Bullying victim Phoebe Prince may have been a bully herself before she came to the United States — and while this in no way excuses what happened to her, it may shed some light on how schools should handle bullying.
Slate's Emily Bazelon, author of a piece last month questioning whether bullying was really responsible for Prince's suicide, now reports that at her private school in Ireland, Phoebe was the tormentor. After a fight over a boy, she and friends allegedly hounded another girl in class and on the social networking site Bebo, calling her a slut and whore and using racial slurs. Regarding one of Prince's Bebo posts, Bazelon points out, "Phoebe's use of 'paki whore' is striking because it's essentially the same insult that would be hurled at her by some of the six South Hadley teenagers indicted in connection with her death-they called Phoebe an 'Irish whore.'"
Bazelon points out that Prince's alleged bullying "doesn't change the fact that Phoebe was later bullied herself, or that this bullying was wrong. But it does add yet another layer of complexity to her story, one that speaks to the universality and fluidity of kids' bad behavior." It may also add weight to the notion that the kids who bullied Prince in Massachusetts weren't extraordinarily evil, but just an example of the worst that can happen when kids' cruelty goes unchecked by adults.
Like officials at South Hadley High, administrators at Prince's private school didn't do as much as they could have to put a stop to bullying. The mother of Phoebe's alleged victim contacted the school, but by the time they scheduled a meeting to address the issue, she had already withdrawn her daughter. She attended the meeting anyway, and tells Bazelon,
I sat in front of the board of governors at Villiers and the principal and vice principal and I said, This child has mental health difficulties. She is at risk. I'm not just trying to make a noise about this because my child is a victim of her bullying. I'm saying this because we won't eradicate bullying until we support the bullies and the witnesses.
The mother's words turn out to have been eerily prescient — Prince's story is starting to seem less and less about a group of really bad kids, and more about a girl who never got the care she needed. Again, Prince's history of bullying doesn't excuse her own bullies' behavior, but it does show that they were far from unique. And making sure other teens don't suffer Prince's fate may depend not on punishing the so-called South Hadley Six, but on identifying and helping kids most at risk for bullying — which includes kids with mental health problems, and those who are bullies themselves.
Was Phoebe Prince Once A Bully? [Slate]
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