In a tragic and graphic public act of suicide, 15-year-old Felicia Garcia jumped in front of a train while fellow students watched. The freshman from Tottenville High School in Staten Island, New York was humiliated when she learned that a group of football players had filmed her having sex with them. Other students had reportedly bullied Ms. Garcia and she had indicated that she could not take the embarrassment anymore shortly before she killed herself.
According to the New York Daily News, a counselor at her school set up a mediation session with one of the boys who had been harassing the girl. I hope this news account is not correct as peer mediation and mediation are not effective strategies to address any form of aggression where there are victims and aggressors such as bullying. Mediation and peer mediation can be effective for situations of mutual conflict but are not only ineffective but can even be harmful for bullying situations. According to the United States Government’s Stop Bullying Now Campaign, peer mediation has been proven to be counterproductive for bullying situations.
Many reported suicides where bullying is alleged to be a factor involve other factors such as ineffectively treated depression and mental illness. Inappropriate forms of intervention by well-meaning adults can make the situation worse for victims and aggressors alike. As with many similar cases, litigation against the school district may occur and school bullying experts will likely have to carefully evaluate the facts of the case to see if the situation was handled properly or not. As inaccurate information is common in media reporting of such tragic and highly emotional situations, I make no judgment of how school officials handled this particular situation.
As the media is reporting that mediation was utilized, it is an opportunity to remind school officials should not use approaches designed for conflict between individuals for situations in the event they still do not realize that the approach as reported in the media is inappropriate for bullying situations. There are many free resources for school officials to help them prevent and respond to bullying. Proper training on appropriate intervention strategies that are based on research is another way to inform school employees in this regard.