It’s rare for me to feel as fired up as I do right now about a blog post. I’m going to try to cogently lay out my feelings about the Amanda Todd suicide – an event that happened in my own backyard. I’m not sure I have a whole lot to offer to the discussion. As a child I wasn’t bullied, and I don’t believe I acted as a bully. I’m not an expert on bullying or cyber-stalking, and I’m not an educator. But I am a parent. As someone who’s trying to sort it all out, I feel a strong need to talk about it all in this space. I hope you’ll take the time to join in and share your thoughts as I share mine.
Amanda Todd’s story has hit close to home for me. If you don’t follow the news (and I wouldn’t blame you), I’ll give you a brief synopsis. One week ago, on October 10, 2012, the 15-year-old girl took her own life. She was driven to this following years of bullying, online and in real life. In September she posted a video to YouTube, which tells her story. I was only able to get through half of it, before I was crying too much to continue. It explains how one brief event, which she viewed as a mistake, led to years of stalking, even as she moved schools.
Amanda Todd attended school in the same district as my own children. The high school she was last enrolled at is about 10 minutes from my house by car. I’m sure that I know someone who knew her, or who knows a member of her family. The proximity, if nothing else, has only driven home the point that no one is immune. This could happen to one of the girls in my daughter’s class, if not my daughter herself. By the same token, any of the kids I see at drop-off and pick-up every day could engage in bullying behaviour, and likely at least some of them will during their school careers. Both of those roles carry a lifelong burden. That’s sobering and scary to me as a parent.
Photo Credit: artworksbytb on Flickr
I don’t know what could have been done to prevent Amanda Todd’s bullying and suicide. I believe bullying is a complex issue, with no single clear-cut answer. Of course, I speak with my children about bullying, and do my best to teach them to be kind and caring individuals. I know there are programs in place in schools, and I’ve watched teachers respond to name-calling and hitting. I think they’re doing the very best they can. Could they do better? I’m sure they could always do better – but they need tools and resources and community support. Parents do as well. There’s no single person or organization that we can point the finger of blame at in this situation.
Having said all of that, when I heard yesterday on the radio that Anonymous had outed the man who was allegedly Amanda Todd’s stalker and primary tormenter, I reacted strongly. The person Anonymous named is a 30-year-old who lives in a community that neighbours mine. The story is that he coaxed Amanda to flash her breasts on a webcam, then contacted her later and threatened to publicly expose her if she didn’t ‘give him a show’. When she didn’t comply he used Facebook to share images with her classmates at several schools. He threatened her physically and shamed her publicly, and her classmates joined in. While the identity of the individual is still in question, the events are not – this is what someone did to Amanda Todd. Once again, a young woman is sexually victimized, and she faces the blame for it.
Obviously, I have no way of knowing if Anonymous is right about this guy. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that they are. By all accounts they’re kind of good at this. Plus, my reaction upon hearing the radio story came from the place of imagining it to be true. When I heard it, my heart caught in my throat and I was angry. This is an adult man. He preyed on and tormented a young girl. He posted images that could only be called child pornography. This makes him not just a bully, but a criminal on several counts.
Photo Credit: Dan Morrill on Flickr
I am what you would call a bleeding heart liberal. I believe there are complex economic and social factors behind most crimes. You won’t generally find me advocating in favour of tougher sentencing or bigger jails. I also don’t believe that vigilantism is an appropriate response to crime. As a society, we need the protections and framework of the law and the justice system. We need to honour everyone’s rights, not so much because criminals deserve it, but because if we expect our own rights to be honoured we must not violate those of others. You won’t see me going after the alleged perpetrator online.
In spite of my bleeding heart tendencies, this time I can’t make the case for mercy. This time the mama bear inside of me is angry, and I am filled with maternal rage. When you start preying on children, I lose my capacity for sympathy. I want not just justice, but vengeance. It’s not mine to give, but I can’t express in words how furious I am to think about what this man allegedly did. If he is in fact the person who stalked and tormented Amanda Todd I don’t want him walking the same streets as my children – or anyone’s children. Whoever did this must not be allowed to hurt anyone like this ever again. I hope that the justice system prevails, and the culprit is found, whether it’s the man that Anonymous pinpointed or someone else.
When I became a parent, I was forever changed. One of the ways that I changed has to do with the way I view crimes against children. While I’ve always found them horrifying, now I find them enraging. My conciliatory nature evaporates, and I want someone not just to pay for what they did, but to suffer for it. I think not only about the child in question, but about that child’s family. Amanda Todd had a mother, and she will never be the same again. On her behalf I am angry, and I am sad. But mostly I hope against hope that we can do better next time. I think we’ve all had enough pain already, and I want it to end. I know that’s a tall order, but it’s what I’m pulling for. I don’t want to spend any more time shaking as I listen to the radio my car, filled with all the maternal rage I can hold.
Do you find that your reaction to certain crimes has changed since you had children of your own? How do you talk about bullying with your own children? And how has the Amanda Todd case impacted you?