When systems fail: Samantha Kelly’s suicide

13 Nov

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.”


Posted by on November 13, 2010 in Bullying, Media, Sexual assault, Suicide


3 responses to “When systems fail: Samantha Kelly’s suicide

  1. Charity Brown

    December 10, 2010 at 3:52 am

    Absolutely horrible : (

  2. Amy Regan

    December 10, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I am so sorry to hear this but I too am painfully aware of how the systems fail. We really do need to look to the many men in our society who, for the most part, hold the majority of the most powerful positions in our society to be the agents for change in our systems of education, of law, and of government so as to create EFFECTIVE support systems and justice for the victims of male violence.It is a mens’ issue and the men in power need to stand up ,care,speak out, and fight for change.Nor more passivity,silence,apathy and detachment from this horrendus reality.It is real and will not go away without a prolonged persistant collective effort.!
    For their daughters,their mothers,their sisters, and all other victims of male violence(including other males; boys or men)

  3. TYler Foster

    April 12, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    All evil needs to suceed is for good men to do nothing. This is where nobody helped this girl. I am so saddened by her loss. What in gods name are the people their doing??? WHY????


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