1) a corrupt practice or custom
2) improper or excessive use or treatment : misuse
3) language that condemns or vilifies usually unjustly, intemperately, and angrily
4) physical maltreatment
(Merriam Webster Online Dictionary)
Recent events have called into question our society’s attitude to abuse. This is exemplified by the recent exposure of allegations against the late Jimmy Savile. However, another act of abuse, that of the Canadian teenager Amanda Todd, which led to her suicide, received far less coverage in this country due to the fact that it was world news. Other factors affecting coverage between the cases were also Savile’s “celebrity” status in England, the fact that there was only one victim, not many.
Just like Savile, we face a man who has done something morally wrong, but is not punishable, as yet. This is not because he is dead, but rather that we cannot find a trace of his existence. This man used the internet as a shield, not unlike Savile using his celebrity status. He gained access to Amanda, only 11 or 12 at the time, and persuaded her to expose her breasts to him over a webcam chat.
When discovered not to be a peer, but an older man, he ruined her life by ensuring that no matter where she lived, the picture would haunt her, leading to her being ostracised by her peers, time and time again. While Amanda was alive, the police never found her tormentor. What is the likelihood of him being found after her death? We need major developments in technology, ones that would probably infringe on current privacy laws, and which take time to develop. Amanda no longer has time.
Furthermore, even if a perpetrator of a bullying crime is caught, laws are not developed enough to punish the criminals to the extent considered adequate. When Phoebe Prince committed suicide in 2010, all the defendants held out and pleaded guilty to lesser charges, involving punishment such as community service. However, most of the people on the stand in that case, just like Amanda’s classmates, are children themselves. Considering their young age, should children and their behaviour be punished more severely? If Amanda or Phoebe were adults, would the original events forming as triggers to suicide have occurred?
There are two parties that can be considered to hold blame in Amanda’s death. One is an adult; the other is a group of children. Both used elements of bullying and cyber-bullying, relatively new additions yet to be defined in criminal law legislature. But before we can even start to address this, we need to consider why some members of our societies deem it suitable, whether dead or alive, to verbally abuse anyone for bad decisions, especially those of a sexual nature. We need to accept that although our attitudes are modern leaning, there are still some people who are raising their children in the view that it is acceptable to label young teenagers with damaging social markers. We also need to accept that some people view it right to abuse those more vulnerable than them. Until we do, teenagers in situations like Amanda and Phoebe will still, no matter what they are told, consider suicide as the sole escape.
Here’s Amanda Todd’s video talking about abuse and suicide, posted before her death.
For the Panorama programme into the child abuse allegations surrounding Jimmy Savile and BBC Newsnight’s dropped investigation into it, see here (available until the 22nd October 2013).