Yet another bullied teen has taken her own life — this time after she was outed as the victim of sexual assault, and her alleged rapist insulted her on Twitter.
According to the Detroit News, a Michigan mom told police last month that 18-year-old Joseph Tarnopolski had "had sex" with her daughter, 14-year-old Samantha Kelly. Tarnopolski was charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct, which in Michigan appears to encompass both statutory rape and rape by force — it's not clear from news reports what was the case here. After his arrest, though, Tarnopolski started tweeting about the case. He wrote, "All girls are, are liars and backstabbers! I hate you all. Way to ruin my life. Seriously, now this will be on my record for life!" And: "You say I (expletive) your life up, but your the one who lies to everyone because your scared to get in trouble! You threw this upon me! Your idea."
The tweets would have been bad on their own, but then a local Fox News affiliate interviewed Kelly's mom and identified her by name, thus basically outing Kelly as Tarnopolski's alleged victim. After the report aired, Kelly was bullied at school — until Monday, when she committed suicide. This case is incredibly sad on many levels — for one, it's a tragic reminder of the stigma victims often face when they report sexual assault, and a rebuttal to anyone who thinks that accusers in rape cases get off scot-free. It also raises the question of whether bullying suicides have an element of contagion. Back in October, Jared DeFife of Psychology Today pointed to "an epidemic of bullying in the country, fueling a spate of suicides," and said,
Suicides often occur in clusters. There is an increased risk in those with a family history of suicide or in proximity to a recent suicide. For this reason, the media has historically been reluctant to report on cases of suicide.
However, the media has obviously been reporting on bullying suicides very thoroughly recently — is it possible that this is giving kids the idea to end their lives? It's hard to know, but ignoring bullying doesn't seem to be the answer either — rather, lawmakers, educators, and families need to take the increased visibility of the problem as an opportunity to start stamping it out.
Some groups are doing this by championing anti-bullying legislation in Michigan, which is good start. But Samantha Kelly won't be around to see it. And in a way the saddest part of her story is this: because she's no longer around to testify, charges against her alleged rapist have been dropped. Says a spokesman for the Wayne County Prosecutor's office, "Without the victim, we're unable to go forward with the case."
Image via Detroit News