Who Failed Phoebe Prince?
High school was hell for 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, but it didn’t have to be deadly.
Sayer soon revised this, but only slightly. “School administrators first learned of the bullying by one group of students on January 7 and then acted immediately to discipline those students,” he said in an April 14 press release. “Unfortunately, the school administrators did not learn of bullying by a second group of students until after Phoebe’s death. Tragically, Phoebe Prince herself did not make known to school officials the full extent of the bullying that was tormenting her.” His attempts at clarification came only after Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel indicted Ashley, Sean, Kayla, Flannery, Austin, and Sharon on felonies that could send them to prison; she called their behavior toward Phoebe “conduct [that] far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship-related quarrels.”
Meanwhile, Phoebe was still under attack. A “We Murdered Phoebe Prince” page appeared on Facebook, her photograph altered to show knives plunged into her eyes. And until Facebook removed it, her own personal page accumulated sinister comments such as “she deserved it” and “mission accomplished.” On Craigslist, someone wrote, “If she fucked two boys in 2 months at fifteen, she was a slut. Who here thinks that was a good idea?” Empowered by anonymity, haters had found a way to bully even a dead girl.
WHAT SAYER AND HIS ADMINISTRATORS have failed to acknowledge is how incredibly difficult it can be for a victimized student to come forward at all. The appearance of tattling can anger bullies further and encourage retaliation, says Coloroso. Often, a victim is embarrassed to admit to parents or teachers that he or she is not liked. Mitch Brouillard, Becky’s father, says his daughter had endured bullying for a long time before she would admit it. “She was always an A student, but we saw that declining,” he says. “We kept asking her what was wrong, but she was reluctant to tell us.”
Ultimately, Brouillard learned Becky was bullied “relentlessly” for various reasons, including being friends with a boy another girl liked and, later, for speaking out in the aftermath of Phoebe’s death. Fake Facebook profiles were created in her name. “We went through the days of ‘I’m sick, I’m not going to school,’ and I now have a guilty feeling about pushing her to go,” Brouillard says, “like I was offering her up almost as [a] sacrifice.”
He’s hoping for stricter penalties and is glad schools are starting to keep better records of bullying incidents. And while the student who slammed his daughter against the locker that day was suspended, Brouillard takes little comfort. “I am disturbed,” he admits. “If this didn’t happen to Phoebe, would my daughter’s harassment have been recognized? I’m not so confident it would have.”