What really caused Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old, Irish-born student new to South Hadley High School, to commit suicide last January? Was she truly brought to suicide because she was bullied there by the nine South Hadley students facing criminal charges for bullying her? Or is there more to the story in this case?
As part of her series on cyberbullying, Emily Bazelon of Slate.com has been reporting in South Hadley since February. And now in a three-part series on the Phoebe Prince case, she's revealing the hidden truths behind the story and asking us -- as citizens, parents, and former teens ourselves -- to consider some very tough questions.
Before you say we should just put this story to rest, we have to consider that the fates of the students facing charges -- five being very serious criminal charges -- are still on the line. Whether they are guilty of bullying Phoebe into suicide has yet to be determined. So perhaps, to be responsible, we can't yet put this to rest.
"I've wrestled with how much of this information to publish. Phoebe's family has suffered terribly. But when the D.A. charged kids with causing Phoebe's death and threatened them with prison, she invited an inquiry into other potential causes. The whole story is a lot more complicated than anyone has publicly allowed for. The events that led to Phoebe's death show how hard it is for kids, parents, and schools to cope with bullying, especially when the victim is psychologically vulnerable. The charges against the students show how strong the impulse is to point fingers after a suicide, how hard it is to assess blame fairly, and how ill-suited police and prosecutors can be to punishing bullies."
According to Bazelon's reports, Phoebe Prince was indeed bullied. That is not the question. She was called an "Irish whore" and other horrible names to her face and on Facebook. She was verbally harassed and physically stalked. There are accounts that she may have been shoved into a locker at some point and was fearful of walking down the halls and being attacked. Two of the male students, who were seniors and had relationships with Phoebe, are also facing charges of statutory rape since the age of consent is 16 in Massachusetts.
However, there is also another side to the story that complicates the case against these students all the more.
Bazelon's research reveals that before Phoebe arrived in the States, she began cutting herself in 2008 while having troubles with other girls in boarding school in Ireland and was ultimately pulled out by her mother who sought professional help for her. That help came in the form of the antidepressant Prozac.
Phoebe then moved to the States from her former home in Ireland in September -- just four months before her suicide -- with her sister and her mother who had just split from her father. Her father stayed in Ireland, and it's revealed that Phoebe deeply missed him.
After trouble started at South Hadley between Phoebe and other students, she was reevaluated and prescribed Seroquel, a drug used to treat mood disorders. But when Phoebe fell into relationship with the wrong guy -- one with an ex-girlfriend waiting in the wings -- and told the ex about her sexual relationship with the guy, things got ugly. When he tried to break off the relationship completely, Phoebe swallowed the bottle of Seroquel in a suicide attempt and ended up hospitalized for the next week.
Even up until the days before she committed suicide, Phoebe continued with cutting her own body in an attempt to relieve her emotional pain. Add what sounds like a little promiscuity and misplaced emotional attachments and possibly alcohol and marijuana use to the barrel, and you have a case for one very emotionally disturbed girl.
All this to say no, Phoebe Prince DID NOT deserve to be bullied. No way. No how. However, it is also to say she was deeply troubled before any of the bullying began.
Do we hope a case like Phoebe's can help put an end to bullying and bring consequences to bullies? Of course. Is putting young offenders in jail the way to do it or is this just a case of, as many of the students at South Hadley described it, "normal girl drama"?
If not, who's to blame? The parents? The school? A psychologist who missed something? Or maybe every single one of us who watches a bully bully or an emotionally wrought person cry and does nothing? Or maybe no one. But there has to be someone to blame for such a horrific ending to a young girl's life, doesn't there? Doesn't there?
Now that you know a little more, does it change your mind about the Phoebe Prince case? Are the kids awaiting trial to blame? If not, who is?
Image via Eddie~S/Flickr