If you have not seen the news from Michigan this week, the suicide of 14 year-old Samantha Kelly in Detroit is a tragedy that should make us all pause and reflect. Samantha took her own life due to severe and repeated bullying after she told authorities that a fellow student had raped her. This series of acts of violence that claimed the life of a young woman could have been avoided, but system after system failed her.
It’s clear that one system that failed her was the news media, which revealed her identity to her fellow students by interviewing her mother on TV. Here’s Maria Miller, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office:
“Although the child’s face was not seen, when the mother was interviewed, essentially the child’s identity was revealed,” Miller told the News. “After the broadcast, it is our understanding that the child was harassed at school.”
Harassed at school, harassed online, and even now – after her death – the target of taunts and violent imagery on facebook. The importance of respecting survivors’ confidentiality cannot be overstated, and here is the ultimate example of the harm done when this does not happen. There is no reason that this young woman should have ever faced the questions, hostility and harassment that she experienced at her school. Nobody should ever have known, if she did not choose to share her story.
And as Samantha reported to the police that she had been raped, and then began to experience bullying by her classmates, where was her support system? What was in place to ensure that the young woman making these serious allegations would be supported at her school? Did anyone in a position of authority turn to local sexual assault agencies to provide support? Were programs in place to provide peer support in her community? Were staff at her school adequately trained to handle an escalating situation? Unfortunately, while the press did share her identity, and has covered this latest in bullying suicides, it has failed to ask these important questions and so has missed the point. Even if there were adults who did their best to intervene, we can be sure that she didn’t receive the support at all systemic levels that she desperately needed, and we need to establish safety nets for young women in our communities.
And now the criminal legal system has failed Samantha as well. The case has been dismissed, as prosecutors say they cannot proceed without Samantha’s testimony. With the criminal legal system the only avenue of redress offered to survivors, the case is now officially closed. We’re left with Samantha’s mother’s words:
“My daughter did not get any justice before this and she ain’t getting justice now.”