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Globe Editorial

Criminal charges mark a new seriousness about bullying

March 30, 2010

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MAYBE THERE will be justice for Phoebe Prince, after all. Nine teenagers were charged yesterday in connection with the death of Prince, the South Hadley teenager who allegedly took her own life in response to brutal bullying. The extent of the charges is shocking, and they must be proven. But Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel deserves praise for her willingness to bring them. Even extreme incidents of harassment of young people are often written off as rites of passage. It’s way past time to get serious about bullying — and the charges announced yesterday are serious, indeed.

Six suspects in their older teens — four girls and two boys — now face charges that include statutory rape, assault, violation of civil rights resulting in injury, criminal harassment, disturbance of a school assembly, and stalking. In addition, three juveniles — all girls — face delinquency charges.

Prince, 15, was a high school freshman who had recently moved from Ireland. She is believed to have hanged herself after intense bullying at school, as well as via Facebook and text messaging. “Their conduct far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship-related quarrels,’’ Scheibel said yesterday at a press conference to announce the charges.

The harassment, which Scheibel described as “intolerable,’’ began in September. The teenager’s death on January 14 “followed a tortuous day for her, in which she was subjected to verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse,’’ Scheibel said. According to the DA, the harassment occurred while Prince studied in the school’s library around lunch period and walked in the school’s hallways near the end of the school day, and it continued as she headed home after school.

Prince’s death and the 2009 death of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover of Springfield led lawmakers to adopt new antibullying measures. A conference committee is scheduled to meet to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions. When the bullying goes beyond meanness, criminal accountability is the ultimate consequence. Prince’s life became a daily ordeal of extraordinary horrors. It is sad that the DA’s investigation supports that outcome; sadder still that the criminal justice system kicked in far too late to save a young girl’s life.

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