Limerick teen 'wanted to die' after suffering from sustained cyberbullying

Fintan Walsh

Reporter:

Fintan Walsh

Zoe O’Sullivan, 17, with mother Joni, who is calling on the Government to crackdown on cyberbullying with new laws Picture: Liam Burke/Press 22

Zoe O’Sullivan, 17, with mother Joni, who is calling on the Government to crackdown on cyberbullying with new laws Picture: Liam Burke/Press 22

A LIMERICK mother has called for an urgent crackdown on cyberbullying after her teenage daughter suffered “a breakdown” following taunting online for over a year, causing her to attempt to take her own life.

Joni O’Sullivan, who lives in the Ennis Road area, took to social media to outline her 17-year-old daughter Zoe’s shocking cyberbullying experience, as she was receiving “upward of 50 messages a day from kids from all different schools around Limerick telling her to kill herself”.

She said that after the abusive messages, her daughter “attempted suicide to get away from the constant torment and abuse. Thankfully, she was unsuccessful but ended up in hospital”.

This was after, Joni said, a video was shared online directly targeting Zoe.

She said that after the video circulated, her daughter was called names on the street and felt like she was “ostracised”.

Ms O’Sullivan said her daughter, 17, “attempted suicide again and had a breakdown after, refusing to go back to school and wouldn’t even get out of bed for weeks”.

Zoe’s mother said “no one will understand fear until you wake up to your teen screaming from an inability to cope with online bullying coming in through their phone into what should be the safety of their own home.

“I will not lose my child because of online bullying. I will fight it.

“To Zoe you are a kind soul, beautiful inside and out and I am so proud of you. Be strong. You’ve your whole life ahead of you,” she said in a widely shared Facebook post.

In a follow-up interview with the Limerick Leader, Joni said that they were “grateful” and “overwhelmed” by the response to her public post, which was shared at least 5,500 times.

The woman said that she received support from people who have also experienced online bullying. 

“She [Zoe] feels empowered to get through this online bullying and is looking to her future beyond this difficult time in her life.”

Zoe, who wants to study midwifery when she is finished her Leaving Cert, said she is hoping to help other children who are suffering online bullying “and support them in any way I can.

"I just want the cyber-bullying to stop and for that video to not be shared and removed from the internet. A random disgusting video that was posted saying it was me, and messages I received telling me I was disgusting and to kill myself, caused me so much pain and made me want to die to escape the torment, and I never want to feel like that again. I am so much stronger now seeing that people believe me and support me.”

She added: “I love to read and laugh and although I have not felt happy over the last year because of cyber-bullying I went through, I am finding I am smiling and laughing more and more because of the support I am getting from people online. Thankyou to everyone who contacted me with support.”

Her mum Joni is now calling on the Government to tackle cyberbullying, through the progression of the Harassment and Related Offences Bill 2017, proposed by Labour leader Brendan Howlin.

“I, as a parent, am calling for the Government to bring the current Draconian laws into the 21st century and pass the current bill on cyberbullying and enact it into law before we lose more young lives.”

Labour Deputy and Limerick City TD Jan O’Sullivan said: “We hope to get this Bill debated in the Dáil shortly and will be looking for support from all parties and groups, including the Government, to get it into law as soon as possible.  The case the Leader is highlighting shows just how urgent it is that we have such laws here in Ireland.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is currently leading on consideration of proposals around a Digital Safety Commissioner and is the lead Department in the area of cyber security.

It also said that “work on the bill is ongoing in the Department of Justice and Equality”.