Trent Ernst, Editor
For Kassidy Deighton, Amanda Todd’s suicide was a painful reminder of a friend who also killed himself. “This really hit home for me because two years ago, my friend committed suicide,” says Kassidy. “The day Amanda Todd uploaded her video was the anniversary of him committing suicide. When I saw the video, it hit me hard.” “Since the whole Amanda Todd thing happened, it’s changed a lot of us.”
The video Kassidy refers to was put out by Amanda Todd. Todd was a 15-year-old teenager from Coquitlam who is believed to have committed suicide a mere six weeks after posting a video to YouTube to tell of her experiences being bullied, blackmailed and even physically assaulted after being coerced into revealing her breasts for a stranger in an on-line chat when she was 12. The stranger then tried to blackmail her into further compromising situations by threatening to reveal the picture. She refused and the picture was released to the internet, where it was seen by friends, family and school mates.
She was forced to change schools twice, and tried to commit suicide a number of times because of the way her classmates and peers treated her.
Todd’s video, shot in black and white, is nine minutes long, and features Todd presenting a series of flip cards explaining what has happened to her. It is a harrowing video to watch, as you never really see Todd’s face clearly, just the flash cards as her story is revealed in tiny chunks.
The video elicited a lot of support, but also a lot of backlash, as mostly anonymous posters heaped more abuse and scorn on her. Six weeks after the video was released, Todd committed suicide. The video has since been viewed millions of times, and has sparked debate, discussion and even vigilantism as the hacker group Anonymous published the address of the person they thought was the man who was blackmailing Todd in the first place. The RCMP has since deemed the allegations “unfounded.” This hasn’t stopped him from receiving thousands of death threats.
In Tumbler Ridge, Ms. White’s Social Studies class decided to do something about it. “I’ve noticed a lot of people believe that because we live in a small town, there is no bullying,” says Allison Frenette. “But bullying here can get pretty harsh.”
“The Amanda Todd thing pushed us over the edge,” says Sarah Jeffery. “We always did care about bullying, but it became a really big deal.”
So Allison, Sarah, Kassidy and a handful of other students (Joey Watt, Jake Berry and Taylor Osbourne) formed a group to help combat bullying in Tumbler Ridge. “Amanda Todd was the last Straw” Allison. In the past, it felt like our voices wouldn’t be heard; you try and try, and always get shut out.” This year, the group has created a tee-shirt design that they plan on selling to raise funds for the Kid’s Help Phone, a national, confidential phone line that kids who are dealing with issues around bullying, family problems, and other issues faced by Canadian Youth.
In addition to the shirt, the group is creating a questionnaire to distribute to the school on the topic of bullying. “Have you been bullied? Have you seen someone being bullied? Laughed at someone being bullied? That sort of thing,” says Sarah. “To see how many people here are being bullied.”
“Then we’re going to tell the school our results,” says Kassidy, “so everyone knows how big a problem it is.” “We did a survey last year, and it changed how we do lunch,” says Jake. “Maybe this survey will change things, too.”
Not everybody who bullies, says Sarah, is a capital B bully. In fact, she says, some, if not most, bullying is accidental. “The people who are bullying don’t even realize they’re bullying,” says Sarah. “It’s just little things like ‘oh, that hat looks stupid.’ Even if they’re just teasing, it can add up, add up, add up, and eventually that pushes you over the edge.”
Kassidy says that after a while, it is not the bully, but the person who is being bullied who does the most damage to themselves. “Some people say don’t listen to the bully, but that doesn’t always help because their voice can still be heard in the back of your head, eating at you.”
Other than selling the tee-shirt, what can be done? Allison says that “Instead of telling them not to listen to the bully, tell them how you feel about them, if it’s good, it will help. The bigger the caring, the smaller the bullying. I’ve had friends who have thought about suicide, but I just sat down and talked to them and told them how I loved them and cared for them, and they’re still here today.” The video is still generating controversy. Earlier this month, a letter went out from the Ministry of Education, advising schools not to show the video. It’s a policy that the kids thinks is silly. “Watching the Amanda Todd video is so powerful. I cried when I watched it,” says Kassidy. “People here should be able to watch it.”