The Phoebe Prince Case Is Finally Over–Did She Get Justice?

Over the past two days, the Phoebe Prince case finally came to its conclusion. Phoebe Prince was a 15-year-old teenage girl who immigrated to Massachusetts from Ireland with her mom and sister. She later committed suicide in January 2010, after several months of bullying and cyberbullying. Initially nine teenagers were charged with various offenses, ranging from stalking to criminal harassment to statutory rape. Some of the charges were eventually dropped, and the case was finally resolved just this week with punishment of probation and community service, and after a year, ending up with clean records. Interestingly, Phoebe’s mother gave an emotional statement to the court, but agreed with the resolution. What she wanted more than anything, was an acknowledgment of contribution to Phoebe’s death.

Sadly, Phoebe Prince had a history of psychiatric problems prior to arriving at her new high school. She was bullied at her school in Ireland, cut herself, and was taking medication for depression. She had also had a suicide attempt after her boyfriend (one of the accused bullies) broke up with her. Even more sadly, some of the teenagers in the case made comments that if she was truly suicidal, why hadn’t she already done it? Although I cannot make a diagnosis about someone I’ve never met, the cutting behavior, suicidal gestures, and chaotic relationships, sound like the making of borderline personality disorder. This diagnosis cannot be made until someone turns 18, but people certainly show signs of it during adolescence. The reason I bring this up is because although people with borderline personality disorder often make suicidal threats and gestures without actually killing themselves, a percentage of them actually do. Unfortunately it is hard to tell who will and who won’t.

It is hard to say how much the bullying contributed to Phoebe’s eventual suicide. It is also hard to say how much responsibility her school had to try to prevent this. From what it sounds like, everyone could have done a better job, but that is always easier to say in hindsight. The fact of the matter is that it happened, and while it is truly a sad case of a life cut short, the good is that the teenagers in the case sound as if they are truly sorry for the way they behaved, and her high school has begun to take real measures to address bullying. The media attention her case has gathered has hopefully also led other schools around the nation to do the same. While we cannot prevent every suicide in every child, we sure have the obligation to give our best to try.

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