The suicide death last week of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, who was bullied online with gay slurs for more than a year, is a tragic demonstration of the very real harm caused by bullying. The teen’s parents, friends and even Lady Gaga, who was his idol, have expressed outrage about the relentless torment he suffered on social networking websites.
The Amherst Police Department’s Special Victims Unit has said it will determine whether to charge some students with harassment, cyber-harassment or hate crimes. Police said three students in particular might have been involved. Jamey was a student at Heim Middle School. He had just started his freshman year at Williamsville North High School. (Both Amherst and Williamsville are just outside Buffalo.) But the bullying had begun during middle school, according to his parents. He had told family and friends that he had endured attacks in school and online, mostly related to his sexual orientation.
Jamey was found dead outside his home Sunday morning, but Amherst police would not release any details on how he killed himself. No bullying laws exist in New York State, but police will determine whether aggravated harassment charges fit this case. Whether suspects would be tried in juvenile court would depend on whether the alleged bully was 16 or older.
Jamey made postings on social networking sites suggesting that he was struggling with his sexuality, even though he encouraged others on the It Gets Better project website YouTube to fight off bullies. He killed himself this weekend after posting an online farewell.
Students had been posting hate comments with gay references on his Formspring account, a website that allows anonymous posts. Some of the posts directly encouraged the tormented teen to kill himself.
Ironically, his death coincides with a national summit this week sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., an effort to stem the toll of bullying school children.
Speaking at the second annual Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit were the parents of Justin Aaberg, a gay 15-year-old from Champlain, Minn., who hanged himself after being bullied. The parents, Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, said that one form of the bullying came from a student religious group whose members told Justin that he was going to hell because he was gay.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 28 percent of students aged 12 to 18 reported that they were bullied in school during the 2008-2009 school year. Bullying also slows down as children get older from a high of 39 percent of all sixth graders to 20 percent of high school seniors.
The most pervasive form of bullying is ridicule, insult and rumors, rather than physical aggression, according to the report. Social media sites such as YouTube and Facebook have made it easier for bullies to target their victims, but at the same time they are sometimes the only venue for victims to discuss openly their pain.
For a more detailed look at how bullying impacts our youth, read the most recent issue of The Safety Report.
The Fall 2011 issue is focused on bullying, with information on how to identify when it is happening and how to protect your child against becoming a victim.