There have been so many high-profile incidents of online bullying over the past few years, I couldn’t possibly give you a recap of all the torturous tales we’ve covered. Phoebe Prince committed suicide in 2010 as a result of online bullying, and since then stories of young people being “bullied to death” have continually appeared in the news. As the Steubenville, Ohio, sexual assault case illustrated, so often now real-life physical assaults are photographed or filmed and shared online, which is an act of cyberbullying and leads to more cyberbullying about the incident, and that in turn promotes more real-life abuse against the victim as word of their situation spreads to more and more people online. It’s a horrible, traumatic, disgusting, vicious cycle, and you can see why teens feel like there’s no way out once it starts, their feelings of helplessness only deepened by the fact that frequently schools either do nothing in response to the abuse or support the perpetrators, a reflection of America’s victim-blaming culture at large.
A recent story on HLN about Tiffany (name changed), an athlete who was assaulted then cyberbullied about it, follows this same pattern. Tiffany was changing in the girls’ locker room when her basketball team leader pointed out that she was wearing “granny panties.” This type of sports hazing is common in high schools, and is problematic in and of itself. But instead of simply having to endure the mockery of her teammates, Tiffany was held down by several of the girls so that the team leader could take her semi-nude photo, which was then posted to Twitter. The photo kept reappearing over the course of several months, and students at school taunted Tiffany in the hallways and threw food at her during lunch. Tiffany’s parents “reached out to school administrators, explaining what was happening and hoping they could intervene. But even worse than what her dad described as the school’s refusal to accept accountability, was the fact that bringing the matter to their attention in the first place now made Tiffany a target all over again,” HLN reports.
Tiffany became suicidal as a result of the months of abuse, but she was able to regain hope through counseling at her church. Tiffany’s parents sued Twitter for negligence at the end of 2012, then dropped the case for unknown reasons in May. “They also filed lawsuits at that time against Tulsa Independent School District No. 1, as well as two students and their parents,” HLN notes. The school district and the families deny the allegations against them, and those cases will not likely be heard til next spring.
For her part, Tiffany is doing well, focusing on track instead of basketball and looking forward to someday having a career as a sports journalist. Something tells me she’ll want to avoid doing interviews in the locker room. Let’s hope Tiffany’s school — and schools around the country — ban cameras from their locker rooms, too.
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