Phoebe Prince, and Getting Someone Else to Write About It Other Than Emily Bazelon

When the Huffington Post featured this Slate story, it had the usual opportunity to vote for a reaction. "Appalling" was not one of the options, but should have been.

Emily Bazelon wrote an in-depth article on the suicide of Phoebe Prince and the factors leading up to it. "Is it really fair to lay the burden of Phoebe's suicide on these kids?" she asks. Her investigation reveals "the uncomfortable fact that Phoebe helped set in motion the conflicts with other students that ended in them turning on her." The entire article mentions nothing that Phoebe did other than date older or popular boys that several of the bullies had their eyes on.

Essentially, Phoebe was a pretty, attractive young woman who liked the attention of high school senior boys. The jealousy that inspired was natural, sure, but in the muck of teen social skills it's not like slashing tires and setting fires. The conflicts Phoebe Prince had prior to her suicide were a bunch of jealous girls attacking her, calling her "an Irish poser," as if someone actually from Ireland would be less Irish than Americans whose families had been here for generations.

Constant vicious name-calling and online attacks led Phoebe Prince to kill herself. How this culture of petty attack could be tolerated at school beggars the imagination.

The next article attacks the District Attorney for stretching the law to prosecute the teen abusers. Emily Bazelon quotes a criminal defense attorney for an opinion on prosecutorial overreach. No bias there. Added is a quote from another defense attorney who opposed the District Attorney in another matter which accuses her of "poor judgement." Getting the other side's lawyers to complain about you is no trick. Where are the quotes from her district attorney peers? Nowhere to be found.

Ms. Bazelon draws an analogy to another case where a gay teen is sexually assaulted in the cafeteria in a most degrading way. She complains that criminal charges were not necessary in that case because after reporting the incident to the school, the victim was "completely satisfied" with the way the school handled it. Oh really? And that means a crime should be ignored? A sexual assault in front of everyone in the school cafeteria? The DA didn't think so, and thank God for that. The judge in that case rightly pointed out "there are some things that an apology doesn't fix." Emily Bazelon holds this case out as an example of harsh justice and warns ominously that the Phoebe Prince bullies "could face a similar challenge."


The power of the Phoebe Prince story, and its resulting prosecution, is that the information age has brought new dimensions to human interactions, including immature and cruel ones. The impact is different now than in years past. Part of the goal of the criminal prosecutions is to set a legal standard for online behavior. And to let people know that, yes, a price will have to be paid for all those comments.

There's an old Washington, DC political saying: If you don't want to see it on the front page of the Washington Post tomorrow, don't do it. That bit of wisdom now applies to everyone, even pimply, jealous teenagers.

1 comment:

Brando said...

Very good points--I suppose the real issue is where the line is drawn, at what point the verbal insults level of bullying moves towards criminal charges behavior. The law isn't entirely clear there, but the kids in that case were clearly horrible.