Tween Girls Charged With Cyberstalking Friend on Facebook

Heather Murphy-Raines

One Photo Defaced on Victim's FB
We're all guilty of doing a little stalking of high school exes. It's harmless enough, and Facebook makes it easy. But, some younger kids, not yet understanding the implications of their actions, have taken it a bit further.

Two sixth grade girls -- in my own daughter's Seattle-area school district -- defaced photos of their former friend and classmate Leslie Cote, and set up chats with boys in her name to perform sexual acts. Let's be clear: They are straight-up bullies.

Yet, they stand charged with far greater crimes. The girls -- ages 11 and 12 -- are accused of installing sexually explicit messages and photos on their classmate's Facebook page. More importantly, they have been charged with first-degree computer trespassing and cyberstalking. We have reached a new shocking low in the Internet age.

According to reports, after a falling out, the criminally charged tweens used the victim's password -- which she had inadvertently stored at one of the girls' home computers -- to deface pictures, plaster sexually explicit content all over her page, and the worst? They also "instant-messaged 'random individuals' under the alleged victim's name to arrange sex acts."



What a nightmare! When I was in school, "bullies" used to write a girl's name on the bathroom wall with a phone number. In today's world of suicidal teens and Columbines and once on the Internet-always on the Internet, this is harmless no more. Leslie Cote's bullies were given restraining orders and are being charged with cyberstalking and first-degree computer trespassing. If convicted, the girls face up to 30 days in juvenile detention.

I must admit, when I first heard of the case last month, I thought authorities might have been taking this too far. I was sure the harsh punishment for these first-time offenses was simply an example being made. However, for the Cote family, calling the police was their last resort and they watched helplessly as their daughter struggled with spiralling low self-esteem and depression after the bullies, pretending to be their daughter, solicited adult men to perform oral sex and made other offensive statements on family members' pages.

What really brought it home for me? As I followed the local news, I realized that I knew Leslie Cote's family (Leslie had asked to be identified). I knew her mother, Tara Cote, from our Army days, but we had since lost touch. Tara attended my baby shower in Alaska. We were pregnant with our girls together. Our daughters were born on the same post in interior Alaska. We were in the same play group. Our husbands deployed together in Egypt. Our daughters are just a few months apart and they both attended the same Daddy-daughter dance last year. Small world, eh?

The similarities continue. Our daughters both have Facebook accounts. This could easily have been my daughter being cyberbullied.

Leslie Cote said, "Some people looked at me differently, and then judged me differently now because of what happened ... I just couldn't control it and then I didn't get any sleep. I kept crying the whole time, and it's just all bunched up."

As a mother, this would kill me. My mama bear would be all out for justice and that's what Leslie's mom wants. Justice in the form of juvenile detention and, more importantly, a public apology in front of the school.

I can relate. Last weekend, there was a malicious attempt on my own daughter's Facebook account, and I started to reassess our decision to let her join. Luckily, my tech geek husband received alerts that someone was trying to change her login while we sat at a swim meet and we quickly changed passwords. Having a Daddy who watches her like a hawk and gets code alerts to his phone is nice, but we still were lucky to catch it in time as attempt after attempt was made to break in.

It's tricky being a parent in the cyber age. I see all over the message boards women blaming the Cote family for allowing their 11-year-old to have a Facebook account. I am sure they will indict me as well for making that parenting choice. Most of these commenters clearly don't have tweens or are in denial that their tweens have a FB account. They do. Believe me, they do. 

We, as a family, have decided to be proactive and have allowed our kids from age 9 to have Facebook accounts, which we can and do closely monitor. Still, we miss things -- such as the time my daughter "liked" Victoria's Secret. I wrote about that honestly as a parenting mistake and just like Leslie's mom, I got comments censuring Facebook accounts for my tween.

My response?

Her father and I monitor her Facebook, but it is ridiculous to think we stand behind her, eyes glued to the screen, watching every keystroke as she makes them. We do have access to her FB and her password, and she and her brothers know we look daily and sometimes even hourly at their pages.

That said, she also has an iPhone and she has access to computers at the public library and at school. Better yet? Her friends whose parents don't allow Facebook accounts STILL have Facebook accounts!! They just use aliases. I much prefer to see what's going on rather than have her hide it from me.

A friend who did not allow her teen a Facebook account told me she had discovered he had set up a secret account anyway on his PSP, unknown to her. Most disturbing to her? She found he had a 65-year-old male friend. So what is worse? The cyberstalking in your face or the thoughts of who might be communicating with your child that you don't even know about?

What is your take on tweens and Facebook? Would you allow your tween an account where you can somewhat control whom she friends and what she writes? Or would you ban Facebook and face the possibility that she might set up a secret account over which you cannot supervise or control?

Image via Facebook

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