When nobody knows your name

Cyberspace adds a whole new unwholesome aspect to bullying

It’s been almost a year since I finished up my series on bullying, but every once in awhile a story catches my eye that makes me mad all over again.

The story I want to talk about starts with a man named Robin Tomlin, who was bullied relentlessly as a high school student. He’s now been out of high school for four decades, but there’s a message left in his graduating yearbook that has haunted him all these years. Someone removed the text he had submitted for his personal message beside his photo and wrote “fag.”

The page passed through editors, teachers and school staff and was printed. Robin has never forgotten flipping through those pages and finding the word he was taunted with written there.

Just like I haven’t forgotten about the McKim Middle School yearbook that was printed that had my baby picture with the word “ugly” visibly scratched into it. That book, too, went through editors and no one noticed it.

I was devastated when I saw it. I don’t think I’d ever seen my mother so mad as she roared like a mother bear trying to get the book reprinted. It never was. I never received an apology from the person(s) responsible or the school, to my knowledge, even though I know exactly who did it. No one was ever punished for the permanent humiliation that was inflicted on me. The yearbook was distributed to students and local businesses as a happy reminder of that year, but for me it was anything but happy.

My story pales in comparison to another tale of bullying that is playing out in national headlines across the country and world – the story of the beautiful Amanda Todd who was victimized by online bullies before killing herself last week.

The girls who defaced my baby picture and Robin’s grad address were able to do so anonymously. They knew they would never get caught. I do know who was responsible, but my voice was never heard. There was no so-called “proof.”

The people who harmed Amanda also had anonymity and they have continued to taunt her and her family after she has died.

The outrage is growing over Amanda’s suicide, and how these online bullies were able to victimize her for years until she finally gave up. Media reports say the schools were aware of the situation and supports were in place, but clearly the help Amanda was offered was not enough. Many people say, “I was bullied and I turned out alright.” Those people are not Amanda, and will never feel what she did in her final days.

Bullying must be taken seriously. It absolutely has to be.

I had to borrow my best friend’s copy of our middle school yearbook to see what the “ugly” photo looked like after all these years. It still looked the same. It hurt my feelings even now to see it, but I do not want an apology like Robin received from his school district.

Instead I want girls like Amanda to have a future to look to. I want everyone in contact with bullied teens to step up and do something about it, instead of waiting to write it on a memorial Facebook page. The words written there mean nothing, absolutely nothing – because Amanda is already gone.

So how do we stop cyber bullying? The truth is we can’t stop all of it, but my wish is that the RCMP investigation will track down the person behind Amanda’s death and they will charge that person to the full extent of the law. Showing these anonymous internet bullies that they can be found will hopefully turn them off, because it’s no fun when everybody knows who you are.

We have to stop being reactive about suicide and bullying, and instead be preventative, because in 2012 the world is anonymous. Let’s catch up to what we’ve created and intervene when the voices cry for help.

 

 

 

Crisis Help Lines:

Crisis Centre: 1-800-SUICIDE

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

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