In Bullying Stories, Bullying Victims

The Legacy of Charlotte Dawson

Charlotte Dawson

Charlotte Dawson, a well-know television presenter in Australia, committed suicide at age 47.

On the day of her death, in the early evening, she was walking past restaurants on the wharf near her apartment. At night, she called a neighbor to invite them to visit her. They were too busy to come. She said not to bother coming over in the morning because she would be asleep. There was a double meaning in what she said, but not enough for them to notice something was desperately wrong. Then Charlotte hung herself.

Many questions come from this. Not all the answers are knowable. Nevertheless, some clues as to what happened to Charlotte Dawson do exist.

Anti-Cyberbullying Activist

Charlotte Dawson was very active in drawing attention to the problem of cyberbullying. She herself was a victim of cyberbullying. Cyberbullies are “trolls.” This name is because they are evil and they hide. They use anonymity to cover attacks, which are very personal. During the week prior to her death Charlotte went on television to appear on two different major television network shows, “A Current Affair” and “The Project.” She talked about the harm caused by vicious cyberbullying as she was currently under a massive attack on Twitter. Charlotte Dawson bullying was an avalanche. They were calling her ugly and useless. Some demanded she hang herself.

Charlotte Dawson supported the work of the organization called Community Brave. The mission of The Community Brave Foundation is to stop homophobia, transphobia, and bullying online. This work is done in order to prevent suicides by young people.

This was not the first time Charlotte Dawson experienced cyber attack. In 2012, there was an incident of cyberbullying where Charlotte Dawson was able to identify the attacker. Charlotte got the cyberbully into trouble with her employer. The alleged cyberbully was a woman named Tanya Heti, who worked at Monash University. Charlotte Dawson figured out who she was from a business card Heti put online. Dawson called her to confront her for telling a fan to “go hang yourself.” Heti took a leave from Monash University during investigation of the allegations. Ultimately, the university found Heti could not be charged with misconduct. We say, “Shame on you Tanya Heti.”

Dawson said this taught a good lesson about the consequences of telling someone to commit suicide. Under Australian law, sending hate messages on Twitter is a crime under the Commonwealth Crimes Act. It is illegal to use social media to harass or threaten another person. Fans were supportive of Dawson’s anti-bullying actions, but the Twitter troll cyberbullies increased their attacks, which continued non-stop until Charlotte first attempted suicide in November 2013.

At the time, Dawson said the Twitter cyberbullying had not upset her. Nevertheless, she went to the hospital for attempting suicide during a severe panic attack. She was kept under observation in St. Vincent’s hospital for two days and then released. People who suffer panic attacks often have them without any external reason. They become overwhelmed with anxiety. In Dawson’s case, she called the feeling paralyzing and crippling. Dawson was very open about confronting her problems with mental illness. After Charlotte Dawson recovered, she became the anti-bullying Ambassador for the National Rugby League. She was both a victim of cyberbullying and actively working against it.

Twitter has come under criticism for not taking any steps to reduce cyberbullying on its system. Other social media websites and providers such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and the ever-popular Facebook all now have programs in place to remove hate posts from their systems. Even though Charlotte Dawson claimed the Twitter attacks did not cause either her panic attacks or suicide attempts, her last post on Twitter in response to the 2013 attacks by cyberbully trolls was “You win.”

Even though the person themselves may not be fully aware of it, research done by Microsoft determined Twitter posts predict the mental health of the person. Other research is ongoing. One effort by Dr. Bridianne O’Dea of the Black Dog Institute is to learn the effect posts on Twitter have on a person with depression or who is suicidal. Dr. O’Dea does not believe Twitter posts are directly the cause of suicide, but vicious attacks on Twitter are a contributing factor.

A petition on change.org for stronger actions against online bullying, called Charlotte’s Law – Tougher Cyber Bullying Legislation in August 2014 has over two hundred thousand signatures.

Suicide Prevention Work

Charlotte Dawson was a major celebrity supporter of Lifeline. Lifeline is an Australian suicide hotline, which operates around-the-clock all year. It started during the sixties, founded by a physician, Dr. Sir Alan Walker. He started the service after he got a telephone call from a man who later killed himself. Dr. Walker realized there was an opportunity to relieve the isolation felt by those in crisis in order to reduce the suicide deaths. Every day thousands call the telephone number of 13 11 14 in Australia to have someone to talk with during crisis. About fifty of each day’s callers are at great risk of committing suicide. Lifeline provides phone support, in-person support, and online support services utilizing around one thousand paid staff and over ten thousand volunteers in 60 locations.

When a celebrity commits suicide, the media attention is sometimes a trigger for those dealing with mental health issues, depression, and thoughts of suicide. There is additional anxiety from the grief over a celebrity’s death. The media attention also creates a “copy-cat” phenomena. Anyone at risk or worried about loved ones should reach out to Lifeline (Australian telephone number 13 11 14) or other suicide prevention organizations for support such as 1- 800-Suicide (1-800-784-2433) in USA.

History of Emotional Trauma

Charlotte Dawson had a history of severe emotional trauma. During the good times, her friends described her as warm, gregarious, vivacious, and the life of the party. Nevertheless, towards the end, her friends noticed she was under a lot of stress. She was in a bad emotional state. Her ex-husband had gone on the television show “60 Minutes” to recount the horrors of his drug abuse, crimes, and fall from grace as a former Olympic swimming star. She had lost her contract to appear in the Australian television show called “Australia’s Next Top Model.” She was dropped by her modeling agency Chic Model Management. She was in major financial trouble. She had borrowed about $80,000 from friends to support her lifestyle, which she was unable to pay back. She was being forced to move out of her $1,200 per week apartment because the owner was selling it. They found her dead, right as a potential buyer had an appointment to look at the apartment.

Childhood Molestation

As a child, Charlotte Dawson was adopted into a family during the sixties. She described the family as loving and kind in her book called “Air Kiss & Tell.” Charlotte’s sister Vicky Dawson says Charlotte experienced sexual molestation by a neighbor when she was a young girl. This permanently dam aged her self-esteem.

Abortion

During her brief marriage to Scott Miller while he was training for the Sydney Olympics he convinced her to have an abortion because her pregnancy and delivery date was conflicting with the efforts of her husband to be the first Australian to win Olympic gold. She was extremely conflicted about the abortion. On the day of the procedure, her husband left her alone in the hospital because he could not deal with the situation. Charlotte would later say it was the worst mistake of her life.

Failed Marriage and Divorce

The marriage was only one year old when in 2001, the couple split apart. He husband, Scott Miller was spiraling out of control after failing to win the gold at the Olympics (he won a silver and a bronze). He was using drugs. The allegation at the time was there was a CCTV video tape of Scott miller using cocaine and having sex with another woman in a public bathroom. Later Miller admitted to using cocaine during the alleged event, but denied having sex in a public restroom. Even though Charlotte’s advisors swore to her they watched the video, she refused to watch it. The video was never shown publically. Miller denies it exists. Charlotte never stopped loving her husband Scott Miller even though he had one of the most severe drug and criminal meltdowns of any sports star. Charlotte never had another marriage or another child. She said she would never get married again.

November 2013 – Suicide Attempt

Charlotte admitted she suffered from panic attacks and bouts of depression for more than a decade. She often sought professional help. She said the first depression came from the combination of hormonal changes and her feelings of guilt after having an abortion. She described her panic attacks as coming on suddenly, where she would be feeling fine one moment and then stricken with overwhelming anxiety the next moment. It was during one of these severe panic attacks, right after she experienced a huge amount of cyberbullying, when she first attempted suicide.

60 Minutes Television Show

Just five days before she died, she watched her ex-husband’s sad confession on “60 minutes” talking about his fall from grace, and his being charged twice with possession and sale of drugs. The showing of the interview came after a six-month delay, due to legal issues. After it aired, Miller said he was high and “out of it” during the interview. Charlotte watched the television program with friends. She was very shaken. Afterwards, she sent Scott Miller a message of support, showing in spite of everything, she still loved him.

Towards the end, friends noticed Charlotte Dawson was despondent and described her emotional state as unstable.

Lesson Learned

What could we learn from Charlotte Dawson’s experience? Certainly, it is clear cyberbullying is wrong. People who engage in cyberbullying are cowards and hide behind anonymity when making their attacks. The movement to increase penalties for the crime of cyberbullying is a valid one. Social media systems need to take more action and more responsibility to remove hate posts from their systems. The inactions of Twitter are shameful.

Fake Happy Face

The day before Charlotte Dawson killed herself she was on a television show. She posted a nice Instagram photo of herself online. Even though her friends knew, something was wrong, to others and to the public Charlotte was able to show a fake happy face. Even Charlotte made a telephone call to a neighbor right before she hung herself. The signs were subtle, but the signs were there. Suicide.org tells us the risk after a first suicide attempt of the person trying to commit suicide again is high. Charlotte herself was aware of her mental health problems.

Depression and Panic Attack Triggers

A major life crisis, such having an abortion or going through a divorce, can be triggers for depression or panic attacks. However, it is important to note, chemical imbalances in the brain chemistry trigger depression or panic attacks. In these cases, there is no external event to blame for causing the depression or panic attack. Anti-depressant medication is useful to smooth out the brain chemistry but it is not a cure for depression or panic attacks. The other issue is people have to remember to take medications on a consistent basis to get the benefit and not all medications work for every person. Clearly ongoing professional help is very important.

Reach Out When Overwhelmed

One of the hardest things for a suicidal person to do is to reach out for help when contemplating suicide. The emotional state is so dark and so overwhelming, even asking for help feels like an additional failure. If a friend is despondent, reach out to them. Help them get the help they need. If you are thinking about suicide call 13 11 14 in Australia or 1-800-Suicide (1-800-784-2433) in USA. The Charlotte Dawson suicide was preventable, if only Charlotte Dawson had called the Lifeline, a charity she greatly supported, she might still be alive today. If you cannot do this for yourself, then PLEASE do this in memory of this lovely woman, Charlotte Dawson, who we all miss.

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