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David Baxter PhD

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Bully victim's mother tells of 'suicide box'
CBC News
Feb 16, 2012

A mother who hired a bodyguard to protect her bullied daughter says the girl had prepared a “suicide box” in case the violence became unbearable.

The incidents of bullying happened three years ago when the girl was a student at Fredericton High School.

In one incident, the girl called her mother in tears from the school. The mother left work and rushed to the school. She found her daughter huddled under a payphone. Students had ripped her shirt off and smashed her prized flute.

The mother said she had little luck getting help from the administration of the school at the time. She pulled her daughter out of classes and took time off work. She decided to paint her daughter’s room a brighter colour to cheer her up.

“I hit a ceiling tile with the roller handle and it moved. And out of the ceiling tile fell a box. It was a shoe box and in it were a bunch of notes that she had written about things — basically a journal on scrap paper about all the different people who had bullied her and how they had bullied her,” the mother said.

“There were broken shards of glass and razor blades. And it was her suicide box. It was a suicide box. It was a box that she was going to use when she couldn’t take it anymore. She wrote me an ‘I’m sorry letter,’ ‘I love you mommy you’ve been the best,’ and she said, ‘I can’t do it anymore. I can’t go to school; you’re making me go to school and I can’t be with these people anymore.’ And to know that the baby that you held in your arms was contemplating leaving the earth.”

CBC News has agreed not to identify the mother to protect her daughter.

Mediation sessions make it worse
The mother said she finally learned who was bullying her daughter.

She and her daughter attended a mediation session with the bully and her parent. The victim’s mother said the bully’s parent said: “Well, you have to realize that your daughter is a bit of an oddball. She plays the flute.”

In the mediation, the victim’s mother says the bully’s parent said that if her daughter hadn’t drawn attention to herself, if she had been more outgoing and gone to school dances, she would have more friends and the bullying would not have happened.

The victim left the session at that point.

“As I chased her down the hallway, she said, ‘You’re only making it worse. I’m going to meet with them and every tear I shed will be held against me.’ She said, ‘Everything I say we will be repeated amongst their clique and it will only get worse. You are not making this better.’”

The mother said the abuse continued. Her daughter eventually started getting detentions because she felt safer there. She would go to detention before lunch started and after school ended.

“No more getting pushed down the stairways, no more being exposed to slurs, no more being called horrible things. She could be safe,” her mother said. “She’d skip class to go to detention, she didn’t submit work to get detention — whatever she could do to get detention, because that is where she felt safe.”

Victim drops out, struggles to get GED
The attacks and insults overwhelmed her. She switched to another school, adding an hour’s commute to her day, and eventually dropped out in her final year. She did not graduate and struggled to get her GED. The girl, now a young woman, was accepted to university, but was reluctant to go.

“She is finally going to go to university, but has the scars. I’m trying to convince her that university is a totally different environment free of that type of bullying and that type of hurt and she said, ‘But Mommy, I trusted you that I’d get through school.’”

She said the administration at Fredericton High School offered little help. “I almost had to understand that bullying happens, that bullying is commonplace. We address it, you stand up to the bully and it goes away,” she said. “I felt like they failed completely to address what was going on. Even when they recognized the steps they were taking at mediation weren’t helping, there was no extra offer of support.”

She said even switching schools was difficult. “I ended up … begging the district to allow me to move her to get her away from the problems and even then the school was, ‘What do you want us to do?’”

'My child lost out on an education'
She said the school should have put the burden of ending the bullying on the bullies, not her daughter. She said if they did not respond to the mediation and did not stop attacking her daughter, they should have been removed from the school.

“Maybe if the parents had had to suffer some consequences for their child’s actions, if parents had to take their child to another location to have them tutored so they could maintain their grades, and it was an inconvenience to them, maybe they would have gotten the point that this was serious. Instead my child lost out on an education because she wanted to play the stupid flute and study in the library,” she said.

The mother said the nightmare was reawakened last year when her middle daughter started middle school. That was when her eldest daughter started being bullied.

“I cried for two weeks before school started because I was terrified to send her. But she is more outgoing, she is in drama, she is very social. She tends to be a little tougher. She is the one when she sees someone being bullied goes over and says, ‘Hey, my sister was bullied and you are not going to do this to another child,’” the mother said.

The mother offered advice to other parents of students being assaulted and insulted at school. She said experts urge parents to give their children space, but she found she had to stick even closer as her daughter pulled away.

“Every time they push you away is the time that you have to cling to them closer,” she said. “I think it is critical that they know that you love them and they have value because the only thing that saved our kid from the most extreme circumstances was the fact that she didn’t want to hurt us and she knew that we loved her.”

She said she offered support while the teachers and even the bullies derided her daughter for her sinking grades. If she had joined in, “she would have nothing left to live for and I would have buried her.”

She reiterated that she is going public three years after the abuse to reach out to other students who are facing attacks and humiliation today.

“If it gives one family the strength to continue to fight, it is worth it,” she said.

Abuse wouldn't happen today
CBC has spoken to education experts in New Brunswick. They say the system has been changed to the point where an incident like this one would not happen today.
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