Amanda Todd Death Sparks Police Probe, May Result In Criminal Charges

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AMANDA TODD
Amanda Todd, 15, took her own life this week after years of bullying. (Myspace) | Myspace

VANCOUVER - A video glimpse into the life of a now-dead teenage girl who said she was being relentlessly bullied has prompted a police investigation, expressions of concern and a renewed call to end such cruelty.

RCMP said Friday that serious-crime teams are working together, conducting interviews and reviewing contributing factors to the death of 15-year-old Amanda Todd.

They've also set up an email account for anyone with any information to pass along — amandaTODDinfo@rcmp-grc.gc.ca

"There are a number of areas within the Criminal Code that could be applied," Sgt. Peter Thiessen said in an interview, though he declined to name what the sections were.

"Those involved in bullying, depending on the form of the bullying and what the end result of the bullying is, certainly can result in criminal charges."

But Thiessen added it's "extremely difficult" to get the evidence police need and that's why officers are asking for the public's help.

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Thiessen also confirmed Amanda Todd's case has "some similarities" with an investigation police conducted into a rave in 2010 in the same Fraser Valley area where Todd lived. A teen complained she had been drugged and sexually assaulted while partygoers filmed the sex act and then passed the pictures around on social media.

Thiessen would not say what the similarities were between the two cases.

Sex assault charges were stayed in the rave case, but a teenaged boy who posted some of those images online was charged with making and distributing child pornography and distributing obscene material. He was sentenced to 12 months probation earlier this year after pleading guilty to the latter charge.

Another man is also charged with making and distributing child pornography in that case.

"Our investigators are certainly looking at all areas, including social media, past conversations, postings, past actions on social media by everyone and anyone who may have come into contact with Amanda," Thiessen said.

An official with the B.C. coroner's office confirmed preliminary indications suggest Todd took her own life earlier this week, just a month after posting a haunting video on YouTube describing both cyber and physical bullying.

During her nine-minute video, Todd explained via hand-written notes that while in Grade 7, she was lured by an unidentified male to expose her breasts via webcam. One year later, she said she received a message from a man on Facebook threatening that if she didn't give him a show, he would send the webcam picture to her friends and family.

She said police later told her the man followed through with his threat, and she plunged into anxiety, major depression and drugs and alcohol.

"My boobs were his profile picture," she said of the cyberbully's Facebook page.

She said she tried to kill herself twice.

The video ends with her note: "I have nobody. I need someone."

The Internet was flooded with tribute sites for Todd, and posters took to Twitter and Facebook to express their condolences and to excoriate bullies.

"I just watched her video and I wanted to say, here on a public forum that, I’m sorry Amanda Todd. I’m sorry you had to go through all that, I’m sorry that people are that horrible and cruel, I’m sorry you had to experience being that alone and I’m sorry that you had to end your life so short of its potential," wrote one person on the site entitled A Legitimate Tribute to Amanda Todd.

"You’re in a better place now beautiful," wrote another.

ONLINE CONSEQUENCES

Merlyn Horton, executive director of the Safe Online Outreach Society and a former youth-outreach worker, said the education system needs to teach children as young as six about the powers and pitfalls of the Internet.

While adolescents have always experimented with sexuality and exhibitionism, today's youths are using communication tools that can have consequences significantly different from those experienced by any other generation, she said.

In fact, Horton said some studies suggest 20 per cent of teens who were surveyed have taken nude or semi-nude images of themselves and posted them online.

Adults must teach children and teens that everything posted online is public and permanent, they shouldn't talk to strangers about sex, allow people to take sexual images of them or tolerate harassment, she said.

Horton said the highest-risk age group is children 10 to 14, the same age bracket Todd was in when the webcam images were taken.

"They're sexting, they're very naive, they don't have, you know, the risk assessment skills or the ability to really realize what consequences are, or they're open to flattery," said Horton. "There's all sorts of ways for children that age to be manipulated."

Horton said police and politicians are taking the issue seriously, but the problem can't be legislated away.

"This is a culture and an online community, and what it's going to take is values-based conversations with adults with their kids about online conduct," she said.

"We have to learn how to deal with this environment."

SFU criminologist Brenda Morrison who studies bullying said the issue needs to be reframed from an institutional problem that requires an institutional response to a problem that needs to be solved by the community.

"I think no one stood up for Amanda when she was being bullied," said Morrison. "So what does it mean to step up and offer Amanda care when she's feeling down and she's being bullied in public? Where was her community of care on the Internet?"

Morrison said anyone is vulnerable to bullying

"But once we're in a downward spiral our negative self-talk can be so detrimental to us. And especially around issues around sexually, it cuts us at our core. Other kids pick up on that, we get labelled, the label becomes self-perpetuating and can end in tragedy, as we all know now."

The B.C. government on Friday reminded children and families help is available if they are feeling alone and have suicidal thoughts.

The government outlined half a dozen phone numbers, including a 1-800-SUICIDE helpline, where people could call to get help.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark noted her government previously announced an online reporting tool about bullying and an app for smartphones will be launched in a month.

She said part of the equation of tackling bullying is to stop seeing it as the same as any other dispute at school.

"In bullying, it's not that kind of dispute. You've got a perpetrator, you've got a victim. The perpetrator needs to be punished and the victim needs to be supported and protected from further retribution from the bully. It's a unique kind of dispute."

Are you in crisis? Need help? In Canada, find links and numbers to 24-hour suicide crisis lines in your province here.

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