A 15 Year old girl, Amanda Todd, was found dead on Wednesday in her Vancouver home, not even a month away from her 16th birthday .
She was a typical girl of her age. She took pictures with her friends out on various adventures. She had a Facebook Account, A Twitter account, and membership with some web-cam chat sites. It turns out she had joined the cam sites to try and meet new folks, something we've all done in one way or another.
In many ways, she wasn't much different from me when I was 15. I remember sitting on the websites in the attempt to branch out from my social awkwardness. I had the good fortune to meet some good people, and many of them are counted among my closest friends. Amanda, for a while, enjoyed that same fortune. Until the tormenters arrived.
Throughout Junior High, I was picked on relentlessly. Being overweight, listing to heavy metal and alternative rock, having an interest in military history and Star Trek and not playing hockey were my offenses to the general public of the school. The sentence? Taunting, cursing, shoves in gym class and a couple of fights.
But for all the pain I had to deal with, I at least knew who my bullies were. Amanda never had that privilage. Whilst on the site, Amanda attracted the attention of a few men. In this haunting video she reveals that one of the "men" contacted her on Facebook, threatening to spread some risque pictures of her, unless she put on a "show" for him. The tormenter had somehow learned Amanda's address, school and the name's of her parents. Fearing for her safety and social standing, she complied. Her pictures were sent out anyway, leading to a visit from the police, a move to another school, and Amanda into her first taste of drugs and alcohol.
I understand her pain. In Grade 8, I was pressured by my tormentors into asking out a crush I had. Not knowing she was in on the joke, I did. She then embarrassed in front of the whole class by not only rejecting me, but going out of her way to point out what a sad, pathetic loser I was and suggesting that her "boys" would put the boots to me for daring to speak to her. With a black eye and a split lip, I had my first mickey of Rum that day. I was 15.
Eventually, I got picked on and beat up so badly it led me to my first suicide attempt a year later. Fortunately, with help from my parents and the fantastic people at Hospice Calgary, and 6 years, I'm proud to say I beat my depression, and I move on with pride.
Amanda will never have that chance. The bullying never stopped for her. She couldn't get help. She couldn't be saved. The threats never stopped for Amanda. The teasing, the torment, the isolation. It proved to be too much for her. And where I chose Vodka and Advil, she chose Paxil and Bleach.
And now, a mother's daughter is dead, because soulless, perverted bastards took advantage of a teen girl looking for friends. She wasn't asking for it. She never did anything wrong. Amanda, like me, was just looking to connect with new people. We never asked to be subjected to torture for wanting friends. We didn't want to be alone. But the cruelness of fate and society decided that we were to be subjected to pain for being different.
Three lessons must be learned:
1) Parents have got to keep a better eye on what their children are doing online. Don't spy, but inquire. Ask what your kids are doing online, and encourage them to be open if they have any issues.
2) Bullying has to stop. It is a travesty in this day and age that children like Amanda, like me, are allowed to be picked on and tormented. Everyone, the parents, the teachers, the police, society, and kids have to get together and say "enough is enough". We all want to be treated with respect, so why can't we just do it?
3) When the man that did this to her is found, and he will be, he should be put to death for stealing Amanda's life. Exploiting a child is the worst crime anyone can commit. It's not just hurting another person, its stealing the innocence of the defenseless. The sick people who do these things do not deserve to breathe the air of this free country.
I wonder what Amanda would be like if things had been different for her. If she had gotten the help she desperately needed, would she still feel bad?
Would she have a been a doctor, or a teacher? Would she have written a book about her life, or talked about her experience with kids? Would she have gone into politics to change the laws to stop people like her from being bullied? Would she have become Officer Todd, helping to put the men like her tormenter behind bars for the rest of her days?
I suppose now, we'll never know. And in every sense of the phrase, It's all a senseless tragedy.
(If you or someone you love is in distress, please visit http://kidshelpphone.ca/ or call 1-800-668-6868 24/7)