“I Hated Myself as Much as They All Hated Me”: How Bullying Tore Apart the Life of One EL Student

By Ashley Bowden, ‘14, and Rahma Ali, ‘15

This post, and the following response, sparked a string of online bullying directed at Rousseau. It was the latest attack in what has become a years long battle with bullying.

This post, and the following response, sparked a string of online bullying directed at Rousseau. It was the latest attack in what has become a years-long battle with bullying.

During her freshman year, Edward Little High School senior Tori Rousseau said she overheard a boy threatening to push a blind student down the stairs, saying, “She won’t even see it coming.” Rousseau told the boy “to grow up and act his age,” she said.

She didn’t realize, in that moment, that her attempt to stop the harassment would affect the rest of her high school years and that trying to help someone else would end up coming back to harm her in the end. “The bullies would tease these students, so I said something, but it backfired on me and I became their next victim,” she said.

Young adults are always encouraged to stand up and speak out against bullying. They are expected not be bystanders, but to be the solution. Contrary to most adults’ beliefs, it’s not taking action that scares teens, it’s the fear of becoming the next target.

 Rousseau was also targeted freshmen year, she said, after trying not to give in to peer pressure from her friends, who were urging her to smoke marijuana and drink alcohol. “I didn’t want to cave in to the peer pressure, and it affected me big time,” Rousseau said. “I was constantly called the Virgin Mary. No one wanted to hang out with me because I didn’t know how to party, I was a ‘snitch,’ and I don’t think the other things said are appropriate to repeat.”

After defending her fellow classmate and not giving in to the peer pressure, rumors quickly spread and soon even strangers started to say things about her, she said. “People who didn’t even know me started to assume things about me that weren’t true,” Rousseau said.

The bullying started her freshman year, but after a while the name calling and rumors spread from the hallways to the internet, on her Facebook wall and in her inbox and anonymous messages on Tumblr. Those anonymous messages, Rousseau said, were telling her she was a waste of space, or if she was sticking up for a special needs student, then maybe she was one herself. She said that she also received many prank phone calls along with the messages.

“The online stuff was worse than everything else,” Rousseau said, “because it would always be there for me to look at and I didn’t want to delete what was being sent because I at least wanted to know what was being said about me.”

When events such as Rousseau’s happen online and off school grounds, the administration is not always able to respond, according to Assistant Principal Steve Galway. “We are limited as to what we can do with things that take place outside of school,” Galway said. “Sometimes the most we can do is encourage the students to report it to the school resources officer.”

Mike Dunn, a guidance counselor at EL, said, “We refer them to the assistant principals who can research the issue and have conversations with the bullies, if they attend Edward Little.” The guidance counselors will also refer students for counseling. “Sometimes we will refer students to a social worker in the building for extended counseling,” Dunn said. “…We try to help them understand that reaching out for help is the most important step to ending the bullying.”

Senior Tori Rousseau

Tori Rousseau

The bullying carried over from freshman to sophomore year and escalated from verbal to physical abuse. When sophomore year began, there would be the occasional shove in the hallway and name calling. “It would be a nudge, a shove or a trip,” Rousseau said. She says she was afraid to seek help because she didn’t want to make it worse by ‘snitching.’ “[People would] tease me about being scared and running away from school. They said the school would be better off without me and I should just off myself,” Rousseau said.

 It wasn’t until she was knocked down the stairs during the first quarter of her sophomore year and left the school in an ambulance suffering from a panic attack that she realized this wasn’t just going to end. She had to do something, so she was removed from the situation. “My parents pulled me out after they saw what [the bullying] was doing to me and my health.”

 At first, Rousseau’s parents did not realize just how damaging the bullying had become. “A lot of things she didn’t tell me,” said her mother, Catherine Rousseau,  “…I didn’t know how severe they were until she went to St. Mary’s.”

 After the incidents, Rousseau sought counseling and was further diagnosed with depression. She spent time at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, dealing with her depression. “I felt like what they were telling me was true,” she said. “If there was so many people saying these things to me, then maybe they were right. I felt self-conscious and I hated myself as much as they all hated me.”

When Rousseau returned home from St.Mary’s, she and her parents went through all of her social media and computer files, deleting all the incidents of cyberbullying. “She was called a lot of bad names,” Catherine Rousseau said. “Things saying what she did and should do and should just die. They were swearing, calling her words I’m not even comfortable using myself. A lot of it was ‘You should just die,’ that’s the one that stuck out the most.”

Rousseau stopped attending Edward Little during the regular school day and started taking classes online. The bullying died down some, but continued online. “I still received the occasional ‘You don’t belong, go kill yourself’ kind of stuff,” she said.

The experience of being bullied has made Rousseau cautious about getting to know new people and she has developed a lot of trust issues, she said, even with friends she’s known for years. The happy-go-lucky person she used to be faded away and she had trouble feeling good about herself and her life, she said.

Now, her senior year, Rousseau is working toward graduation through ELPM, the night school alternative program. “I would love to come back to school,” Rousseau said. “I think about it all the time. All I ever wanted was to fit in with my class. I just wanted to hang with friends and participate in Spirit Week, to be a part of something bigger than me.”

But the bullying still hasn’t stopped. On Feb. 20 of this year, Rousseau was attacked online again, by a former friend, with a post on Facebook that said, ‘It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it’s Tori Rousseau using her arm flaps to fly. The itching, the burning, you must have the Whori.’ She tagged five people in it and it received several likes,” Rousseau said. The status not only showed up on the girl’s wall, but on everyone else’s wall that was tagged in it as well, spreading the post for more people to read.

It wasn’t the post that got Rousseau so upset, but the comments. “The comments and pictures attached with them were what got me. Her mom commented on it first and it went back and forth with hurtful messages to go along with pictures of pigs and fat bats,” Rousseau said.

The comments went on for a while. “No one stuck up for me though,” Rousseau said.

 The comments between the girl, whose name on Facebook is Trishh Smith, and her mother, Amy Liberman, were the first in a long string of insults directed at Rousseau. In them, Liberman referred to Rousseau as a pig and a bitch in multiple messages, and included multiple pictures of pigs.

The Eddies Echo attempted to contact Liberman through a Facebook message, but she did not respond.

“I’m aghast,” said Catherine Rousseau. “I just don’t understand how an adult could get involved. I couldn’t believe that as a mom she could do that knowing she had two girls of her own at home.”

 The post disappeared a few days later. “I think they took it down because they know they can get in a lot of trouble for it,” Tori Rousseau said, “not because they think it was wrong, but because I am doing something about it.”

Rousseau took screenshots of the original post and comments and posted them to her own page with an anti-bullying message. She said she wanted people to actually see the issue for themselves because if they didn’t, it was only words. “I couldn’t believe I was getting teased again,” Rousseau said. “After crying for a bit I sat down and thought about it all. I thought about what I’ve been through, I thought about St.Mary’s and how I, and others there, felt alone. I took those pictures and posted them on a status. I told everyone what was going on and asked them how they would feel if this happened to them or a loved one. They wanted the publicity when they posted the status and comments, so I gave it to them,” Rousseau said.

Rousseau said she received both positive and negative comments and left both types up. The only comments deleted were the ones attacking the original posters because “That’s cyberbullying,” she said, “and I didn’t want it to be there. Putting them down would be stooping to their level, all I wanted to do was raise awareness that [bullying] does happen.”

“I’m glad she put it on there,” Catherine Rousseau said. “I was the one that said it would go away, but now that I see it hasn’t and won’t, I’m not telling her to back down. I was brought up to turn the other cheek and that karma would do the rest. When she told me that we needed to do something, I was concerned with the negative part that was going to happen, and not the positive. I wondered if she could handle the negative or if it would put her over the edge.”

“In my opinion, she’s doing the right thing,” said Rousseau’s father, Kevin Rousseau. “Today children are being bullied drastically with the use of the internet….It’s more dangerous now than it’s ever been.”

Tori Rousseau said she hopes the message gets out there to not only show people the problem, but to help others going through the same thing. “If I can help one person from this,” she said, “I’ll be happy.”

After posting the online bullying, people responded with a mix of comments, some supporting her, and others calling her weak and accusing her of having a “pity party.” One commenter, though, said Rousseau’s post helped them. “That one ‘You helped me’ outgoes all of the negative,” Rousseau said.

Rousseau wants everyone to know just how real all forms of bullying are. She’s tired of letting this affect her and she is ready to take action. The school is also working to prevent bullying like this, according to Galway. “In the past we have also trained mentors through the Unity Project to help with [bullying],” he said. “We also have gone to the middle school and met with all the eighth graders to talk about that. The Kick Off Mentors are working during orientation to educate the incoming freshmen about [bullying] and get them off to a good start.”

Rousseau is even more motivated. “Because of these recent events, I want to do something to raise awareness to bullying of all forms. I want to get a group of people together and do a bully stand up with posters and everything.” Rousseau wants everyone to know that bullying is still out there and people might not always be able to see it, she said.

 Over the past few years, the school has implemented an anti-bullying slogan, #NoBull, to be used online when students see cyberbullying. The initiative was started by students two years ago as a reaction to the online bullying they had seen. “Recently at the Edward Little and Lewiston boys and girls home basketball game there was a presentation and all the fans, players, coaches, cheerleaders, and anyone who wanted one were given one of the No Bull t-shirts, which were sponsored by several local businesses,” said Galway.

Catherine Rousseau is frustrated with the school’s attempt to end the bullying, though. “I think there needs to be more awareness,” she said. “I was frustrated when I came in and they had those t-shirts because the next week, when I came in, it was gone. It was just a short time that they did anything, because after, nothing was said or done,” she said. “They need to do something to let people now that it is in their school and people should be stopping it. As a parent it’s frustrating because I can’t come in and tell them what to do. I think they need to be aware of what’s going on.”

Dunn, the guidance counselor, encourages students and parent to speak to the school to seek help and not to shoulder the burden alone. “We like to involve the parents so that support can be found at home and school,” he said.

“I don’t think people take it seriously enough,” Kevin Rousseau said. “It’s really getting out of hand…it’s not just Tori, it’s a lot of kids out there…. Every kid should feel safe in that school, and not all the kids do.”

Rousseau still struggles with the effects of bullying, but she feels less alone now. “I thought I was the only one going through it,” she said, “but I’ve realized that I’m not and I don’t want anyone else to feel that way. I want to be the voice for those who are too scared to speak, show people they’re not alone.”

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