The frequency in which bullying ends in tragic results is so pervasive in our society that oftentimes the latest victim becomes merely another statistic, or case study devoted to solving the problem. With the exception of those who were close to the victim of course. For the bereaved family and friends who are left behind to mourn, questions and regrets are what replace faded memories of a young life taken too soon due to a bullying death. Such is the tragedy of 14-year old Sarah Clerkson.
Sarah found herself the victim of online bullying that stretched the fabric of her ability to cope with the abuse before taking her own life last holiday season. As proof that anyone can be singled out for online harassment, Sarah was reportedly targeted for her attractiveness, according to close friends and family members, rather than from being perceived as an outsider as is often the case.
Regardless of the motive, bullying has once again ended in a needless tragedy. In the aftermath of Sarah’s death, the community questions what can be done to better protect and help the troubled youths who are most at risk from the tactics of bullies.
A Troubled Past
According to Sarah’s grandparents, David and Linda Chapman, in the weeks leading up to Sarah’s suicide by hanging, she had returned to her normal effervescent self, although they concede that she was having troubles adapting to her new school environment.
“She was emotionally disturbed but we thought she had turned a corner, we thought things were starting to change for her,” said David Chapman. “The last month or two she’s been with her new foster parents had been positive.”
Sarah Clerkson’s grandfather detailed problems that his granddaughter was having at school, which resulted in a physical altercation with another student. Following that incident, Sarah transferred to a new school, but her problems continued as the resentment of her bullies followed her online.
Feelings of Hopelessness
On the night before her suicide by hanging, at a small house party attended by close friends, Sarah Clerkson left a chillingly prophetic message on her FaceBook page, “Fuming honest to god might just end it there and then!”
Her friends report that back in December 2013, Sarah attended a small house party of half a dozen people hosted by a friend, 16-year old, John Moore. According to Moore, the group had gathered to celebrate one of their members having recently found a new job.
Once arrived, her friends noted that Sarah interacted well with the other party gusts, albeit, mentioning having relationship issues and being “upset about past experiences.” Feeling sick later in the evening, her friends installed her in a back bedroom to lie down and rest until she felt better.
Slightly after 12 A.M. however, her friends became worried and went to inquire as to her condition. Finding the door locked, and Sarah unresponsive to their calls, they kicked in the door and found Sarah Clerkson had hung herself in that isolated back room.
Moore, the party host, began resuscitative efforts, under direction from the emergency services operator, before paramedics arrived and took over those CPR efforts. The girl was rushed to North Durham’s University Hospital, but they arrived too late and Sarah was pronounced dead by hospital doctors.
The Sarah Clerkson Project
An outpouring of grief came with the news of her death.
“We were lucky to have her.” Her grandfather acknowledged before revealing the depth of his family’s loss, “She brought so much joy into our lives, we’ve had our hearts ripped out.”
Online, the forum in which Sarah’s enemies found a niche to harm her from afar, her defenders swarmed with warm remembrances, and calls for her tormentors to face justice. From public shaming to displays of scorn for their cowardly tactics, Sarah’s friends lashed out at those they blamed for the teenagers bullying death.
One group, The Sarah Clerkson Project, turns a microscope onto the disturbing statistics associated with the phenomenon of bullying. According to their data, bullying is the third leading cause of suicide, and can have a detrimental mental and social effect that even damages the victims that do not choose to take their own lives. In fact, the report estimates that upwards of 160,000 students are staying at home on any given school day over fears of conflicts with the schoolyard bully.
As Sarah’s case indicates however, the reach of the tormenter extends far past the schoolyard fence now a day with the ubiquitous nature of online social media options. As the group behind the Sarah Clerkson Project points out however, there are options and resources available to turn the tide on bullies and tormentors.
- Parents of bullies should take note of adherent behavior, and anger management issues, that could foster bullying behavior and seek counseling.
- Students who are the victims of bullying should seek out guidance from teachers, peers, and parental units. The worse thing about being bullied is the feeling of isolation that the practice engenders.
- Travel in a group. Nothing says that you are not isolated so much as traveling in a group. Additionally, bullies are essentially cowards, so they will find it harder to bully you when you are in a group.
- Great self-esteem is the best armor against the slings and arrows of bullies, so always work to develop your self-esteem in the face of life’s many challenges, including bullies.
Common sense resources and support are at the heart of the plan to end the pervasive culture of bullying that has led to so many bullying deaths in recent years.
As mentioned, Sarah was in the family services system, and had been in foster care for a number of years. Another young woman, Danielle Formosa, also 14-years old and an online friend of Sarah Clerkson, was found dead at a County Durham foster care home just a few weeks following suicide. While an inquest is ongoing, city officials of Sunderland are closely looking into both girls’ deaths and seeking ways to protect the charges under their care.
Noting the warning signs and opening a conversation is the key to identifying and helping the bullying victim. Coaxing them to tell their story to an authority figure that can help is seen as instrumental in averting another tragedy such as Sarah’s.
Unfortunately, the usual reminder to be on the lookout for someone in trouble, is usually punctuated by the news of another hapless and helpless casualty who fell victim to the cowardly tactics of bullies who operate with impunity behind the anonymity afforded by social media.