I was a teenager I working in the drive-thru of a small town fast food joint, and some man had just handed an envelope through the window. “Here you guys go!” he said with a twisted look in his eye and laughed as he sped off.
We all crowded around to see what could possibly be in the envelope, and when I opened it a mostly nude photo of a young woman was at the top. I was shocked by the cruelty of what that guy had just done and immediately set to cutting the whole stack of photos into tiny pieces, mixing it up in the trash can with old grease and food waste. Then the whole bag went into the dumpster out back.
Well, I thought to myself, at least that particular batch of pictures won’t be doing any more harm.
Fast forward many years later and I get a request from a reader named Livi to do the true story of Amanda Todd. While working on it I was absolutely struck by how much things have changed since that day in the drive-thru. Pictures have become an infinitely worse weapon, one that could be used even from the other side of the world, by someone you’ve never met…
Knock at my door at 4am…
It was the police… my photo was sent to everyone…”
At 12 years old Amanda Todd was like a lot of girls her age. She had a bubbly personality and was very into creative things like art, writing, and especially singing.
In her room was a laptop decorated with little drawings and love poems she’d written, it was as if she had such an outpouring of creativity that she just couldn’t help but to decorate the world around her. But as happy as she could seem sometimes, she also struggled with a crippling problem: low self-esteem.
There was no way around it, low self-esteem affected every day of her life and she tried to deal with it by seeking out the approval of others. And when she and her friends would chat on a site called Blogtv it was all too easy for the strangers there to get her attention through flattering words.
The “kids” there would build her up and tell her the things she desperately needed to hear. One of them in particular spent a lot of effort telling her how beautiful she was and pressuring her to lift her shirt and flash the camera. Finally, after many months of chatting with him, she agreed.
She was 12 years old at the time and thought she’d only been talking with other kids her age in that chat room, but instead she’d fallen into a trap. Across the world in the Netherlands was a pedophile who would now stop at nothing to use that chat to get her under his control.
Some time later Amanda was browsing Facebook and noticed a message from someone she didn’t recognize. It had a screen shot from the Blogtv chat and said that if she didn’t do what he said then he’d send the topless picture of her to everyone she knew. He had the addresses of her friends, family, and even teachers at her school. Blackmail.
However, her life had already been changed forever. On Christmas break there was a knock at the door, it was the police.
AN ENDLESS NIGHTMARE
“name calling, judged…
I can never get that Photo back
It’s out there forever…”
Facebook messages had been sent to everybody on Amanda’s friend’s list with links to a porn site, there the pedophile had uploaded her picture and made it look like she was part of the site. Emails with her topless photo in it were also sent to teachers at her school, who then immediately called the police.
The police were there to let her parents know that her picture was being sent to people in the area and was now circulating the internet. But as far as doing anything about the pedophile who was blackmailing her…well she was pretty much on her own. Incredibly, the police told her parents that the best thing that could be done about the blackmail was to have her delete her Facebook profile.
As you can imagine the lack of police involvement meant that the pedophile was free to do as he pleased. And in fact, everything was going to his plan. Since he was on the other side of the world he needed the people around Amanda to do his work for him, and many of them did. At school she was now the focus of constant harassment and bullying. To people there her name was no longer Amanda but “Pornstar”, “Camwhore”, and “Slut”. She was completely isolated and even her friends were afraid to be around her because they would suffer the same fate.
Amanda hid out at home in hopes that being away from the bullying would help, but instead she began to develop depression and panic disorder because of the anxiety. She knew that the pedophile would continue to send his emails and the kids at her school would continue to rip her apart.
Finally, her parents decided to move her to a new area and help her start fresh at a new school. But the pedophile was prepared for this. He created a Facebook profile and plastered it with Amanda’s topless photo. Then he used the profile to contact kids at her new school and get them all to constantly bully her as well.
Distraught, she started to use drugs and alcohol to numb the pain, but it wasn’t enough and once again she had to change schools. At her next school she lived in constant fear that the pedophile would find out she had changed schools again. It was only a matter of time before he set up another Facebook profile and contacted kids at her new school. She was withdrawn and fearful, sitting alone in the library every day at lunch due to her anxiety.
But then an old friend contacted her and it was like a breath of fresh air. He wasn’t bullying her and actually had nice things to say about her. After a while he convinced her that he didn’t like his girlfriend anymore and to come over to his house. But it wasn’t long before his girlfriend found out and confronted her at school…
“His girlfriend and 15 others come including Hiself…
The girl and 2 others just said look around nobody likes you.
In front of my new school (50) people…
A guy then yelled just punch her already
So she did… She threw me to the ground a punched me several times
Kids filmed it…”
Realizing that the guy had just used her, that she had no friends, she went home and drank a bottle of bleach. Suicide was her one way out of the nightmare that she was in, but then an ambulance came and took her to the hospital. There was no way out after all.
A RAY OF HOPE
“6 months has gone by… people are posting pics of bleach, clorox, and ditches.
tagging me… I was doing a lot better too… They said…
She should try a different bleach, I hope she dies this time and isn’t so stupid.
They said I hope she sees this and kills herself…”
When Amanda got back from the hospital she found that people from her school were posting things trying to get her to attempt suicide again. Her parents were alarmed and moved her to another area, another school. But this time it didn’t take long for the pedophile to catch on.
He made a Facebook profile pretending to be a kid that was about to start at the school and used it to gather people’s names and contact info. Then he sent out the topless photo of Amanda to the students, teachers, and even parents of the students there. So now she not only had people from the last school tagging her in pictures and messages trying to get her to kill herself, she also had to deal with the bullying at her new school instigated by the pedophile. Once again she tried to kill herself, this time by overdosing on pills, but was taken to the hospital in time to save her life.
Her parents were very alarmed and had her put in a hospital where she could get some counseling for her depression. There she was able to get some help in how to deal with the nightmare she was actually living in. But then the kids at school found out that she had been in a hospital and started to add “Psycho” and “Crazy” to the list of things they called her.
Amanda was crushed, but still, things were a bit different for her now. While going to therapy she’d developed a bit of self confidence, something she hadn’t had very much of in her life. Faced with never ending bullying and people trying to get her to kill herself, she decided to do something to prove to herself that she could be strong even in the face of such a nightmare, and maybe even inspire other kids that were in a similar situation. She was going to tell her story, not in the way the pedophile wanted it told, or the kids who were posting the pictures of bleach, but in her own words.
THE SUICIDE OF AMANDA TODD
“Haters are haters but please don’t hate, although im sure I’ll get them.
She wrote her story down on a series of notecards and made a Youtube video set to a song called “Hear You Me” where she slowly showed each card. She told the story of how the pedophile had blackmailed her, how she had to keep changing schools, the suicide attempts, everything. The video got viewed many times and other kids started to write in to her with stories of their own experience being bullied.
She felt a little stronger, started to go out more and even started to feel almost normal at times. The police still refused to do much of anything about the pedophile, so that would probably go on forever, but she started to feel like maybe there was a way to have a life despite that. She and her mom made plans to start up singing lessons again, something she’d abandoned not long after the pedophile had started his campaign of harassment.
But then something happened. No one knows what. Maybe it had something to do with a bully at school, or maybe the pedophile didn’t like her newfound strength and found a way to take the nightmare to the next level. All we know is that one day she told her mom that she was very sick and couldn’t go to school. She stayed home the next day as well, and it was that afternoon that she decided to take her own life. In a heart-wrenching message to her mother she asked that she not be mad at her for committing suicide. And by the time her mother came home from work Amanda was already dead, she was only 15 years old.
In the wake of her death people flooded to watch her video on Youtube. Millions of people saw her story and there was a public outcry about what had happened to her. The police finally decided they needed to get involved and, finally, started to track down the pedophile.
But there was a darker side to the public reaction to her suicide. People started to post horrible things celebrating her death, saying that she deserved to die and worse things that I won’t repeat here. Even today the messages continue on, and it’s easy to see how the pedophile was able to find bullies to harass her and do his work for him without much effort at all.
In the end, what people say about Amanda Todd’s death often reveals more about themselves than anything. Just as in real life how people react to someone being bullied reveals things about who they are as a person. Are you someone who’d participate in it, stand up for the person, or simply walk away? Almost everyone says they wouldn’t be a part of the bullying, but in reality things tend to turn out much differently.
Life is a complex thing that’s for sure. But when faced with a situation where someone’s being bullied it’s always good to remember, like Amanda said, everyone has a story.