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A teenager’s suicide may help break Australia’s inaction on bullying

thespec 2018-01-12 14:08:02

SYDNEY When she was just six years old, Amy Jayne Everett appeared in an ad for Akubra hats, which represent Australian outback life in the same way Stetson hats symbolize Texas.

But as Everett grew into an awkward teenager, she was subjected to relentless online bullying. Last week, at age 14, she committed suicide.

The death of a young woman whose face was familiar to millions of Australians shocked the nation and prompted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to plead for an end to juvenile bullying, both in real life and online.

Cyberbullying is widely acknowledged as a serious problem for teenagers, but experts, parents and educators are struggling to come up with solutions. Even though suicide is the top cause of death for 15- to 44-year-olds in Australia, it isn't discussed much in public, in part because media outlets fear that reporting on self-inflicted deaths will trigger more suicides.

Everett's death is changing this attitude, even if only slightly. In an emotional Facebook post, Everett's father, Tick, suggested those who had persecuted the teenager attend her funeral, which was held on Friday morning in Katherine, a cattle-ranching town in the remote Northern Territory.

"If by some chance the people who thought this was a joke and made themselves feel superior by the constant bullying and harassment see this post, please come to our service and witness the complete devastation you have created," Tick Everett wrote.

Relatives of other suicide victims are also speaking out, raising hopes that greater awareness of the problem will save lives. "The government need to start doing a bit more, bring in some antibullying laws," said Quentin Pearson, whose 14-year-old son took his life in 2016, told The Australian newspaper. "Nothing happens to [the bullies] and they'll just go onto the next poor kid."

It is illegal in Australia to use the internet to harass anyone, but prosecutions are relatively rare. Turnbull, the prime minister, said society needs to do more to protect young people, although he didn't make any specific suggestions.

"As a parent and as a grandparent, my heart breaks for Dolly and her family," he wrote on Akubra's Facebook page, using Everett's nickname. "Every step must be taken to reduce the incidence of bullying, whether off-line or on, and eliminate it wherever we can."

The family of another victim has proposed a law in the state of South Australia that would impose prison terms of up to 10 years for bullying. Legislators are still considering it.