Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sweet Phoebe Prince

"Good-night, sweet prince
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest"

If someone were to publicly attack an adult, onlookers would immediately dial 911 on their cell phones, aiming those cell phone cameras at the perpetrators. The police would arrest the attackers. If found guilty in court, they would be sent to prison.

Why then do we think our children are less deserving of protection? Why have we always dismissed bullying and teasing as playground antics, harmless and innocent? Why do we tolerate behavior in children we would not tolerate in adults?

Why do we look away and tell our children not to bother us? To handle it themselves? Why do we tell them that such criminal behavior is a normal part of real life when, in real life, we punish it?

The same children who bully will grow up believing such a behavior is acceptable and turn into criminals. Only then do we arrest them, having neglected their poisonous growth while still in the nursery bed, when it could have been uprooted.

Phoebe Prince was pretty, smart, sweet, and the new girl in town, with a lilting Irish brogue that seemed to make her attractive to at least one senior high school football player at South Hadley High School. It also made her a target.

We always think it’s only the awkward, the homely, the misfits who are targeted by bullying. I was bullied mercilessly in grade school because I was homely. The teacher stood by silently as the 5th grade schoolyard bully incessantly slammed his desk into the back of my chair.

The torment only stopped when my mother burst into the schoolroom unannounced, threatening the boy with expulsion and the teacher with termination if it wasn’t stopped immediately.

When I was 12, I was beaten up by a gang of kids while on my newspaper route. One of my customers rescued me.

Phoebe’s mother was there for her. But the school administration was not. They dismissed her Jan. 14th suicide as the act of a “complicated” teenaged girl. The principal said we would never know why she took her own life.

The details of the case have been slow in emerging. Evidently, she briefly dated the two boys who have been charged with statutory rape, with the implication that she somehow consented to sexual relationships with them, bringing on the harassment.

It’s an old trick and an old story where an older, upperclassman will lure a younger, innocent girl into a sexual relationship. She’s the new girl in school, pretty, inexperienced, an underclassman, probably a freshman.

Within a few weeks, the captain of the football team takes notice of her, squiring her about to the exclusion of all the attractive, upperclass girls. Pretty soon it goes to her head. She figures she must be doing something right, that she’s pretty special to have all this attention

One thing leads to another, and the Cinderella fairy tale turns into a horror story. After consummating the relationship, “Prince Charming” drops her, then betrays her secret to the school cliques, ruining the girl’s reputation.

Knowing that she was now “available,” did the next boy sympathetically offer Phoebe his “services”, only to do the same thing to her? There may have been emotional blackmail involved, as well. Because she killed herself, we now only have their side of the story.

They knew exactly what they were doing, all these “Prince Charmings” and “Ugly Step Sisters” and feckless “Stepmothers”. There’s definitely no “happy ending” to this story, though perhaps there is a fairy godmother, albeit, a posthumous one.

The District Attorney is a gutsy woman. These two young men apparently didn’t comprehend their state’s statutory rape laws. The law differs from state to state. Or will they claim Phoebe just didn’t look her age?

The victim may be sexually mature, but if there is a sufficient age difference between the victim and attacker, the prosecution can argue that the mentally younger victim lacked the judgment to understand the consequences of consenting.

In the good old days, the boy would write the girl’s name on the wall in the boys’ room. Today, they use Facebook and Twitter. But it’s still the same old story of “Blame the Victim.” Caveat emptor. She was willing. She gave in. She “enjoyed” it. She was a girl of “easy virtue.”

Never mind what all this made these guys. The old double standard is in their favor.

The indignant mother of one girl claims that she raised her daughter with strong values. If only we knew the “truth,” we wouldn’t be so sympathetic. If we knew the whole story, we’d know it was all Phoebe’s own fault. That her tormenters spoke the “truth.”

Other students who know the “truth” about South Hadley harassment have been effectively silenced. A student who told a television news crew about the bullying was thrown against a locker as soon as they left, and beaten in the head. By a girl member of the gang.

These were no inner city, urban ghetto gangstas. Their pictures show seemingly clean-cut, wholesome, suburban progeny, just as my tormentors were, from “good” homes. Violence is not the sole province of poverty, by any means. Angelic faces can mask a hideous evil.

These monsters have not been expelled and have not been daunted by public outcry. Phoebe’s death was not enough for them. They signed onto her memorial Facebook page and continued their harassment, posthumously humiliating her.

So far, not all of them have been expelled from school and the outrage is spreading nationwide. The school is taking a circle-the-wagons public relations approach. Perhaps they fear the “truth” will come out.

After all, if it was known that Phoebe “consented”, she might be relegated to “Client Number Nine” status by the media. The school would look foolish then and be subject to lawsuits by the aggrieved parents of the “wronged” students who taunted Phoebe.

It’s a pity that it took a pretty girl’s death to raise awareness of school bullying. But if justice is done for her and all the other countless victims of harassment and abuse, then her death will not have been in vain, and she will be remembered as the angel of tormented children.

There have been so many, many others. Countless innocents, the victims of various degrees of abuse, who weren’t old enough, strong enough or defiant enough to fend off their attackers. The guilty live to swagger down the hallways of life, while we create memorials to their victims.

People have told me to just get over what happened when I was young. Not for the life of me would I allow my tormentors to drag me back down into that den of ugly memories, sobbing on some psychiatrist’s couch. I live, I laugh, I love. But I haven’t forgotten, either.

I once promised my chief tormentor, the 5th grade bully, that I would live to turn his laughter around. I would make people laugh and bring happiness to them, until his laughter was drowned out by theirs.

I also swore I would never forget any of those children like me who did not survive. I swore to fight tyranny in all its forms, social, religious, and political, and when I was victorious, to bring roses of peace to the graves of those whose spring was blighted.

Good night, sweet Phoebe Prince. May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest, child.


Anonymous Jack said...

Well said--Bravo! Keep up the fight, Belle!

8:53 PM  

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