Assume you are a teenager contemplating suicide. If you knew the 9 kids at school who were meanest to you would get criminally prosecuted if you killed yourself, would you be more likely to kill yourself or less? I don't know enough about the psychology of suicide to answer my own question, but my intuitive sense is that self-murderers — or some self-murderers — intend to deal a severe blow to the people they leave behind. And knowing your enemies will be prosecuted might spur you on.
Anyway, here's the article about the Phoebe Prince, who hanged herself, prompting the authorities to arrest 9 of her classmates. See if you can figure out how the shock and sorrow of the young girl's death got processed into criminal charges against 9 teenagers and whether this reaction is helpful or just.
[T]wo boys and four girls, ages 16 to 18, face a different mix of felony charges that include statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury...Private citizens can commit civil rights violations?
... harassment, stalking and disturbing a school assembly.A felony charge of disturbing a school assembly?
Three younger girls have been charged in juvenile court, Elizabeth D. Scheibel, the Northwestern district attorney, said...
... Ms. Scheibel said that Ms. Prince’s suicide came after nearly three months of severe taunting and physical threats by a cluster of fellow students.I'm still trying to understand what the crimes were. Everything anyone did in relation to a suicide looks awful in retrospect, but the dead person's act of self-murder should not transform non-crimes into crimes. Prosecuting people who were horribly mean should not be a community's way to deal with the grief and outrage felt after a suicide. To what extent are the adults in the community scapegoating the kids to avoid their own feelings of guilt? If there are no crimes to use against the school officials, maybe that's a reason not to unload the weight of the law against the kids.
“The investigation revealed relentless activities directed toward Phoebe to make it impossible for her to stay at school,” Ms. Scheibel said. The conduct of those charged, she said, “far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship-related quarrels.”
It was particularly alarming, the district attorney said, that some teachers, administrators and other staff members at the school were aware of the harassment but did not stop it. “The actions or inactions of some adults at the school were troublesome,” Ms. Scheibel said, but did not violate any laws.
Ms. Prince’s family had recently moved to the United States from a small town in Ireland, and she entered South Hadley last fall. The taunting started when she had a brief relationship with a popular senior boy; some students reportedly called her an “Irish slut,” knocked books out of her hands and sent her threatening text messages, day after day....
On Jan. 14, the investigation found, students abused her in the school library, the lunchroom and the hallways and threw a canned drink at her as she walked home....
Some of the students plotted against Ms. Prince on the Internet, using social networking sites, but the main abuse was at school, the prosecutor said."Plotted" to do what?
“The actions of these students were primarily conducted on school grounds during school hours and while school was in session,” Ms. Scheibel said.So, teenagers willingly having sex with each other, and prosecutors do nothing about it. But if someone commits suicide — an inflamed heart breaks — then the sex partners of the dead person are rounded up and prosecuted for statutory rape. Is that fair?
Ms. Scheibel declined to provide details about the charges of statutory rape against two boys, but experts said those charges could mean that the boys had sex with Ms. Prince when she was under age.
Legal experts said they were not aware of other cases in which students faced serious criminal charges for harassing a fellow student, but added that the circumstances in this case appeared to be extreme and that juvenile charges were usually kept private.
And "appeared to be extreme"? Were the "legal experts" told more details than appear in this article? Because knocking books out of someone's hands and throwing a canned drink don't sound extreme. And then there's the story of a teen love affair that ended and left some heated feelings. It can't be that.
I'd say we need to be careful how much power we give to those who contemplate suicide. Do we think it will work out better if such a person thinks her enemies will be prosecuted? It's especially bad if nothing is done about bullying until there's a suicide. There is the suicidal person feeling alone, beleaguered, and helpless. She's considering ending it all, and the prospect of escaping all pain and consequence is vividly enhanced by the hope that her antagonists will suffer the ravages of criminal prosecution.