Cyber Bullying

Violence comes in many forms, and the latest rising epidemic among adolescents is cyber bullying. It used to be that a child could find refuge at home or in a classroom away from a bully; now, the taunts, insults, rumors, and worse come from bullies non-stop, invading multiple aspects of life and leaving victims feeling totally isolated and overwhelmed with no relief in sight.

According to statistics from the i-SAFE foundation, nearly half of all teens have been bullied online. Perhaps more disturbing is that even fewer ever report being harassed or threatened, allowing the problem to continue.

Pulling the Plug on Cyber Bullying: Caitlin’s Story

The school year had just begun, and Caitlin was excited to be a freshman at her new high school. The “awkward years” certainly rang true for her in middle school, but since her family relocated during the summer, she felt the chance to start over at a new, well-reputed academy. No one knew about her past struggles – she could’ve been the most popular girl at her old school, for all they knew.

Cheer leading tryouts were this coming Friday, and Caitlin had been working out and practicing for months. Making the squad would seem like the perfect happy ending to her struggling social life.

“Hi Kate the great!” exclaimed Judy, Caitlin’s mother, as she entered the kitchen with an armful of groceries.

“Mo-om… can you please stop using that lame nickname. I’m freakin’ fourteen,” Caitlin said, groaning and reaching into a bag to pull out an apple.

“Excuse me, your highness. I forgot you are in high school now,” Judy retorted while emptying the bags.

“So what’s going on this week, dear?” she asked, trying to regain closeness to her daughter. It seemed she had become distant with the move and more aloof as she tried hard to fit in with her peers.

“Tryouts. It’s gonna’ happen!” Caitlin said, smiling excitedly and doing a high-kick in the air; then clapping her hands.

Judy laughed, enjoying her show of exuberance. “Well, good luck, sweetheart. I’m sure you’ll do great.”

The day of tryouts, Caitlin was too nervous to eat. She got into the locker room a little early, and was trying to relax when Madison, captain of the squad, came in and headed over to her locker.

“Hiiii,” Caitlin stuttered, a bit awed by her presence. “I’m Caitlin Murphy.”

Madison gave her a sideways glance, eyeing her up and down, and waited for Caitlin to continue.

“I’m trying out today,” she quickly added. “Just wanted to introduce myself.”

Just as Caitlin finished her sentence, in walked Tara, Madison’s co-captain.

“What do we have here, another freshman follower?” Tara chuckled, sticking out her chest and laughing.

“Good luck, Caitlin Murphy,” Madison said nonchalantly to Caitlin, before digging into her duffel bag for her change of clothes.

“Wait, Maddie, you forgot to tell her about initiation,” Tara said, giving Caitlin a sly smile.

“Huh?” Madison was half listening, beginning to text on her phone.

“Yeah you know, like a college sorority. Everyone wants to cheer with this school. We don’t take just anybody,” Tara said with a callous air of authority.

Cyber Bullying: Cruel Pretense

Caitlin tried to remain calm but was growing more nervous by the second. She didn’t know why it was so important for her to feel like a part of something. All she knew was that she wanted it more than anything.

“What do I have to do?” she asked meekly.

“We want to see if you’ve got the sexy attitude of a pro football cheerleader,” Tara said, throwing her hair back suggestively.

“Let me take a pic of you in your bra and panties,” she said. Madison laughed, but still didn’t join the conversation, engrossed in her texting.

Caitlin felt that was a strange request, but wanted this older girl to think she was cool. She nervously undressed, feeling incredibly self-conscious.

“Now, get on your hands and knees, turn you head around and give me your poutiest duck lips,” Tara said, whipping out her phone camera.

Caitlin did as she was told, feeling degraded and sick to her stomach. “So this will qualify me?” she asked, quickly getting up and pulling on a shirt.

“Oh you betcha’,” Tara said, showing the photo to Madison, who giggled and high-fived her.

Cyber Bullying: Shattered Dreams

The next day at school, Caitlin felt the searing eyes of nearly every student turning to look at her as she went through the hallway to her locker. Whispers ensued.


“Come put those lips on me, baby.”

Caitlin’s cheeks began to burn. What had happened overnight?

She got to her locker and held back tears. Her next-door neighbor Kim came over to her and showed her a Snapchat she had taken a screenshot of. Caitlin’s stomach rolled. It was the photo Madison had taken of her yesterday in the locker room.

“Where did you get that?” she asked, burying her face into her locker.  Kim shrugged, “It’s been going around. I don’t know. Nate sent it to me. Said he got it from one of his baseball buddies.  What the hell is this, anyway?!”

Caitlin slammed her locker shut and ran to the bathroom without answering. She hurried into a stall and got sick.

When she got to the sink, a group of girls applying lip gloss sneered at her.

“You knocked up already?” one of them laughed, then another chimed in. “Guess doesn’t take long when you get on your knees that quick.”

Speechless and still reeling, Caitlin rinsed her mouth in the sink then raced out of the bathroom, the door swinging shut on the sound of their laughter.

There was no way she could face the humiliation of being there today. She called her mom on her cell phone asking her to pick her up, saying she wasn’t feeling well.

Once home and alone upstairs in her room, she logged onto Facebook and saw she had 15 pending friend requests from boys she didn’t know. She hesitantly opened one and there was “the” picture that started it all. She almost threw up again reading the vile remarks below it.

She couldn’t help herself and opened another. The words only got cruder.

Caitlin closed her laptop and smothered her face in her pillow, sobbing uncontrollably. How could that evil girl have sabotaged her? And why? She didn’t even know Caitlin.

Her life was over. No reputation at all was better than being the campus slut. Even though it wasn’t true, as far as the kids at school were concerned, the photo said it all.

Caitlin had pretended to be sick for three days after the photo first went around, until her mom said she was taking her to the doctor. Knowing there was no way she could convince a doctor she was sick, she went to school the next day, hoping people had found something else to talk about; finding instead that several more photos had been shared around school and someone had found a way to paste copies in her locker. Most of them were from her own Facebook account, like the one of her in a bikini that summer on her last trip to the beach with her friends before the move.

It had seemed so innocent then, making poses blowing kisses to the camera, just a day being silly and enjoying the sun with her best friends; now it looked like confirmation that she was exactly what everyone thought she was.

Worse, a few photos weren’t her at all; someone had photoshopped her face onto different lingerie models and porn stars, some of them totally naked. Caitlin’s stomach felt like it had dropped to the floor, tears filled her eyes and her hands trembled as she pulled all the photos down and crumpled them into a wad. Afraid to throw them in the trash where someone might see, she stuffed them into the very bottom of her backpack and quickly wiped her eyes as the bell rang. The hall was almost empty with a few stragglers rushing into the classrooms, doors closing behind them.

Soon, she was alone in the hall, standing stunned and feeling totally empty. For a moment, she considered just walking out of the school, hating the idea of facing anyone now.

Catching sight of the school counselor on her way to her office with a cup of coffee, Caitlin hesitated, wanting to tell someone but thinking of the pictures in the bottom of her bag, she felt her face grow hot and she quickly turned and went to her classroom. Telling her teacher she’d been in the bathroom, she tried to be as small as possible while finding her seat.  Just as she slid behind her desk, she heard a classmate whisper, “I wonder who she was ‘in the bathroom’ with.” Caitlin’s ears burned and she sank lower in her seat, trying to ignore her classmate and the giggles that followed.

She barely made it through that week, girls refused to get to know her, shunning her in the cafeteria and in classes, and whispering about her in the classrooms – but never so quietly that she couldn’t hear the latest rumors on why she’d moved.

One was that she’d been discovered sleeping with a teacher at her previous school and her family had relocated to save her from going to high school with kids who knew. Another claimed she had gotten pregnant and had an abortion, then moved to cover it up. Each new story was nastier than the one before and the looks the kids, and soon some teachers, gave her in the halls as they passed made her feel as nasty as the stories.

She continued to receive degrading messages online from many of the boys, with everything from detailed descriptions of what they would do to her to threats of rape, claiming that a girl like her didn’t have a right to say no.

Someone posted a link to her Facebook profile on a school forum and the abuse poured in from both male and female teens. She lost track of the insults and the number of times she was warned to stay away from this or that boy.

“I feel like showering just sitting in the same class as you. Why do you bother coming to school? Can’t you see no one wants you here?”

“You’re so [expletive] ugly, I guess you had to become a whore to get any attention.”

“Come on, baby. I can see you’re an experienced girl. Show me what you know.”

Some messages came through anonymously and others with names; they filled her inbox until she couldn’t keep up anymore. In order to avoid the mob of instant messages each time she logged on, she changed her settings to hide when she was online, but it only made things worse as first her Instagram and then her personal email account was flooded with the abuse.

She felt cut off from her own life, afraid to go online or check email, which was the only way she had of talking to her friends from her old school. She didn’t want to tell them about what had happened, afraid they would think terrible things about her, too.

She wanted to report the messages, and especially what the two girls had done to her, but as it was, she felt so unwelcome at school and didn’t want people to hate her even more. Girls seemed terrified that she’d steal their boyfriends or something, and guys assumed the photo meant she was easy.

Cyber Bullying: Living A Nightmare

As weeks and months went by, Caitlin struggled to force herself out of bed to make it to school. She’d always been a good student – not great, but good – and she had always genuinely liked school. Even though she hadn’t been popular, she always had friends before.

Now, no one would talk to her. She had faked headaches, said she was sick, or blamed PMS a dozen times already to get out of going to school and when a letter came from the academy, warning that her repeated absences put her at risk of failing, her mother’s frustration with her excuses and refusal to talk about it grew. “Caitlin, please tell me what’s going on,” she pleaded one morning after finding Caitlin still in bed with only five minutes before the bus was due. “Mom, please, I’m just not feeling good, okay?” Caitlin mumbled while pulling the covers over her head and rolling to face the other direction. Judy sighed, “Okay, but when I get back from dropping your brother off, we are going to have a talk, whether you want to or not.”

“Fine,” Caitlin snapped, sitting up and throwing the covers off. “I’ll go. It’s not like you care how I feel anyway.” She had stomped into the bathroom and slammed the door before her mom could reply. Caitlin had never talked to her that way before and Judy stood stunned for several seconds, staring at the closed bathroom door. Her son calling from downstairs snapped her out of it. She glanced at her wristwatch, then at the bathroom door once more before hurrying down to drive her son to school, thinking these teen years were turning out a lot harder than she had expected.

She had begun to worry about her daughter’s mood swings, dark shadows under her eyes and sudden weight loss. She seemed edgy and tense, and Judy had caught her crying a few times coming out of the bathroom, her face red and swollen.

A few days later it was the weekend, and she tried again as Caitlin played with the food on her breakfast plate, “You know I don’t want to intrude on your privacy, Kate, but I am worried about you.” She paused as Caitlin looked at her. Something in her eyes seemed so defeated and vulnerable that Judy caught her breath before continuing, “I know adjusting to a new school is hard…”

“I’m fine!” Caitlin barked, cutting her off.  Her eyes were dark and closed off now. “I have to go study,” she mumbled. She raced up to her room and slammed the door, leaving Judy staring after her once again.

In her room, Caitlin sighed as she opened her laptop.

Cyber Bullying: Over The Edge

Not wanting to see what messages arrived today, she was careful not to open her email or social media accounts. Just as she began to work on a paper though, she got a text from an unknown number.

“Send me another dirty picture, or I’ll tell everyone you slept with me and…” Caitlin could barely breathe as she read the rest of the text. How did they get her phone number now?

Over the next twenty minutes, she received eight more texts, increasing in perversion.

The harassment was bad enough on her social media accounts email, but an invasion into her phone was just too much. She felt completely empty, knowing she would never get away from it.

A soft knock interrupted her thoughts. “Kate, are you okay?” her mom called from the other side of her door.

“Yes,” she managed to sputter out. “I just need to work on my paper, Mom.”

Hearing a tone of apology in the simple answer, Judy felt a little better. “Okay, I’ll see you later. I have to run out for a couple hours.” Judy replied.

“Okay, Mom.”Caitlin answered. Soon, she heard the garage door going up; then down again as her mother backed out. Seeing her watching from her window, Judy smiled and waved as she backed down the driveway and Caitlin waved and smiled back, noticing her mom’s smile get bigger when she saw.

She waited until she saw the car head down the street; then went into her parent’s medicine cabinet. Her dad, a busy and high-stressed executive, had a prescription for sleeping pills for the nights he couldn’t wind down.

Caitlin took the bottle and counted the pills inside. It was nearly full. Her mom had been on her dad’s back to quit that stuff and take up something healthy like yoga or going to the gym and he had been trying to oblige. She then went to her parent’s liquor cabinet and evaluated the alcohol. Whiskey, bourbon, vodka.

She grabbed the vodka and pills and went back into her bedroom. She had heard of celebrities overdosing on the news all the time. It seemed easy enough. She had remembered reading that they often vomited after taking pills, so she grabbed a plastic bag to put over her head. After dumping the first handful of pills into her mouth, she gulped vodka to wash them down, choking as it burned her throat. She forced herself to swallow another gulp, her eyes watering and tears rolling down her cheeks. She took the next handful, emptying the pill bottle in her hand, and gulping vodka before tossing the pills in her mouth. Caitlin took her last few swigs of vodka and lay back with the bag over her head. Having taken nearly 60 pills, she quickly lost consciousness, perishing ultimately from asphyxiation.

Judy returned home just over an hour later and went to Caitlin’s room to check on her. She collapsed at the sight of her daughter surrounded by the empty pill and vodka bottles. Judy ripped the bag off Caitlin’s head, shaking her violently and crying for her to wake up, but it was too late.

After the investigation was completed at the scene, Caitlin’s family contacted us to clean the scene.

Investigation Into Cyber Bullying

The police are still investigating the events leading up to this tragic suicide, interviewing teens and teachers at the school who might have information on what Caitlin went through in the last three months of her life. Over nine thousand abusive messages were found on Caitlin’s email and social media accounts, including hundreds of photoshopped and captioned images of that original photo, with everything from excrement to naked men and even mating animals pasted onto Caitlin’s body.

Utterly horrified to learn what her daughter had been going through in secret, Caitlin’s mother encourages parents to “get into your kid’s business” and be aware of changes in attitude or mood.

“If I had only pressed her to find out what was bothering her, maybe this wouldn’t have happened. I told myself that her distance and mood swings were normal, that it was part of growing up. I should’ve known it was more than that,” Judy said.

Since the girl who took the picture and her friend were both underage at the time of the incident, they were charged only with a misdemeanor and completed community service speaking against bullying at area schools. Both girls were removed from the cheerleading squad and lost scholarships to college, not nearly punishment enough, some feel, for the torment they caused Caitlin. As juveniles, their records are sealed, along with a handful of other teens, some not even from the same school as Caitlin attended, who were charged for their involvement in the cyber bullying.

Due to the lack of specification in laws governing cyber bullying, bullying that occurs off campus or outside of school hours may not be covered in the legal definition in your state. There is currently no federal law regarding cyber bullying.

Tips to Help a Teen Recover from Cyber bullying

  • Remove self-blame. Victims are quick to blame themselves. Remind them that they were not at fault, and that someone manipulated their proper judgment for personal gain.
  • Shift the viewpoint. The cyberbully is an unhappy person who wants to have control. By making others feel poorly about themselves, the bully gains power.
  • Let it go. Don’t make an incident worse by dwelling on it. Like most news, it is soon forgotten and replaced with something else. Leaked photos are sadly very commonplace, even with famous people. There will always be the latest next piece of gossip.
  • Seek help. Whether it’s talking to a parent, teacher, counselor, or other trusted adult, getting support is crucial to rebuilding self-esteem and moving on.
  • Learn to cope with stress. Relieving stress can strengthen resilience to avoid feeling overwhelmed by cyber bullying. Exercise, hobbies, reading, and even positive self-talk are all good ways to manage the stress from cyber bullying.

Cyber Bullying Resources

Internet Safety 101

Preventing Bullying in the Digital Age

Parents’ Guide to Social Media

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Ted Pelot Owner & President of Crime Scene Cleanup Company - Advanced Bio-Treatment