Written by A. Noelle
A tragedy occurred last week when 13-year-old Rachel Ehmke committed suicide by hanging herself in her Mantorville, Minnesota home – the result of serious bullying that had occurred for months prior to the incident, according to her parents. With their daughter gone, Rick and Mary Ehmke have begun speaking out against the abuse Rachel suffered both at school and online.
According to the Austin Daily Herald and the Huffington Post, the bullying had started the previous fall when chewing gum was placed in Rachel’s textbooks and the word “slut” was written on her locker. At the time, Rachel was subjected to continuous taunts from a group of female students who would threaten her with harassing statements, claiming that Rachel was a “prostitute.”
Two days before Rachel committed suicide, an anonymous text was sent out to students at her school. One student’s parent was reported saying:
It was pretty explicit. Something to the effect of that Rachel was a slut and to get her to leave the Kasson-Mantorville School, forward this to everyone you know.
Rachel was said to have pleaded with her father to refrain from involving school officials, fearing that the problem would only escalate as a result. She continued to assure her parents that she was “fine.” After her death, Rachel’s parents found a picture of a broken heart with a note that read: “I’m fine = I wish I could tell you how I really feel.”
While it’s understandable that most teens who struggle with peer abuse would choose to keep parents and other adult authority figures from intervening for fear of exacerbating the situation, one has to wonder how the school district allowed the problem to persist for over a year – with limited to no intervention by teachers, faculty, or staff. Such a crisis may have benefitted from the volunteered support of an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters, which helps children between the ages of 6 and 18 achieve success in school, improve their self-confidence, and avoid risky behaviors such as fighting and bullying.
Although Dodge County authorities have made plans to discuss possible criminal charges, Rick Ehmke has stated that the family will not be pressing charges against the young offenders:
They’re kids. They made some horrible decisions. If these kids would’ve known this would happen, I’m pretty sure they never, ever would have done what they did. Sadly enough, even those kids that know who they are will carry this bag their whole life. That’s a sad thing too. It really is.
According to a recent analysis of state bullying laws by the U.S. Department of Education, Minnesota is one of three states that include prohibitions against bullying in its state statutes “without specifically defining the behavior that is prohibited.” The Department of Education has identified “key components” and school district policy subcomponents in state bullying legislation, including a statement of scope that covers “conduct that occurs on the school campus, at school-sponsored activities or events (regardless of the location), on school-provided transportation, or through school-owned technology or that otherwise creates a significant disruption to the school environment.” Minnesota does not “address scope in any form” in its state bullying laws and ranks last in the country, covering only two of the 16 components.
While insisting that the school should have taken a greater approach to correct the problem when the bullying first started – such as taking immediate measures to clean off the graffiti on Rachel’s locker – Rick Ehmke also pointed out how truly devastating acts of bullying can be when social media is involved. The situation only worsened once the rumors hit popular social networking sites, and Rachel became a victim of cyberbullying.
Many people are quite surprised by how serious cyber attacks can be on the minds of young children and tweens, especially when cases of severe depression, self-harm, and suicide result. But playground bullying really does reach new levels of cruelty when it follows children home. Once the rumors and vicious verbal slews are instantaneously proliferated throughout the internet, millions of viewers – including friends, relatives, classmates and students from other schools, parents of other students, teachers, and administrators – will be privy to the details of their situation. Since cyberbullying is ever-present and far-reaching, keeping children off the internet and away from social networking sites is not a simple solution to the matter. How can parents, guardians, teachers, and administrators take action and protect children from bullying and cyber attacks so that they won’t choose to take such drastic steps in order to find peace?
If you would like to read the Huffington Post’s report in its entirety, click here.
If you would like to read the Austin Daily Herald’s report in its entirety, click here.
To visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters website, click here.
For the U.S. Department of Education’s “Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies,” click here.
If you are concerned about a child who has been exhibiting signs of suicidal ideation or self-abuse, call: CHILD HELP USA (1-800-422-4453) or 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.