“That’s what you get!”

Does anyone else remember that? Being four or five and punching someone who upset you and shouting, “That’s what you get!” Then you got in trouble for hitting and you cried because it wasn’t fair. They started it.  But nobody saw that part.

That’s what I imagine the two girls who have been charged in the Rebecca Sedwick suicide are feeling these days. Last month, 12 year old Rebecca killed herself. On Monday, a 14 year old and a 12 year old were charged with aggravated stalking. They wrote Rebecca things like “You should die” and “Why don’t you go kill yourself?” Rebecca told a friend the night before she died, “I’m jumping. I can’t take it anymore.”

The police say they were compelled to arrest the 14 year old after she posted, “Yes IK I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF.” (My readers are smart, you can decipher the code.)

Reading that I am torn between thinking this is obviously a kid putting up a front and “My God, you are one warped little chickarina. What is wrong with you?”

I mean, really. What goes through someone’s head when they do and say things like this? Who does not know it’s wrong to bully?

But even though she uses the word “bully,” I bet this girl doesn’t think of what she did as bullying. You think of bullying and you get an image of the big jerk on the beach kicking sand into the skinny kid’s face. It’s Karofsky and Kurt on Glee, the Mean Girls. The Powerful Pack and the weak, helpless victim.

I bet this girl thinks of it as “That’s what you get!”

As with the Phoebe Prince case, the perception on the part of the kids who targeted Rebecca was that she had messed with someone’s boyfriend. In other words, she started it. I suspect a lot of the kids who “bully” feel somehow oppressed by the kid they target. It could be an argument over a boy or a difference that challenges them in ways they don’t like.  How many times have we heard someone say of gay people, “I have no problem with it. It’s just when they shove it in my face.” They see someone living their everyday life and they interpret it as an assault. So, if the gay kid gets teased or beaten up, well…that’s what they get. I mean, come on.

Or that girl who’s loud and weird and doesn’t quite get that you don’t want to hang out with her—because, let’s face it, she doesn’t care so much about you, she just wants a friend—you have to be a little mean to get her away from you. And you have to let other kids know how much you despise her otherwise you’ll be stuck with her. If she had left you alone, you’d have left her alone. So that’s what she gets. Sorry.

When I wrote Season of the Witch, I never thought that Chloe and her friends were bullying Toni. In their eyes, Toni is a girl who steals other people’s boyfriends. They’re letting her know she can’t get away with it. They’re letting her know her actions have consequences. Mess with us and we’ll hurt you. They threaten her, they shred her reputation, they beat her up in the bathroom. But they would be shocked if you called them bullies. As would Toni and Cassandra when they start working their black magic on Chloe. Toni feels powerless through the first half of the book; it’s only when tragedy happens that she understands that she has the ability to hurt.

According to the police report, Rebecca was targeted by these girls for over a year. Which leads you to wonder…where were the adults? Neither of the girls’ families cooperated with the investigation into Rebecca’s death. One family insists their daughter didn’t write the infamous IDGAF post; her computer was hacked. (The police politely disagree with that assessment.) The denial here is shocking—and telling.

Why did no one sit these girls down and say What is going on? Maybe if someone had helped that 14 year old with her fear and rage—and in the process let her know that her actions were unacceptable in a civilized, humane environment—we might have had a different outcome. As the always-wise Emily Bazelon says, ” I know that it’s very hard to try to feel compassion rather than loathing for the 12 and the 14 year old in this case right now—and that asking for it will be scorned as making excuses for them—I do think we have to try to understand what was going on behind those loathsome posts.”

Why? Because that may be the only way we get anywhere with this problem. Studies indicate that punishment is not an effective tool in tackling bullying. Usually the bully just blames the kid who “got them in trouble.” (Did you feel sympathy for the kid you punched after they bugged you AND got you in trouble? I know I didn’t.)

That doesn’t mean we say kids will be kids and cross our fingers. It means we spend a lot more time listening—both to the kids who get bullied and to the kids who bully them. Yes, some people are just miserable, mean spirited jerks who want to show their power by stomping someone’s face. Some see the adults in their lives abuse everyone around them and think that’s what life is. Some are breathtakingly arrogant and insensitive and have never have been told they don’t have the right to treat someone like that. No one wants to make excuses for any of these kids—except possibly their parents. But calling them bullies is not stopping the toxic, ugly behavior. Getting them to explain why they feel the need to abuse someone, helping them to understand that it is abuse, not justified retribution, might give them a vision of conflict resolution that goes beyond “That’s what you get.”

That’s What You Get

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4 thoughts on “That’s What You Get

  1. Now that I’m grown up and see how the lives if the kids who bullied me turned out.. It’s obvious that they had serious problems personally and at home. Because they did not turn out great. Some if then are getting by, but none are excelling and living awesome lives. Others are frankly sad. Doesn’t mean if I went back in time that being bullied would be any easier, but perspective is helpful to see where the problems in those situations truly lies.

  2. Rozum Brada says:

    This blog came up when I searched for past coverage of this tragedy, and perhaps you’d be interested in reflecting on the actual truth revealed by the investigative files that were released earlier this year.

    Those files showed there was no evidence of any relentless bullying by anyone in the seven months prior to Rebecca’s suicide, no evidence the two arrested girls had ANY contact with Rebecca for SEVEN MONTHS before her death, and no evidence bullying by anyone played ANY role what-so-ever in the suicide. Also, no credible evidence the younger girl ever bullied Rebecca at all, and no conclusive evidence the older girl bullied her (not to mention proof that she committed harassment) in school more than seven month before her death.

    Rebecca’s 200 plus Instagram postings in the months prior to her death indicate preoccupation with acceptance by boys and with suicidal feelings — but nothing regarding any conflict with her former classmates.

    Rebecca’s suicide was triggered by perceived unfaithfulness of her boyfriend, and the resulting break up was given by her as the reason for her suicide in a text message sent only hours before she jumped — but the text message, just as so much other “inconvenient” evidence, was simply withheld by the sheriff from the public.

    Rebecca also told cops and DCF repeatedly that she is being beaten and abused at home and fears both her step-dad and mom. And besides troubling allegations of abuse, the evidence is conclusive that she was at least severely neglected by her family. Finally, a far darker explanation of her despair, one that explained why she was so obsessed with being liked by boys, is also indicated by deeply troubling evidence.

    This case shows how easily the government can manipulate the public, at least when whipping up outrage about evil children. And it shows how easily children can be permanently branded killers without trial. Lives can be ruined by law enforcement and news corporations with total disregard to the well-being and safety of children that they exploit.

    Bazelon blasted the sheriff back in April on Slate, but only barely skimmed the level of deception behind the vilification of the girls.

    And yes, the 14 year old girl’s FB was hacked.

    • Thanks for the update. I agreed, it’s important to note when bullying plays a role in a suicide—and when it doesn’t. As it turned out in the Phoebe Prince case, there were a lot of factors here.

      I do want to note that the main point of my piece was not what caused Rebecca Sedwick’s suicide, but how kids who are cruel to other kids perceive themselves. “Anti-bullying” efforts often fail because kids don’t really see themselves as bullies; they see themselves as getting back at someone who has hurt or disturbed them. That did occur in the Sedwick case. From CNN…
      In an interview with investigators, Roman confessed that she “bullied” Sedwick during the sixth grade at Crystal Lake Middle School, calling her names such as “ugly” and saying she was a “ho.” Shortly after a fight in February 2013, she admitted sending Sedwick a message saying something like, “No one will miss you if you die.” During the police interview, she also said that she was “sorry” for bullying Sedwick.
      Shaw, who went on to date Sedwick’s ex-boyfriend shortly after they broke up, admitted under questioning to sending a Facebook message to Sedwick stating “Nobody likes you” and said that she used to “bully” Sedwick but that it had been a long time.
      Other students remembered it. A student who said Shaw bullied her in elementary school said she witnessed Shaw tell Sedwick that she “should go kill herself’ and that she “should die” on numerous occasions during the school year.
      Another student told investigators she observed Shaw bullying Sedwick on a daily basis between December 2012 and January 2013 and recalled a specific incident in which Shaw told Sedwick to “drink bleach and die.”

      But as you note, there was a lot going on in this poor girl’s life; difficult social interactions were just one piece of the puzzle. Thanks for writing.

      • Rozum Brada says:

        One problem with the CNN quotation is that it conflates allegations by deputies with witness testimony. Take, for example, the infamous “drink bleach and die” allegation — it is NOWHERE in the interview with the girl who supposedly heard it. The actual witness statements also fail to establish that Guadalupe and Katelyn were calling Rebecca names in person — only that when speaking about her they would call her names. And perhaps most importantly, the deputies presented HEARSAY as witness testimony, which borders with fraud.

        The devil is in the details, and that is where the evidence repeatedly breaks, The girl O who accused Guadalupe of much of the worst abuse was actually herself accused of being a bully by others. When deputies told Guadalupe that O complained she intimidated her at a skate park, Guadalupe says that was because O was pushing a smaller girl. Usually Guadalupe is rather vague in her denials, but here where she knows deputies could easily ask witnesses, she is very concrete, a good sign that the accusations against O by others were true.

        Similarly with Katelyn — here the main problem is lying by omission. Katelyn told deputies and others that it was Rebecca who first called Katelyn names — even on Facebook — and told her hurtful things. The deputies always changed the subject, as if they never wanted any of those allegations on the record. The alleged Facebook comment by Katelyn was never substantiated, and despite Judd already having all the Facebook transcripts during his third conference, he was unable to give a SINGLE example of bullying on Facebook by Katelyn (or Guadalupe). The Facebook transcripts were withheld from the investigative files, suggesting that the abuse by Rebecca may have been worse that any abuse against her. This would explain why, shortly after her death, several of her former classmates posted on the Internet saying she was very mean to them — girls whose names do NOT appear anywhere as potential bullies in the investigative files.

        A girl like Katelyn responding to hurtful comments with hurtful comments of her own does not make her a bully, otherwise Rebecca was a bully as well. Bullies are those who hurt through exploiting a power advantage. When Katelyn challenged Rebecca to a fight, she did so despite never having fought before, unlike Rebecca, who was already suspended for fighting before at least once. Katelyn was responding to (alleged) talk by Rebecca that she’ll beat up Katelyn.

        The truth is that corrupt law enforcement can warp reality enormously as long as people presume they are honest. Imagine the cops went to kids asking ONLY if Rebecca ever called someone names or said hurtful stuff about them or started a fight or spread damaging lies. They could have made her seem like a bully simply by seeking only part of the truth. And yet that is precisely what they did to Katelyn and Guadalupe, and permanently damaged their lives (they are branded killers for the rest of their lives).

        Regarding children not perceiving bullying as bullying, the explanation is simple: they learn it from adults who preach by both words and action that it is NOT bullying when the child deserves it. The public shaming of children accused of transgressions, the presumption of guilt against children accused by authorities, and the toleration of massive and often astoundingly vile verbal abuse of young children on the Internet — the then 12-year-old Katelyn was called a monster by hundreds, worse than a monster by hundreds more, and postings saying she deserves death and even inciting killing or raping her are all over the Internet — that all teaches children that bullying is perfectly fine, no matter how dangerous, as long as those in power tolerate and even encourage it. And it is so effective precisely because those in power it is not really bullying.

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