By Jesse Wood
June 5, 2014. After being bullied and harassed on social media, a freshman girl at Avery High School recently took to Twitter with suicidal thoughts, debating whether to slit her wrists horizontally or vertically – and later acted out on those thoughts.
Sitting in the offices of High Country Press on Wednesday afternoon, numerous scars were prevalent on her wrists and legs. This young girl has been cyberbullied through direct personal messages and also on what are known as “slam” or “bash” pages, which are administered by an anonymous person. See screenshots of bash pages below.
“After I found out about it, I didn’t want to go to school,” she said, adding that students, referencing the comment threads on these pages, are talking behind her back at school.
Several of these slam pages, with some using the Avery High School “A” logo, exist, and the comments remain for everyone to see. The mom of the freshman girl said these pages engage in “slut shaming” and “gay bashing.”
The mom of the freshman girl has brought the matter to the attention of officials at Avery County Schools and the Avery County Sheriff’s Office, but she said after three weeks she has practically been ignored.
“I am unheard and dismissed. Three weeks and the pages are still up,” the parent said, adding that she would have at least liked to have seen a school administrator post something on these slam pages which would alert whoever is engaging in this harmful activity that authorities are watching.
Her daughter added, “I just feel like it’s going to take someone killing themselves or worse, to get the attention of the administrators and teachers who are there to teach you. I thought the examples they set are suppose to be life lessons? Not hypocrisy.”
The parent cited a report that 4,400 teens commit suicide every year and that studies in the U.S. have shown a correlation between cyberbullying and suicide.
“My goal is not only to protect my daughter but help make a difference for the children and teens being bullied daily. The statistics on bullying and teen suicide are startling,” this Avery High School parent wrote in an email to a ACS administrator on May 21. “I am willing to help in anyway I can. Our kids deserve to attend school safely, without the added bullying of online school ‘bash pages.’”
In addition to wanting the pages removed and pressing for more anti-bullying counseling in the schools, this parent has pressed charges against a 19-year-old male who she says harassed and bullied her daughter through personal messages and on these community bash boards. She filed charges at the Avery County Sheriff’s Office on May 20.
Avery County Sheriff Kevin Frye said his office is working on the case.
“We are working on the criminal side, trying to get things we need to pursue the criminal side and see if the DA is willing to prosecute,” Frye said. “There is a charge called cyberbullying that we are looking into.”
As for the charges filed by the parent, Frye said he didn’t know if investigators with the Avery County Sheriff’s Office had contacted the 19-year-old male yet.
“I know they were trying to interview him,” Frye said.
Frye added that his office is still gathering “everything from a Twitter and Facebook standpoint” in order give the DA’s office a full picture of what’s happening.
“It’s not an easy thing to get accomplished,” Frye said. “We’ve never prosecuted a case like this in Avery County before.”
Just as Frye mentioned, ACS Supt. David Burleson said that his administration is working “diligently” on this particular case. He took exception to the fact that the mom said that officials with ACS have ignored her pleas.
Burleson said that staff in the school system’s technology department has reached out to Twitter and set up a firewall so that students are denied access to these “bash” pages on the school’s internet account. But as, Burleson mentioned, most students are accessing Twitter through their smartphones utilizing mobile networks.
“We can’t make Twitter not allow those sites to the public,” Burleson said. “I really don’t know what more we can do. The sheriff’s department, I believe, is finding out who maybe is hosting these sites. I believe, in talking with the sheriff, they have found one person who is hosting a site and that person is not a student.”
Noting a “very strong bullying” policy and adept counselors, Burleson mentioned that the school system would do everything it could to prevent this bullying if they could figure out who is behind the personal attacks.
“The problem with cyberbullying and social media, it goes out to the world. Back when I was in school people would pass notes. Same type of bullying but once you hit the send button or tweet it’s out there for the world to see. It’s hard to throw those notes away,” Burleson said.
The mom says that school policy is being violated and that this issue isn’t being handled in the same way as would substance abuse, possession of weapons or other serious issues.
“We understand the seriousness and we take it extremely serious, but if we don’t know who is doing the posting and hosting the sites, it [restricts] what we can do,” Burleson said.
The mom has pointed to news stories about similar websites that became a focus at Stanhope Elmore High School in Alabama; Uniondale Schools on Long Island; and Rio Grand Valley schools in Texas. In at least the Alabama example, school administrators took their concerns to authorities that then worked with Facebook to shut down the page