Saturday 16 December 2017

Use the law to deal with bullies or there will be more funerals

The tragic death of Erin Gallagher is the tip of a massive iceberg that destroys children's lives, writes Niamh Horan

During the summer holidays, as 13-year-old Erin Gallagher was preparing to face into another school year, she was asked by one of her friends what her biggest fear was.

"That I'll be bullied again," came her simple reply.

She had had a hard time from a group of girls before and -- despite the sick feeling in her stomach -- Erin was hoping she could put it behind her.

She didn't make it past mid-term break.

Last Saturday, after another emotionally draining week, the broken teenager took her own life at her home in Ballybofey, Co Donegal.

Her distraught mother Lorraine discovered her body and frantically tried to save her but emergency services pronounced her dead at the scene.

The online taunts had been unrelenting.

"You're one of the ugliest bitches I've ever seen, you Scottish fucker," wrote one anonymous user to, the social networking site she and her friends were members of -- only a week before her death."

"You call yourself thin? Well you're not holding in the flab with smaller trousers."

"Why are you so ugly?" another posted with simple, pointless viciousness.

Months before, Erin had taken up boxing, perhaps in an attempt to provide some form of self-defence against her tormentors.

It was poignant that a boxing bag was hung in the corner of the room in which she accessed her computer and viewed the nasty messages.

"You're meant to do boxing? Well I'll tell you this, hunny, You can't fight for shite, X battered you and you know it. Lol," came yet another anonymous jibe.

Several weeks ago, on one of the darker days, Erin went to a local shop for her school lunch break, where the other girls were also present.

Words were exchanged and it is understood that Erin then went back to school and into the girls' bathrooms to wash her face.

It was here that she was confronted by a group of girls. The altercation was all over within seconds when a pupil ran to seek the help of a teacher.

A number of girls were disciplined about their behaviour following the incident and their parents were informed.

In online postings to Erin's social-networking site, an anonymous individual goaded afterwards: "Who has the bald patch on their head? YOU."

In Erin's final reply to her tormentors, she said: "Right enough is enough. Do you think you're funny bullying me ... you probably will think it was funny when I fucking put a rope around my neck because of you. Leave it now you had your fucking fun -- get over it."

Several weeks ago, as the situation worsened, Erin confided in a teacher that she had tried to harm herself.

The teacher then went to a senior staff member and Erin's mother was called in.

It was decided that Erin should visit her GP, who then referred her on to a psychologist.

The day after Erin's funeral, the Sunday Independent spoke to the principal of the school, Frank Dooley, who said: "Bullying is defined as incessant and one-way; while, when people have an argument, it is a two-way conversation".

Asked if Erin had been bullied, he replied: "I don't know. I know Erin had her fragilities and I know we supported Erin as much as we could."

What was done to discipline the girls tormenting her?

"You see you use the term 'tormenting her'. There is no doubt that some girls were involved in disrespectful behaviour," he said.

But was it bullying?

"I am not going to say that. There is no doubt that a group of children were involved who had negative relations with one another."

He continued: "There was definitely negative interaction between a group of kids. For bullying to occur it has to be in a one-way direction.

"There is a difference between bullying and an argument. If you lose an argument does that mean you can say you are being bullied?"

Erin should have been celebrating her 14th birthday this Thursday.

At her funeral Fr John Joe Duffy remarked that society had failed Erin.

Eleven thousand children made calls to Childline last year because they were being bullied.

All of those children have their own individual stories of pain and distress to tell.

Erin Gallagher is the second child in Ireland to take her own life as a result of bullying in less than two months.

In September 15-year-old Ciara Pugsley ended her life after months of abuse. A month before, 16-year-old Darren Hughes-Gibson from Dublin was bullied to death.

In January 2011 Chloe Coleman (13) from Longford was found hanged; in 2010 Phoebe Prince (15) died after a move to the US; while 18-year-old Leanne Wolfe from Cork City took her own life in March 2007.

Sunday Independent

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