The police have arrested two girls in connection with the suicide of 12 year-old Florida girl Rebecca Sedwick. Do the police suspect foul play? Not quite. The crime these girls have been charged with is “aggravated stalking,” a felony also known as bullying. And here’s the kicker: these girls are just 12 and 14 years old.
The allegation is that the two suspects, among other girls at Sedwick’s school, contributed to her death by (wait for it) talking.
“[Sheriff] Judd said Sedwick was “’terrorized’ by as many as 15 girls who ganged up on her and picked on her for months through online message boards and texts.”
Through online message boards? Here’s the thing about message boards: you have to log on in order to see them. No one is forcing you to look at them, and no one is forcing you to read what people write about you. It’s not “stalking” if you have to actively seek out the stalker.
Look, the internet allows anonymity and this can admittedly lead to hostile behavior, but the internet is not meant to be a babysitter or a playground for children. It is a dangerous place, a warped microcosm of the real world, and children should not drift through its murky recesses unsupervised any more than they should wander around city streets at night. The phrase “drink bleach and die,” which was reportedly posted on Sedwick’s Facebook page, can be found in the comments section of every Youtube video ever. The web is no place for the easily offended.
The real criminals here, in my opinion, are Sedwick’s parents. It is an unspeakable tragedy for a 12 year-old to take her own life. Where was her family to provide the emotional support she clearly needed at this difficult stage of development? Where was the supervision that should have governed her use of the inherently cruel and vicious nature of the internet?
To place the blame on two young girls, not fully mature and subject to the same social pressures as their peers, is unfair. Teenage girls have always been horrible to each other. It’s in their nature, and no law is ever going to change that. Enduring their cruelty is just part of growing up. Children are not born with empathy and compassion, they have to learn it. Spend time in the company of children and you will see that they are narcissistic and self-centered in the extreme. Adolescence is a time when much of that learning and maturation takes place, although the process may not be a pretty one. How do felony charges promote empathy? Do they not merely create further bitterness and anger?
People are going to be mean to one another regardless of the law, and there is no right not to have your feelings hurt. Granted, the way Sedwick was treated was horrible. Granted, her tormentors were nasty, hateful children. But the world is full of nasty, hateful adults as well, and learning how to deal with them is part of life. We need to lead by example and teach our children how to treat others with respect. Creating a new criminal class out of mean-spirited kids will do nothing to curb their mean-spiritedness, but will only make the problem worse. The bullying issue is a cultural one, not a legal one, and the only way to fix it is to be there to support our children when they are being tormented, and to call them out when they are tormenting others. As usual, imprisonment solves nothing.