Phoebe Prince: The senseless victim of peer bullying and adult negligence

When I first heard this story, I was utterly shocked and sickened: an Irish teenager who recently came to the USA was ultimately driven to suicide. She killed herself not because she had some mental illness; nor because her home life was unbearable. Instead, Phoebe Prince hanged herself in mid January 2010 after suffering relentless bullying from peers at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts. As a result of this tragedy, a formal investigation has been launched; and so far authorities have discovered that Phoebe was bullied by multiple individuals over the course of several months. Additionally, it seems that school authorities were completely absent throughout the entire situation. Teachers in the midst of Phoebe during episodes of bullying turned a blind eye, while one school administrator who took a documented complaint from Phoebe regarding the outrageous bullying did nothing.

Before I go further, here are a few other tidbits from this horrendous event:

  • Prince was assaulted by both female and male students at the school.
  • Immediately before her suicide, she was openly called an “Irish Whore” by female peers.
  • The school had the audacity to hold a regular dance just after she died, where a few students were seen making gestures imitating suicide and hanging, as if all of this was just a joke.
  • So far, school officials have hidden behind lawyers and procedure, attempting to deflect any blame from being pointing their way. No one has openly taken responsibility for the gross negligence and sheer stupidity of the supposedly “mature” adult staff.
  • Earlier in the school year, the school actually had an assembly about bullying from a nationally recognized counselor. Though this suggests some degree of forethought on behalf of school officials, they failed miserably at implementing any of the counselor’s suggestions.
  • While Phoebe walked home from her last day at school teary eyed and inconsolable, she was intercepted by a car full of the very students bullying her. The students threw an empty energy drink can and garbage at her.
  • Just two hours later, she was found hanging from a staircase.

This story makes me livid. Why? Well, up until my Sophomore year in High School, I was regularly bullied, teased, and antagonized by my peers. Most of the bullies were complete losers who happened to be taller in stature, part of a larger social clique, or soon-to-be dropouts who felt they had nothing to lose bothering fellow students who actually took school seriously. The bullying stopped when I took on some leadership roles in school and became Captain of the track team. Additionally, I made fools of the supposed “tough guys” in gym class when I ran laps around them like lightening, did more sit-ups, more push-ups, and more pull-ups than they could muster. When they realized they were actually the weaker people, they started to clam up.

Things were different, however, in Phoebe’s case. She was a recent immigrant to the country who was entering a school system at an awkward age. In most areas, by the time kids reach high school, they’ve known their classmates for years; starting as early as kindergarten. Clearly, Phoebe was in a tough position from the get-go, coming from a different culture, perhaps speaking differently, and not having childhood friendships to fall back on. She was dropped in the middle of a cesspool, and, instead of embracing a new student from a different country, her peers chose to make her life a living hell.

As I’ve continued to read about the story, it seems like things started out OK for Phoebe. She made a couple good friends, and even dated a couple popular boys. In American high schools, a lot of the social interaction is governed by “cliques” (groups of students that hangout together at the exclusion of others). People tend to also date and fraternize within their cliques, and will rarely break ranks unless there is some sort of falling out among other clique members. Apparently, it seems Phoebe was able to get into some sort of clique when she had relationships with a couple boys. When these relationships came to an end, however, things deteriorated into utter chaos and quite frankly into a form of human evil that many overlook as a necessary part of the teenage experience.

Some might say, “Everyone gets bullied in high school, it’s just part of growing up.” To that I reply, “Get your head out of your ass and take a hard look at what happens in modern high schools, and see that things can quickly become out of control!”.

To me, “acceptable” bullying might be getting shoved on the soccer field, cuts in the lunch line, or infrequent teasing (although in some cases even the totality of these seemingly harmless acts can add up to years of emotional distress for those that are on the receiving end). Most times, teachers, principals, and team coaches intercept bullying, calling out the bully in front of their peers and making them a victim of the same sort of humiliation they have inflicted on others. In Phoebe’s case, however, there was NO responsible adult who acted on her behalf; nor did any school official heed her last ditch complaint that aggressive bullying was taking place.

I believe the bullying from the other girls was the result of female jealousy. To be certain, I don’t mean this in a misogynistic way. It’s clear to me that Phoebe’s relationships with the boys upset the girls in this particular clique, most likely because all or some of the girls wanted to be the ones dating the popular guys. Instead, they were ignored. The male attention that so many female teenagers crave was initially given to Phoebe, the new girl at school. As a result, when the relationships ended, the girls clearly ganged up on her, in an attempt to punish her for dating the guys that they liked.

To be sure, there was also male bullying in this case. Once the guys saw that the group was excluding Phoebe, they followed suit, egging on their peers and becoming more threatening to Phoebe. Male on female bullying often takes the form of unwanted sexual advances, aggression, and in some cases, outward violence. Phoebe was a victim of all these twisted male behaviors, and she suffered horribly.

In the end, it was a combination of female bullying AND male bullying that pushed her to the edge. As a “new” student at school, she did not have years of childhood friendships built up that she could use as a safety net. Instead, she was ultimately hoping that school officials, teachers, and principals would do their jobs and take her complaint seriously. Sadly, the adults, the last bastion of authority in any school situation, completely ignored her. They failed to step up and recognize that the situation was out of control, ultimately contributing to her eventual suicide.

What is a teenager supposed to think when it seems like every other student hates them, and no adult authority figure will take them seriously? Quite simply, that their life is over: they either choose to endure the relentless bullying, which dooms them to a life of psychological torment, or they distance themselves from the situation altogether. In Phoebe’s case, the only acceptable distance was death.

This story strikes a particular nerve with me far beyond the fact that I experienced bullying in high school. More specifically, I suffered psychological distress at the hands of bullies, and had no recourse other than to bottle it up and “believe” that these jerks were somehow right in what they were saying and doing. When you are completely surrounded and imprisoned by your peers, you really have little choice in the matter: you either accept their taunts as the “truth” about yourself, or you find some way of getting them off your back. Inevitably, most victims of bullies cope with the situation by enduring some aggression, while in other instances relying on the adults at the school to intervene when appropriate.

I strongly believe the actions of these fuck-ups contributed to my BPD; and the effects last to this day.

Finally, what does this say about modern American society? My great-grandfathers came from Ireland over 100 years ago. At the time, they were greeted by employer advertisements stating “Irish need NOT apply”. My ancestors were relegated to odds jobs or factory work. The situation eventually improved as America began to accept Irish immigrants, AND these immigrants took advantage of public education to better themselves and gain higher employment. In truth, that’s the story of most any ethnic group that has come to this country in recent years. Well, have things indeed improved when an Irish girl is being called an “Irish Whore” by classmates?

My heart aches for Phoebe’s family and loved ones. They have suffered a devastating loss that was the result of sheer idiocy and negligence that will never be rectified. Even though I don’t have much faith in organized religion, I strongly believe that Phoebe and others that have suffered a similar fate are in much better places…

4 Replies to “Phoebe Prince: The senseless victim of peer bullying and adult negligence”

  1. a friend tells me : ”lots of things are possible here. All I can do is look at the jigsaw pieces on the table. Phoebe was a victim in Ireland–which the family was worried enough about to warn South Hadley school folks about, which means her victim status was obvious and serious long before the South Hadley Gang of Nine took her on as a project (if they did; all we have is the prosecutor’s claims). She was apparently promiscuous, with a special penchant for self-destructive sex with older guys who had vindictive girlfriends (again, assuming media reports). She was ultra-scared of being beaten up, which doesn’t make her relationship with ass-kicking girls’ boyfriends very smart–both of which go with a history of abuse. She couldn’t communicate with her mom or relatives, and her dad was absent, even at her most tormented moments. Ditto. I worked with abused kids before so i know, and there’s a lot that’s beginning to make sense here–not at all to blame her for being understandably messed up, but to point out that Phoebe Prince was bullied by a whole lot of people for most of her 15 years, only the very last of whom have been called to account.”

  2. what makes it even worse is the ‘blaming the victim’ mentality – some idiots act like she was the one on the wrong side… “How could she be so selfish and kill herself?” Disgusting.

    this whole thing pisses me off so much. Sadly, but surely, it’s not an exclusive American problem. I was in her shoes once and had it been a little worse I’m sure I’d have done the same.

    My conclusion, as the pessimist that I am, is that life is not fair and frankly, it sucks.

    Humans are evil plain and simple, even beastly animals only kill for survival. I wish I didn’t exist at all, because I fear the other side may be even worse.

    I sincerely hope she’s in a better place where there’s no suffering.

  3. I’m 31 this year, but what happened to me at 13 is still very much alive with me reading your post (or any other describing the suffering of others this way) brings it all back. I also was diagnosed with BPD and also an attatchment disorder. Over the many years since, the powers that be still try to downplay the 8 years of bullying I suffered had anything to do with the delvelopment of my BPD. I am utterly convinced that it was the As a kid, I was the what you may call the stereotypical “nerd”. Shy, quiet, did well in academic subjects and physically ectomorphic. As with most bullied kids, Phys Ed and home time were the worst. Academic subjects were a sanctuary until the creation of mixed ability classes were introduced (In the UK) making all subjects a living hell. I can still see my tormentors faces closing their eyes smiling broadly with a look of utter pleasure written across their faces remembering what happened.
    I even was verbally assaulted by some of the teachers for having the audacity of wasting their time by complaining to them about what was happening to me.
    Fast forward to the present. As I said, I’m 31 this year, I am virtually unemployable in the service sector (dealing with the public is a massive ordeal for me) which is virtually the only jobs available in the UK at present and have been unemployed for four and a half years.
    This issue with people extends also into my personal life – I need a few drinks before I can even relax and enjoy myself with close personal friends. Girlfriends are also a problem for this reason too.

    To those in power who think that bullying is just a natural albeit unpleasant experience that some kids go through and get through on the other side of school and go on to lead normal lives: Your way of thinking needs to be fundamentally revised! Bullying that leads to suicide should have the bullies up on murder by proxy charges, bullies should at the very least be charged with assault because it isn’t some trivial thing that some kids go through. For the victims of bullies, these experiences have long reaching, life long consequenses affecting career prospects, relationships and mental health. The law for some reason seems to treat adults who trip over paving stones with more dignity and seriousness when it comes to the inevitable lawsuit.

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