Rebecca Sedwick suicide: Parents to blame for their bullying children? (+video)
Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide largely because of online bullying, authorities in Florida say. The sheriff wants to bring charges against the bullies' parents.
In the wake of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick’s suicide last month – in which authorities have alleged that relentless bullying, much of it online, played a significant role – the question of how to prevent cyberbullying attacks is reemerging.Skip to next paragraph
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On Monday night in Florida, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd arrested two of the girls, a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old, who he says were the worst offenders. And he has said that, if he can, he’d like to bring charges against some of the parents as well – though that may not be possible under current law.
The case is raising questions of culpability and responsibility in bullying. To what extent can bullies be held responsible for a suicide in which it certainly seems to have played a role? And who holds responsibility besides the bullies themselves? Their parents? School administrators? Peers who knew it was occurring but didn’t stop it?
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“The laws are there, we just need to have a culture that tells us this is what’s right to do,” says Debbie Johnston, national legislative liaison for Bully Police USA, a group that works to get antibullying laws in place, and a Florida parent whose son committed suicide after relentless bullying eight years ago. “The problem is not the kids reporting, the problem is usually the adults who do not listen and follow up.”
In Rebecca’s case, Sheriff Judd has described the bullying as relentless and said Rebecca was “absolutely terrorized on social media.” She received messages, many of them through messaging applications like ask.fm and Kik, telling her to “drink bleach and die” and “go kill yourself,” and asking “wait a minute, why are you still alive?” The harassment continued despite Rebecca switching schools and interventions from her parents that included taking away her cellphone until they believed the problem had stopped and getting her counseling. On Sept. 9, Rebecca jumped to her death at an abandoned cement plant.
Judd has said in news conferences that he wasn’t planning to make arrests so soon, but that when the 14-year-old girl posted on her Facebook account over the weekend he felt he had to act. Her post said, " 'Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don't give a ...' and you can add the last word yourself,” he said.
"We decided that we can't leave her out there. Who else is she going to torment, who else is she going to harass?” Judd said.
In an interview with ABC News, the 14-year-old’s parents said they believed their daughter’s Facebook account had been hacked and that she would never write something like that. A man who said he was the girl’s father told the Associated Press that “none of it’s true.”
But Judd described the 14-year-old as remorseless and “very cold” when she was arrested and criticized her parents for their lack of action.
"I'm aggravated that the parents aren't doing what parents should do,” Judd said.
When asked on NBC’s "Today" show about the likelihood of bringing charges against the girls’ parents, which he has said he would like to do, Judd admitted that right now, he can’t find criminal charges that are applicable.
“But if we can find a contributing to the … delinquency of a child we certainly would bring that charge, because I can tell you, the parents are in total denial,” Judd said. “They don’t think there’s a problem here, and that is the problem.…They even let her have her Facebook access after she bullied this child and after they knew it.”
Ms. Johnston, who helped write the antibullying law that Florida now has on its books, which is named after her son, says she believes parents often have huge culpability in bullying by their children.