Middle school can be a tough time for kids and Facebook can make those teen years even harder.
Thirteen year-old Chanyiah Lawrence knows first hand how cruel kids can be online. "They bully me online, on Facebook, saying that I'm fat, I starve myself, I'm a whore," Lawrence said.
The 7th grader at Mount Abraham Union Middle School says she's been battling cyberbullying for months and admits she tries to fight back, but defending her reputation against a constant barrage of sexually explicit slurs is overwhelming. "It makes me feel down, like I have no reason to be here," she said. Lawrence says the name calling got so bad she started cutting herself to cope with the emotional trauma.
"When she came out and showed me that she sliced her wrists, I bawled. It's like -- how can somebody put your child that low," said Tanya Lawrence, Chanyiah's mother. She says she stopped monitoring her daughter's Facebook activity this year when her teen asked for more privacy. She says the bullying has gone too far, and at times, what's said online, follows Chanyiah to school.
"It just tears you up because I know it's not true about her, but they're saying it is and people believe other kids," Tanya Lawrence said.
"You're not passing a note in class to one individual, you are broadcasting it to the entire school community and beyond," said Robert Appel with the Vt. Human Rights Commission. The pervasive nature of these nasty comments is why the Human Rights Commission says cyberbullying is so destructive. Typically the victim feels like there's no escape, no safe zone.
Experts say 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyberthreats online. Over 25 percent of teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or the Internet. More than half of the victims do not tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs.
"It makes it so that the target feels too humiliated to come to school the next day and therefore deprived of access to education and can be so disturbed by that they engage in self harming or suicidal behaviors," Appel said.
Suicide is Tanya Lawrence's biggest fear. She says until the school does more, she's pulling her daughter out. "I call back and I'm like, well she ain't coming to school until something is done because I don't need her going into the bathroom and slicing her wrists again or whatever. I don't need that," she said.
The school superintendent says she cannot speak specifically about this case, but says all bullying claims are taken seriously.
Schools are often times caught in the middle. Should they be required to monitor and punish student behavior that's happening at home, or should it be a crime?
Tomorrow in Part 2 of our special report, we'll take a look at the books and explore what protection Vermont law offers against cyberbullying.