It’s hard to imagine someone casually posting the most cruel and vulgar falsehood about you, which degrades you physically, sexually, and most of all, personally, on a school-sponsored website, for anyone to view. Yet, in fact, this is how years of bullying and sexual harassment began for a high school freshman and current SLCC student (name withheld by request).
Cyberbullying starts, worsens
As a high school freshman, the student and her girlfriend were scrolling through their school’s new Facebook site created for students to leave anonymous ‘tags’ about other students. When they found the student’s name, they discovered shockingly crude language which degraded her female anatomy, which is not reprinted here as is exceeds community standards.
“I really didn’t do anything to create the harassment…the school [site] rated people anonymously and everyone had a tag,” she says, “had some pretty horrible content on mine, but I kind of knew who they were by comments they had made before.” She says she was often called “fat, ugly, disgusting.”
This first incident of cyber-bullying lead into further posts from other students, which continued on Instagram throughout her sophomore year. This was also exacerbated by face-to-face harassment by groups of students, such as insults, rudeness, name-calling, and even lead to a sexual assault early her junior year.
“I have never been mean to anyone in my life…I am a pacifist” says the student, “I have no reason to be mean to other people.”
Emotional wounds become physical
The student, a long-time honor roll student who played teams sports, was too embarrassed to tell any adults and says she kept her pain silently hidden inside. She said she didn’t feel there was anywhere to turn for help and that her parents would feel badly their daughter had been bullied, as well as felt the words posted were unspeakable for her to repeat.
The student painfully describes being ‘pantsed’ (including her underwear), which is a crime in Utah, at a busy public theater near a shopping center with many passersby and where she watched movies with friends and waited for parents to pick them up. To her knowledge none of the witnesses came forward to report the crime.
The student describes hurting so much she began cutting her arms and trying to hide her wounds with bracelets. Her friends became concerned and tried to provide support. One of her close friends got mad and asked her why she would do such a thing.
“Most of them [her friends] felt helpless because they didn’t want to go behind your back and tell your parents,” the student says.
Pain too much to bear
Although an Anti-Bullying Seminar was held at school not long after in the fall, the student was already in the depths of depression. When students who had experienced bullying were invited to come forth and talk to the assembly, she felt frozen.
“I never had the courage to do that,” she says, but she describes being surprised who spoke up, as she says they were “some of the most confident people I’d ever met.”
She said it was an eye-opener, as tons of people, many who were popular, went up. She still struggled with feeling alone and even felt some of her friends, begin to fail her.
“I was kind of finished,” says the student as she felt completely isolated and alone, she decided to end her pain. She grabbed what she could find from the medicine cabinet and overdosed on muscle relaxers.
“I ended up writing [my parents] a letter because it was too hard to tell them,” she says, “I felt they would feel they failed me…but I just couldn’t deal with it anymore.”
Recovery and redemption
The student’s parents secured a therapist and psychiatrist, whom prescribed medications to relieve her depression, anxiety, and insomnia. With support and therapy, she became less vulnerable, as she was less invested as to what others thought of her.
Three years after graduating, during her college freshman year, the student ran into the original Facebook perpetrator at a sporting event. She was amazed to hear him apologize to her and tell her how very sorry he was for his actions. “He was so nice to me that it was like a 180,” the student says.
The student, a busy college undergrad, has put most of this in the past. She stopped using social media at the height of cyber-bullying, but at the urge of her parents, opened a Facebook page within the past few years, which she secures by only allowing her family access.
Of her ordeal, the student feels she has learned not to let other people’s opinion of her affect her and continues to try to understand those whom would bully others.
“It made me realize that in high school they just want to fit in,” she says.
If you experience bullying, there are many resources available to help including stopbullying.gov, the Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK, and on the SLCC Campus, you can talk to a counselor at Health and Wellness Center by calling 801-957-4268 or walk-in between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.