The legal fall out from one of the nation’s most sensational cyber-bulling incidents drew closer to a close Thursday when three of Phoebe Prince’s tormentors were placed on probation, while the statutory rape charge against another was dropped. Fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince, who had recently moved from Ireland to South Hadley, Mass., was tormented by six other youths — including two of whom she’d dated — before she hanged herself last year. Yesterday, three of the girls involved in the case were placed on probation for misdemeanor charges of harassment or violating civil rights. “If they satisfy their probation, the charges will be dismissed and they will not have criminal records,” the New York Times reports. The statutory rape charge against a sixth former student, who had sex with Phoebe when he was 18, was dropped.
Does bullying cause suicide? You would think so if you read and hear some of the headlines, comments, and advocacy by anti-bullying law special interests following several suicides completed by youth who were reported victims of chronic bullying at school. I certainly do not question whether these kids were bullied. I do not question whether the bullying added significant stress to the lives of these kids and others who are chronically bullied. And I definitely do not minimize the seriousness of the losses of these innocent kids’ lives. But I am also not convinced that bullying onto itself is the sole cause of teens taking their own life. Being “bullied to death” makes quite a media headline and soundbite. But does it accurately reflect the sole cause of death implied by the use of such a phrase? I can see where chronic bullying could be the last straw in cases where deeper mental health issues exist with an individual, driving the individual over-the-top to completion of suicide.