real person] was obviously desperate and was furiously trying to call him and text him, telling him not to do it … to no avail…. On asking Sophie more about this boy, she proceeded to tell me that he had suffered from depression, partly because he had witnessed a previous girlfriend hang herself, and that [another girl] had swallowed razor blades a few months before…. This was Sophie’s reality.” I’ll leave the full story to Karen.
If you’re interested in my own take-aways from these cyberbullying cases, please click to this week’s issue of my newsletter.