Thursday, April 08, 2010

More on Bullying

I did a little research into the state's sex laws to find out if there are mandatory minimum sentences for statutory rape (there aren't) and came up with this gem:

MGL c.272, s. 4. Inducing person under 18 to have sexual intercourse.

Whoever induces any person under 18 years of age of chaste life to have
unlawful sexual intercourse shall be punished by imprisonment in the state
prison for not more than three years or in a jail or house of correction for not
more than two and one-half years or by a fine of not more than $1,000 or by both
such fine and imprisonment.

If I am reading that right, then having sex with someone under 18 is punishable by up to three years in prison...unless someone else did it first! Yes, we actually have laws that deal with taking someone's virginity.

That is not really apropos to this case (which is related to the laws for kids under 16), but it sort of sums up the absurdity of many of our old morals laws.

Back to the case at hand...I was a little bit surprised to get as few comments as I did, as this is a topic that tends to generate a lot of discussion. Which probably means that most of you disagree with me, since people speak up more when they agree. But really, I like it better when people tell me I am wrong. I can take it.

No one disagreed with the rape charges (at least out loud). So I am putting that to rest unless someone would like to speak up on behalf of the DA. Two interesting things did come up, though.

First, there were a couple of people who argued that the kids should be charged with assault. I hadn't really thought of that, and I am not sure that I agree. Again, a lot of this depends on exactly what the kids actually said and did, which has not really come out yet save for some anecdotes here and there. In fairness to the DA, she has acknowledged that the case appears to be a stretch, but has promised that the actual evidence is pretty damning. So, all judgement is couched by that.

Tammy from Nebraska brings up another interesting point...or at least she kind of hints at it (I don't want to put words in your mouth;-))...this is all based on what Phoebe decided to do to herself. What if she just plain overreacted? I feel like we need to be careful to judge only the kids' actions, and not consequences beyond their control. Assume they were really evil, and the story somehow got out, but the girl didn't kill herself...I am sure there would be a lot of people calling their actions despicable, but the suggestion that you should put kids in jail for non-physical bullying would not generate much support at all. In other words...should we let Phoebe's actions influence our view of the other kids?

I don't want to sound like I am sticking up for the bulliers, or dismissing their actions as "kids will be kids". Kids that age can be downright evil by any measure, and as Me pointed out, the pressure has become 24/ is technologically inescapable. And I can assure you that I see this shit every single day as the (kinda) parent of a 15 year old girl.

What concerns me is the witch hunt that has to follow a tragedy. What other pressures was she under? What other problems might she have had? Was it really the actions of these other kids that drove her to take her own life? Had she been totally happy when she moved here? Suicide is an awfully complicated thing, and it may be overly simplistic and unfair to pin this entirely on these other kids. (It also may not...)

Second is the question of the responsibility of teachers. Unquestionably, teachers have a role to play. They spend a lot of time with kids and they exert a lot of influence. However, teachers are not substitute parents. They are not law enforcement officials. They are not expert psychologists. And, to the far-reaching aspect of technology, they can not be everywhere and very specifically can't do anything about things that happen outside of school. These kids were shouting insults at her in front of teachers? Yes, absolutely, they can't just pretend they didn't see it. But my intuition tells me that it is never quite that cut and dried or that obvious.

And to be realistic...think about how this would really go. Let's say Johnny is mean to Billy, and Mr. Teacher thinks he is bullying him. What does he do? Any efforts to discipline Johnny are likely to lead to nasty letters and phone calls from Johnny's parents wondering why their perfect son is being needled by nosy teachers. And what can you really do to the kid anyway? Only parents can really punish most kids.

I know I have some teacher's that read regularly...maybe you could tell us what happens when you try and give a kid a well-earned bad grade, let alone report their behavior as unbecoming. Kids may be really mean, but often it is because their parents are total assholes...

OK...this is way too long and doesn't make much sense;-) So someone else start talking, please


Lisa said...

well, there's at least one thing I can give to the discussion:

I work at a place where parents can send their kids after school if they have problems with any specific subject. I think you call it "tutoring". Most of my past students have been nice and well-mannered enough. But as soon as one kid doesn't take orders or disturbs the other student in his group, we teachers kind of are in a dilemma. See, not all parents like to admit that their kids don't behave well. And as we're getting paid to teach them, we sometimes have to see when to complain and when to suck it up. I bet this situation has to be at least twice as difficult for teachers at the regular day-school.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right on many levels with this issue. You can't punish kids who have consensual sex. You also can't punish a few kids for bullying if it was a large group or if you really don't know who did what.

In my opinion the girls parents should have done something. I am not familiar with the case and don't know if she even had parents. But, they should have known their daughter was going through something at school. Especially if she wasn't able to attend due to the harassment. It is not the teachers responsibility. Maybe they should have reported it, but, teenagers are sneaky. The teachers probably knew something was up, but, didn't see most of it firsthand.

The bullying should never have reached that level. I don't have kids, but, I think I would have either tried and have the bullies punished in some way or changed my daughters school.

Mrs. Adventure said...

Gosh girl that's a tough one, I agree with your thoughts though.

BTW Thanks for stoping by my blog this am I replied to your question you can see it here:

Take care!

Miss Yunks said...

I agree with you - I don't think the bullying is the sole cause of Phoebe's suicide. I imagine plenty of kids are bullied and don't commit suicide. I'd guess there is another underlying factor that no one knows. Bullying is hard to regulate, I don't know how well a bullying law can be enforced. I've been surprised by how much attention this case is getting in the news. Suicide is of course awful, but there must be several factors that drove Phoebe to that point.

Jane226 said...

I agree that the rape charges are absurd and should definitely be thrown out.

I don't know if there is any way to prove that the bullying directly led to her suicide, or if there were any other problems in her life. But those kids have to know that a young girl is dead, in part because of their actions. And that's a heavy burden to carry for the rest of their lives. I don't think kids think through their actions to see the consequences.

Unfortunately, teens commit suicide every day, but only this case made national news for her being bullied, which makes me think it must have been some extreme suffering for her. And if I was a parent, and Phoebe was my daughter, I'd want the book thrown at those kids and teachers. Who knows if the parents were even aware of what was going on at school?

It's a tragedy on all sides, with no easy solution and no clear answer on how to end bullying.

Kari said...

I don't think there is any more bullying now then there was 15-20 years ago. I remember some kids being horribly teased (not by me!) in elementary school and junior high ...but I don't remember anyone taking their own life.
I think teachers get too much blame for things they have no control over.
Anyhow, great post...