NY suicide prompts cyber-bullying awareness
March 31, 2010
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By all accounts, 17-year-old Alexis Skye Pilkington had a bright future ahead of her. An intelligent student, with close friends, and a soccer scholarship for college, Pilkington had a zest for life reflected by one of her favorite quotes, “Give everything but up.”
That’s why it came as a shock when Pilkington took her own life just over a week ago, on Sunday, March 21st.
While on the surface the West Islip High school senior had everything to live for, reports have emerged since her death that describe a girl who lived in constant psychological torment partially attributed to cyber-bullying.
Cyber-bullying is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon among teens, escalating the old stealing of lunch money tactics to a whole new level.
“The psychological and emotional outcomes of cyber-bullying are similar to real-life bullying except for the reality that with cyber bullying there is often no escape. School ends at 3 p.m., while the Internet is available all the time.”
11 Facts About Cyber-bullying, dosomething.org
While the exact reasons for Pilkington’s suicide are unknown, mounting evidence suggests that harassing Internet messages she received may have been a factor.
Pilkington was most frequently bullied through formspring.me, an online social forum where anonymous comments can be made about an individual. Because of the anonymous nature of the website, Pilkington’s assailants are unknown, but Suffolk County, N.Y. investigators said that they are looking into the messages she received.
Experts say that the anonymity of cyber-bullying comments makes them all the more damaging.
Although Pilkington (no relation to WHS’s Andrew Pilkington) was a native of New York, her death has influenced many across the country to probe deeper into the nature of teen suicide, including Wayland High School senior Katherine Rafuse.
Rafuse, who knew Pilkington through a close friend at West Islip Senior High School, is organizing a demonstration this Thursday with fellow seniors Brianna Ramsey and Alie Perkus to promote awareness of cyber-bullying.
To honor the memory of Pilkington and other teenage victims of suicide, the three request that students and teachers wear green on Thursday. The color represents St. Patrick’s Day, Pilkington’s favorite holiday.
The group will also organize a table in the Commons featuring facts and statistics about cyber-bullying, as well as accounts of Pilkington’s story and those of other victims. They will also ask students to sign petitions related to cyber-bullying.
Although Rafuse acknowledges that many Wayland High School students did not personally know Lexi Pilkington, she states, “This day is not only for Lexi, but also for anyone who has been a victim of cyber- bullying, the people who know anyone who has been victimized, and the people who agree it needs to stop and want to help us take a stand against it.”
Her co-organizer Ramsey further adds, “I am honoring Lexi because she could have easily been one of my friends here in Wayland. It’s not like cyber-bullying is only a problem in West Islip – it’s everywhere.”
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Principal Tutwiler says that cyber-bullying is an issue that is not restricted to the newspapers; it is present at Wayland High School as well.
“In this day and age, bullying is in a form that is a lot more pernicious and is not visible to the adult eye,” he said. “It’s a problem, and I don’t necessarily know if it’s a big problem [at WHS], but it’s absolutely something we have to pay attention to.”
Wayland High School’s cyber-bullying awareness movement echoes an outrage that has simmered across the state in the wake of recent unrelated suicides by two Massachusetts teens, Phoebe Prince, 15, of South Hadley, and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, 11, of Springfield.
Both are attributed in part to online attacks. Nine teenagers were recently indicted for harassment in the Prince case.
Responding to the deaths in a unanimous call to action, the Massachusetts House authorized a bill on March 18th that aims to prohibit bullying both in schools and in cyberspace. A week prior to the House’s decision, the Senate likewise approved similar legislation.
Before the anti-bullying bill can be passed as law, the House and Senate versions will have to be reconciled, after which Governor Deval Patrick has indicated he will sign the bill.
For proponents of anti-bullying, this new legislation is seen as a step in the right direction. However, it comes too late for Pilkington.
Plagued by cyber-bullying in life, her harassment hasn’t ended in death. Even now, Pilkington continues to be attacked online with hateful messages by unknown assailants.