Bullied to Death

Filed under: In The News

A student killed himself -- was bullying to blame?17-year-old Mentor, Ohio High School student Eric Mohat was the target of relentless verbal and physical abuse from his fellow students. In March of 2007, Eric committed suicide after one of his tormentors said, "Why don't you go home and shoot yourself, no one would miss you." Now Eric's parents are suing the school district, saying that teachers and administrators should have done a better job of protecting their son.

The details are fairly familiar. Eric was into musical theater, had a "slight build" (6 feet tall and 112 pounds -- wow), and was somewhat quiet. In high school, that means some people will think that you're gay. According to ABC News, Eric was called "queer", "fag", and "homo", had pencil shavings dumped on his head in math class and was stuffed into lockers in the hallway. His torturers were football players.

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When I first heard about this story I was on the fence. I believe very strongly that bullying is not taken seriously enough, and there have been far too many cases where teenagers were driven to do themselves harm because of the steady stream of viciousness the receive at school. And while I agreed with the verdict in the recent botched circumcision case in Georgia, that was a clear cut (no pun intended) case of physician error. While this case is similar, it's not the same; it can be difficult to say for certain what school officials knew about what was being done to this poor boy. And of course, a lawsuit won't bring Eric back.

But here's an important point: The Mohats aren't looking for money. They want to shed some light on what they feel is a culture of bullying at Mentor High, to have Eric's death reclassified as a "bullicide," and force the school to put anti-bullying programs in place. They have reason to be concerned -- three other Mentor students committed suicide in 2007, and Janet Klee, a counselor who worked with the victims' families, says that bullying was a factor. Dan Hughes, father of one of Eric's friends, told ABC News that "the school is more concerned about sweeping [these incidents] under the rug [rather] than getting to the bottom of what's going on."

The school says that they don't have a bullying problem, but that seems unlikely. Bullying is very common at almost every school. School officials say that they do have an anti-bullying program in place called Olweus, but experts have found it to be ineffective in high schools, according to ABC. (Olweus is designed for younger children, and elementary school bullying is a different animal.) We aren't at Mentor High so we can't say what the atmosphere there is like. But with four student suicides and multiple people claiming that bullying was a factor, one would think that the matter bears further investigating. That appears to be all the Mohats want. If this lawsuit helps even one child, how can that be a bad thing?

What do you think? Is the family right to sue? Or are they over-reacting?

Brett Singer is the editor-in-chief of DaddyTips.com.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.