News report: Teen suicide in Japan followed virulent peer and adult bullying

One of the most disturbing stories about a teen suicide linked to bullying comes from Otsu, Japan, where a 13-year-old boy was savagely bullied by both classmates and teachers before taking his life. The death occurred in October, but the story has just gone public.

Akiko Fujita reports for ABC News (link here):

The suicide of a 13-year-old boy in southern Japan after classmates systematically bullied him – even making him “practice” suicide – while teachers ignored the abuse or laughed has prompted soul-searching among educators across the country.

One of the boy’s last acts was to text his tormentors and leave voice mails for them to say, “I’m going to die.” They texted him back to say, “You should die.”

This is a full social breakdown scenario: The peer bullying included both mental and physical abuse. Teachers apprised of the bullying reportedly joined in on tormenting the boy. The boy’s father even filed reports with the police about his son’s death, who responded that the father “could not prove that bullying led to his suicide.”

Fujita reports that public outcry has been significant since the story broke a few days ago, and the city’s mayor has vowed a full investigation.

Among the many terrible pieces of this tragedy, the reports of adult teacher participation in the abuse are the worst of all. Hopefully a full, genuine investigation will examine the culture and staffing of a school where such behavior could occur.

***

July 12, 2012 followup — As reported in the Asahi Shimbun (link here), local police are conducting an investigation, which included an onsite search of the school and seizure of some 130 items:

Police searched a municipal junior high school and the Otsu government office on July 11 in connection with the suicide of a student who had been relentlessly bullied by his classmates.

Prefectural police seized 130 items, including a teacher’s daybook and documents on student guidance, from the principal’s room, teachers’ office and the municipal education board’s office.

Specifically, they were trying to gather evidence for assault charges against three classmates of the 13-year-old boy over an incident at an athletics stadium in Otsu in late September last year.

12 responses

  1. There seems to be widespread disbelief that adults would act this way. Those who report adults bullying are generally met with incredulity, and those who do engage in such destructive and immature behaviour are usually no averse to lying (in the unlikely event that an investigation ensues).

    I was shocked by the number of people who devalued the teen victims of a “prank” perpetrated and condoned by adults in the presence of other children in Canadian news recently. Two youths were tricked into putting moose droppings into their mouths after being told it was an edible treat.

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/story/2012/06/06/mb-moose-poop-joke-students-manitoba.html

    There are adults in positions of authority who can and do horrendous things…and frequently are not held accountable. I don’t know how much of it happens to avoid embarrassment to the institutions that employ them, how much can be attributed to a collective reluctance to believe this is possible, and how much victim-blaming is at play. There may be other factors that escape me…but I absolutely believe that it can and does occur and may have devastating consequences.

  2. This brought me to tears. Adults allowing and encouraging this kind of behavior is just too much. It has to stop……it cannot continue. I am unsure how this can happen, but these kinds of behaviors are not only morally wrong, but also humanly detached.

  3. It seems as though people that are around these types of bullying situations are somewhat reluctant to step up to the plate and put a stop to it before, as in this case, it becomes to late and a tragedy occurs.
    Here though the damage done by not only the bullying kids but the adults as well is enormous. The inhumanity of it all is very sad. What ever happened to “treating others as you yourself would like to be treated?”
    I would like to think that those responsible will be held accountable, especially the teachers and other children.

    Judith

  4. Do I believe this happened? Sure. Does it signify that there is something very, very wrong in the world? Yes. Those teachers need not to be working with children. Ever. They need to be in jail. And the kids? How do you make them understand the heinous nature of their actions? How do they be taught that have murdered another human being?

  5. Adult bullying is very common in some communities. I recall the famous Rebecca Watson giving a talk at a major skeptic / militant atheist conference on how she bullied and exploited her handler, who had been paid to support her at that conference. Many people in the audience laughed copiously about this, which should be no surprise for anyone who is familiar with the militant atheist community (they actually group together for the purpose of causing this sort of mischief).

    Here is the video of her talk (the quality improves significantly after 25 seconds):

    Rebecca: “She just texted JT to say she quits and she hates him.”
    JT: “Does this mean I win?”
    Rebecca: “Technically, this means you win as to fulfil the requirements of the bet.”

    I look upon this as solid evience to present to anyone who, out of naivete, doesn’t believe in adult bullying and doesn’t think some people are evil in nature.

  6. I watched the video… Practical jokes are one thing; this goes too far. I’m inclined to believe her admission about not having a conscience.

    Unfortunately, meanness is commonly mistaken for humor these days.

    I’m glad to see there was public outcry about the suicide. That’s what it’s going to take.

  7. What surprises me about this bullying attack is that it took place in Japan – a place where I thought people were more civil, more group-focused (as opposed to me-focused). Anyone else find this incident incongruent with your image of Japan? Guess I don’t know much about Japan…

  8. I see the “bullied bus monitor” situation in Greece, NY potentially evolving to a similarly disastrous outcome. Responsible adults in every community must step forward to demand that all of us be treated with dignity and respect…regardless of age and position. We are all models, and need to be aware of who and what we represent as well as who we are speaking to and what their capacity for comprehension and action is. We must resolve to actively participate in creating the changes we want to see.

    It is understandable that the “Oh my God Squad” turns up to comment and commiserate, but that contingent must not be content to stop there. What can each of us actually do within our own circles of influence to create a society or community that better expresses our collective values and beliefs?

  9. Re: “What can each of us actually do within our own circles of influence to create a society or community that better expresses our collective values and beliefs?”

    One little thing I do is comment when LinkedIn threads start getting mean. For example: after one writer mocked another writer, I wrote “No need to get snobby. We’re all in this together.” That seemed to change the focus of the discussion. I’ve done it in other LinkedIn groups as well. It’s not much, in the way of fixing the world, but it does interrupt the progression of hurled insults.

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