With cyber bullying, girls gone wild gets a horrifying new meaning
Thursday, April 10th 2008, 4:00 AM
Lindsay is the latest victim in a shocking trend. Camera-wielding attackers, increasingly teen girls, beat a victim so that they can post the video on popular sites like MySpace and YouTube. Lindsay's attack shows how bullying is crossing genders and going online.
On March 30, she was lured to a friend's home in Lakeland, Fla. While two boys stood guard outside the house, six girls attacked Lindsay, knocking her unconscious by slamming her head against a wall. After she came to, the gang surrounded her and continued to slap and kick her. When Lindsay's father arrived at the hospital where she was taken after the incident, he couldn't believe what he saw.
"I didn't recognize my own daughter when I went in," he said. "Her face was disfigured. She was crying."
After their arrests, some of the girls charged with the attack sat making jokes in their holding cell. One asked if she would be able to make it to cheerleading practice the next day, according to a report in the Lakeland Ledger.
Lindsay isn't alone. In 2006, three ninth graders, age 14, at Long Island's North Babylon High School cornered a 12-year-old in front of a local elementary school. After pulling the girl's hair and slapping and kicking her, they ran away laughing. A video posted by the attackers led to their arrest.
Teen girls also were involved in videotaped assaults at Baltimore's Reginald F. Lewis High School last week, and in the infamous Brooklyn subway assault video that became a YouTube must-see last year.
"They're living in a culture now where, when you put yourself on a video, it's a way to be famous," says developmental psychologist Cooper Lawrence about the teen girl attackers. "They see themselves as an actor playing a role. Even when they were arrested, they were like, 'Oh, we're going to be late for cheerleading practice.' They weren't realizing the severity of what they've done because they're completely desensitized."
Combine a sick sense of stardom with Internet-savvy bullies and the YouTube phenomenon seems like something that can only grow.
"Kids are walking around with wireless hand-held devices that have more Internet access capability than any of us did years ago on full-size computers," says Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety, an online safety group.The term "cyber bullying" can be used to describe anything from menacing emails to showcasing a victim's physical torment on a video sharing site. Even in cases when bullying is nonphysical, experts caution, the Internet can be devastatingly powerful.
"They are actively hiding it from their parents and doing whatever they can to cover it up," says Aftab, "because they don't trust their parents not to make it worse or not to take their technology away."
Even physical attacks are hard to admit, for fear of embarrassment or that the incidents will be dismissed as mere teen roughhousing. The 12-year-old victim in the Long Island incident didn't tell her parents about the attack for two weeks, after the video had gone public.
"The DOE continues to turn a blind eye to the problem," says City Councilman John Liu, a member of the education committee. "The DOE refuses to keep records on incidents of bullying and harassment. And in the absence of these records, they will never own up to the fact that it is still a problem in our public schools."
In response, Department of Education spokesperson Debra Wexler told the Daily News "the Department of Education does not tolerate bullying or harassment in any form. Our discipline code clearly spells out infractions for acts of bullying, we have implemented prevention and intervention training for administrators, and we use anti-bullying curricula in the classroom."
Even in schools with effective anti-bullying policies, the responsibility to recognize the signs of harassment falls to parents. With the Internet, the price of bullying has gone up, and not just for victims. Bullies can inflict long-term damage on their own lives.
"Your child's future is at stake," says Lawrence. "Anything they put on YouTube or MySpace can be Googled later by a prospective employer or college-entry professional.
You don't want something they do stupidly as a teenager to follow them for the rest of their lives."
With additional reporting by Gina Salamone and Nicole Lyn Pesce