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Emily Bazelon, As If To Prove My Point

July 22, 2010
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Wrote an article slut-shaming a fifteen year old girl who killed herself. Her article went up while I was working on this, about antiporn activists who engage in slut-shaming, and I hadn’t read Bazelon when I posted it.

I have several problems with what Bazelon did here. First, over the objection of the family’s lawyers, she released personal, non-public information about Phoebe Prince’s medical history. Second, many of her sources for the posthumous hit piece are adults at the school, talking on background. Bazelon gives us no idea where they stand in relation to the allegations, so we can’t tell if they’re being sued, or trying to minimize their own complicity. Are these sources the kitchen staff, or the administration? It’s not clear. Are they violating confidentiality obligations using material that they learned in a counseling role, while being protected by Bazelon? Also not clear.

But Bazelon’s real offense, to my mind, is publishing stuff like this:

The problem with Phoebe’s involvement with Austin was that he had a serious girlfriend—Flannery Mullins, now 17. Flannery mattered a great deal to Austin, students and adults say. “Austin was an angry kid for a long time,” one of the adults at the school says. “But he had really come a long way. He was poised to get his diploma at the end of the summer. This thing with Phoebe, it appeared to throw him. Because he seemed really committed to Flannery. She was pretty well grounded and she had good connections in school with other adults. I think she was good for Austin.”

Several older boys with girlfriends got involved with Phoebe Prince. It seems to me that the greater obligation falls on them, both because of age and because the one in the relationship is the one who made the promise, to avoid doing anything that damages those relationships. But Bazelon goes out of her way to portray the older boys as sympathetic, vulnerable … seduced.

Where have we heard that before?

She follows her sympathetic description with this: “At this point, Phoebe was spending a lot of time with a third senior boy.”

I think we all know what she’s trying to say there. It’s pretty clear that Bazelon thinks Phoebe Prince stole other girls’ boyfriends. She portrays all the surviving teens as basically sympathetic, and the clear implication is that the thing that went wrong was Phoebe Prince getting involved in their lives. The whole work leaves no doubt that while she stops short of outright defending the bullies’ conduct she thinks Phoebe Prince’s conduct is mitigation.

That is not a new idea. That’s a very old idea, one that we’re still struggling to kill. Congratulations, Emily Bazelon: you’re part of the problem.

[Edited to add, Lindsay Beyerstein's take on this is also a good read.]

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37 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 11:48 am

    I read that Bazelon article and I couldn’t believe my eyeballs. I kept having to check the byline, like, is this REALLY Emily Bazelon writing this?! I felt like I just spent 15 minutes of my precious time reading some nasty teenagers’ slam book than actual journalism. I mean, if it’s in the interest of exonerating truly innocent people, fine, but let it happen in court rather than splashing all over the internet. This girl’s sex life really doesn’t need to be public knowledge – some things are just none of our business. Such poor taste.

  2. ephraim permalink
    July 22, 2010 9:18 pm

    seriously, if the case that these kids are not, in fact, legally responsible for the suicide of another kid is so flimsy that it needs to be bolstered by the argument that goes “well, actually, she really was a slut” then those kids are in some serious trouble. i think there’s enough evidence that lets them off that particular hook that it’s really not necessary to stoop to slut-shaming

    • July 23, 2010 11:07 am

      If that works as a defense, I’ll be extremely disgusted. If anything it should help the case against those kids if all you can do is persecute the poor girl.

  3. July 23, 2010 9:01 am

    I think it’s important for those judging the accused students to know all the facts, however personal. If Prince had a history of depression and suicide attempts, doesn’t that contribute to her successful suicide as much, if not more, than the alleged bullying? The young men accused of statutory rape will be registered sex offenders in the state of Massachusetts for the rest of their lives if convicted. The abusive treatment of Phoebe Prince, if proven, is horrible. But isn’t it worse to be legally marked with shame than called a name?

    “There is no question that some of the teenagers facing criminal charges treated Phoebe cruelly. But not all of them did. And it’s hard to see how any of the kids going to trial this fall ever could have anticipated the consequences of their actions, for Phoebe or for themselves. Should we send teenagers to prison for being nasty to one another? Is it really fair to lay the burden of Phoebe’s suicide on these kids?”

    I think the point of her article is clear therein and it is important to consider all the facts without jumping to conclusions. I was horribly abused by other teens in high school. None of them were ever jailed. Teen cruelty happens all the time and needs to be addressed, but its punishment not doled out unfairly.

    “Her death was tragic, and she shouldn’t have been bullied. But she was deeply troubled long before she ever met the six defendants. And her own behavior made other students understandably upset.”

    If that’s true – that she was deeply troubled long before, then it’s important to consider her state of mind relative to things other than bullying at school: paternal abandonment, self-mutilation, missing her Irish friends, etc. I don’t think it’s slut-shaming to note that her behavior, like the subsequent reacting behavior of the “bullies,” played a part in why all the teens involved were angry. Girls get upset at other girls when they fight about boys. The “bullies” are the slut-shamers, not this writer.

    If this writer is saying what you infer, that “Phoebe Prince stole other girls’ boyfriends,” then she is out of line. But I didn’t get that from reading the article. I only get that from your take on it. I think the article does a good job of exposing a witch hunt, wherein rumors and frenzy contribute to the condemnation of the accused before a fair trial.

    (It should go without saying that I am completely sympathetic to Prince and to her family and all they have suffered. I cried for her just as I did for Jessica Logan after her 2008 suicide over sexting.)

    • July 31, 2010 12:36 pm

      Well, well, well. If it isn’t one of Emily’s interns??? Thought you’d show up here. Actually, I know that you spend your days scanning the web for damage control for Ms. Bazelon. We all know that dear ol’ Emily has breached several laws in revealing in a media forum PERSONAL MEDICAL DETAILS that were bought and paid for the the sleazy six’s defense team. I’d love to be related to Phoebe’s family as I would sue Slate and Ms. Bazelon into the next century for revealing confidential information when she had no legal release from the deceased’s family to do so.

      Want to know something? Christian Taylor committed suicide in June, 2010. He was also bullied and his life was also made unlivable. His mother is getting madder by the minute and I don’t doubt she’ll end up going for the family of the ass-hat that bullied her boy to death. When losers like the South Hades Six can’t compete on a level playing field, they resorted to harassment: physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual. The harassment was constant and 24/7. IF Phoebe didn’t have problems BEFORE they started, then she sure did after they were finished.

      All anyone needs to know about your losers in South Hades is that they wrote ACCOMPLISHED on her Facebook page when it was announced that she was dead.

      They wanted a legal way to murder Phoebe and people like you and Emily are bound and determined to ensure that they get away with it.

      People who have a soul and a conscience will forever stand in your way.

      People like you align yourself with what you perceive to be winners — the sleazy six. But you’re wrong. You and your ilk are on the way down to the cesspool of your own creation.

      Don’t worry. No one would ever consider you or Emily to be in the same class of person as Phoebe. Phoebe had a soul and a spark of life — she was a decent human being and slime like you and the sleazy six worked to crush it. Kudos to nasty work well done.

      Hope you like it when the universe visits the same upon you. Those who live with filth eventually become contaminated by it. It’s hard to sling shit as you do without getting it all over yourself.

      Suck it up loser.

      • femspotter permalink
        August 1, 2010 7:22 pm

        What are you talking about? !!!

      • September 9, 2012 4:34 pm

        “What are you talking about? !!!”
        I like how femspotter suddenly played dumb here. If you are not part of Emily’s crew, you should be.

    • sauer kraut permalink
      August 22, 2010 1:31 pm

      After reading your comment, I feel it necessary to take a long, hot and soapy shower.

      • femspotter permalink
        August 25, 2010 4:23 pm

        What exactly do you object to?

      • September 9, 2012 4:38 pm

        How ever did you come up with your “objectionable” diatribe when you have such reading comprehension issues?? You seem to have followed Emily’s writing very easily. Yet you act so confused when people challenge you.

        (I know these posts are old but it still infuriates me that people are this cold)

  4. July 23, 2010 10:59 am

    Theres two elements that I think is important concerning rape. Women has to stop feel ashamed, if thats possible, ant try to helt eachother instead of pushing themselves down. The other thing is that men has to start behang lke men and make a clear and visible stand against rape. To be a real man is first and foremost to make everyone around him safe. Rape conserrns and touches us all. Be responsible,

    http://finnhjalmar.wordpress.com/2010/07/23/gasoline-on-%C2%ABthe-fire-of-shame%C2%BB/

  5. Emily Bazelon bizarre contradiction permalink
    July 25, 2010 3:15 am

    Phoebe’s pre-existing mental illness does NOT mitigate the NON-HOMICIDE, NON-MANSLAUGHTER charges vs. the 6 defendants.

    Their criminal harassment, stalking, assault and statutory rape (for the 2 males) still merit prosecution (as Grand Jury found).

    (Odd that legal experts now have to point these missteps to Yale Law grad and journalist EMILY BAZELON of all people.)
    ===============================================
    Agree about publicizing Phoebe’s private medical history. Journalists enjoy 1st Amendment leeway, but what an indiscretion of Bazelon, nevertheless.

    How would Bazelon feel if NEW HAVEN REGISTER or NY TIMES published her sons’ private info if they misbehaved at school – even if the school discipline system screwed up? (What a setback for media)
    ===============================================
    Agree also re: Bazelon’s “exoneration” of “powerless” men and “justified” girls.

    The subtext reeks a bit of…MISOGYNISM (bizarre for Yale grad BAZELON).

    It’s “normal girl drama” for GIRLS to yell “sl*t” and “Irish wh*re, c*nt” and “Close your legs!” (per indictment)?? (21st century AD, right?)

    And for 2 girls (defendants Flannery Mullins & bff Sharon Chanon Velasquez) to threaten/plan ASSAULT & STALK a girl – in school BATHROOMS too – b/c they suspect Phoebe “stole” Flannery’s “man”? (HAH?!)

    And for a 17yo male (def. Sean Mulveyhill) to hook up w/ a 14yo girl…then HARASS her…then get 2 girls (def. Kayla Narey, Ashley Longe) to harass her too…knowing she’s “troubled”? (WTbloodyF!?!)
    —————————————————————-
    EMILY BAZELON: What WAS u smoking?

    • July 31, 2010 12:40 pm

      Bravo. I really rather *love* your comment. Thanks for putting it better than I could.

  6. July 25, 2010 8:28 am

    [blockquote]He chose Sean Mulveyhill, a senior and star of the football team. “He was a natural selection—the kind of kid who would seek out someone having difficulty just to help him,” Evans says.[/blockquote]
    Sean aside, the “seek out someone” fragment is like a red alarm. Seriously, if someone seek out someone who has a difficulty, it comes out as a person seeking out someone vulnerable for a future victim role, and i would rather keep as big distance as possible.

    [blockquote] If Prince had a history of depression and suicide attempts, doesn’t that contribute to her successful suicide as much, if not more, than the alleged bullying?[/blockquote]
    Such things does not happen out of the blue. Surely, someone depressed or even with history of it, has bigger chance of another episode or suicidal thought, but they still have to be triggered. By bullying, for example. Which makes the act of bullying even worse.

    [blockquote]Girls get upset at other girls when they fight about boys. The “bullies” are the slut-shamers, not this writer.
    [/blockquote]
    I don’t know the case, but seriously, femspotter, what’s up with that apologism?

    [blockquote] It should go without saying that I am completely sympathetic to Prince and to her family and all they have suffered.[/blockquote]
    Good you said that, because one couldn’t read it from your comment, which seem to be bent on victim-blaming instead.

    • July 25, 2010 12:46 pm

      Such things does not happen out of the blue. Surely, someone depressed or even with history of it, has bigger chance of another episode or suicidal thought, but they still have to be triggered. By bullying, for example. Which makes the act of bullying even worse.

      I’m more curious about how much the history of depression is caused by bullying. I was constantly bullied in school and, even though I liked learning, it made me dread waking up every morning because I had to go back to that place. If the bullying has been gone on long enough- it could easily have helped to cause/exacerbate the depression.

      • femspotter permalink
        July 25, 2010 1:07 pm

        FYI Prince had a history of self-mutilation and another suicide attempt, according to the Bazelon article. Weren’t these warning signs of trouble to come?

      • July 25, 2010 9:58 pm

        How do those disprove that the bullying caused it? There are instances where the parents do EVERYTHING right- but because the kid keeps being tormented by peers, they end up killing themselves.

      • femspotter permalink
        July 26, 2010 4:59 am

        They don’t. But bullying is pervasive in high school, as you and I both have personally observed. The only reason these bullies are being punished at this level is because of the suicide. It’s important to examine all the circumstances surrounding the death, including the culpability of the parents and teachers. “There are instances where the parents do EVERYTHING right…” I think this is an impossible thing to prove. What is “right?” Obviously, not everything was right in the world of Prince. Why was she back at school so soon after downing a bottle of prescription medication?

        Why are these bullies worse than others? It would be quite impossible to put every slut-shaming bully on trial. We need to examine the entire culture that existed in this high school and all circumstances surrounding the death so that we can learn how to prevent it. To just say “bullying is wrong” and call it a day doesn’t get the job done. If you have a teen who consistently tries to hurt or kill herself, you – as a parent or teacher or other adjacent adult – need to be proactive about getting her help. Likewise, if you’re in a position of authority at a high school, you need to be vigilant about bullying and doling out suspensions with purpose.

      • femspotter permalink
        July 26, 2010 5:28 am

        Also, if the victim of bullying, in this case Prince, had not committed suicide, would the bullies be on trial? And would their acts of bullying be any less wrong? I say “no” to both questions.

      • sauer kraut permalink
        August 22, 2010 1:33 pm

        femspotter – that Phoebe had issues was no excuse for the behaviors directed towards her; indeed, it is evident that at least some of the defendants used their knowledge of her weaknesses – real or perceived – to her detriment. You need to look at it from a non-blaming angle.

      • femspotter permalink
        August 25, 2010 4:27 pm

        I don’t blame Prince for the bullying.

    • femspotter permalink
      July 25, 2010 12:57 pm

      I don’t think the writer is slut shaming. I read the entire piece and agree for the most part with the Beyerstein reading. And I am certainly not victim-blaming, tomekkulesza0. I added my sympathy statement simply because, as a “Week in Review” Times article pointed out this morning about race, it’s almost impossible to discuss anything controversial without somebody accusing you of being [insert here: sexist, racist, misogynist, etc.]. By stating my opinion, you infer negative things rather than asking me specific questions. Such is the nature of “debate” in the feminist blogosphere, it seems. “Good you said that, because one couldn’t read it from your comment, which seem to be bent on victim-blaming instead.” Why not ask me questions instead of making assumptions if you find my statements contradictory?

      Personally, I have never understood why the people who get cheated on blame parties outside the relationship. But high school girls in particular are known to be territorial about boys and vicious to girls who encroach on “their territory.” In reading the article, I felt that Bazelon was examining the anger in that high school microcosm, not excusing the bullying. Why is it not okay to ask why the “bullies” behaved as they did? I do agree that six kids are on trial when only three should be. I also agree that there is no excuse for any of their behavior. Furthermore, I question the care of Prince with regard to her mental health: where were her parents, teachers, doctors in all of this mental/emotional struggling that went on for her? As a mother-to-be, I am alarmed at the prospect of my own daughter falling victim to mental illness and/or bullying and not being able to help her.

  7. driftwood permalink
    July 26, 2010 5:04 pm

    You read this completely differently than I did.

    First, in the article there is a line where it mentions how the females turned on Phoebe instead of their boyfriends. I thought it was implied that this was rather unfair of these girls. It’s pointing out that there was blame for how these boys interacted with Phoebe.

    Second, (I am probably stepping out of my bonds by Psych 101ing this, but here goes…)sShe had depression and emotional issues tied up with her father…she was looking for help. She seemed to actively go to the male figures in her life. There’s no blame or judgement there, that’s a perfectly valid reaction. So, I don’t think it’s odd to portray Phoebe as pursuing these boys, sexual or not. She was no longer looking through therapy or family channels, it seems like she was looking towards her older male peers.

    Third, I think the point of the article does try to make most of these kids as sympathetic. I think part of what Emily is trying to convey is that, these people are still mostly kids, with their own lives, and probably not evil incarnate.

    • CruelER for harassing a "troubled" girl permalink
      July 27, 2010 7:04 pm

      These “kids” were sympathetic? (Teens don’t like to be called kids – and they’re teens, not toddlers, who know wrong vs. right, as they themselves admit.)

      They harassed, stalked (Flannery Mullins & Sharon Chanon Velasquez) and assaulted (Ashley Longe) Phoebe – knowing she was “deeply troubled” after her Nov. 2009 suicide attempt, hospitalization & cutting –> AFTER Sean Mulveyhill, 17, ended his brief “relationship” w/the new “troubled” 14yo immigrant girl.

      Betw Nov. 2009 and Jan. 14, 2010, Sean could have defended Phoebe. Instead, he “encouraged”, per indictment, Kayla & Ashley to harass her too.
      ( “Normal girl drama,” as quoted by Emily Bazelon?)
      = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
      Defendant Austin Renaud was no longer dating Phoebe – yet Flannery Mullins and Sharon Chanon felt compelled to still stalk and threaten/plan to assault her (per indictment) – KNOWING of her mental state.
      (Classy “normal girl drama”)
      = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
      To be a balanced journalist, why didnt Emily Bazelon also report the pre-existing character of the 6 defendants . . or confirm/dispel the witness and documented incidents of:

      #1 – Sean Mulveyhill’s and Austin Renaud’s previous hookups with minor girls

      #2 – Kayla Narey’s, Ashley Longe’s, Flannery Mullins’, Sharon’s reputed pre-existing histories of harassment/stalking/assault? (Witnesses do exist.)

      #3 – Flannery’s & Sharon’s multiple threats & stalking, in addit. to Flannery’s ONE “silent” bathrm encounter w/Phoebe. (Phoebe was scared enough that she started walked IN BETW students in the halls to avoid an ambush).

      #4 – Their pre- & post-death Phoebe-bashing comments posted on Facebook.

      #5 – Their celebration of Phoebe’s suicide at school and at the school cotillion 2 days after she died (allegedly with a “Noose” dance and High-5s).

      #6 – Sean Mulveyhill was stripped of his football captain status b/c he yelled profanities at teammates….walked off the field during a game….and #7:

      #7 – Sean Mulveyhill was arrested for shoplifting Oct.22, 2009, in Holyoke, MA:

      HOLYOKE POLICE DEPARTMENT
      Public Daily Arrests Report – 10/23/2009 Page 9 of 23
      Arrestee: MULVEYHILL, SEAN L
      Age: 17
      Time of Arrest: 2:53 PM
      Address: 107 LYMAN SOUTH HADLEY , MA
      Arrest Location: 50 HOLYOKE ST
      W/M
      Charge Ch. 266 Sect. 30A SHOPLIFTING BY CONCEALING MDSE

      ALSO:
      Re: 7946. 2 South Hadley football players……arrested – shoplifting at the mall. One current player, one former player – and brothers
      (link no longer active: http://www.holyokepd.org/documents/ArrestReportLog10-22-09.pdf )

  8. LBF permalink
    August 25, 2010 10:06 am

    Absolutely agree with the opinion on Bazelon’s unethical releasing of Prince’s medical and mental health background. Keep in mind her own grandfather promoted the right for privacy for the mentally ill. Interesting to see how she would evade giving that question a frank answer (her repeated vagueness about her motivations, which seem more self serving and less altruistic towards the defendants). Symbiotic relationship between her and defense lawyers — lets get in bed by casting real culpability on the Prince — but the defense lawyers are desiring the use of a dishonest, tacky defense (where’s William Kennedy Smith’s lawyer when the SH stalkers need him?) and Bazelon is hoping to get the big score for her journalistic career. Look at how much credence her crap is already receiving.

    Interesting to note that Mulveyhill’s rep is given a through gloss by Bazelon — no real mention of his repeated temper tantrums and poor behavior that cost him the captaincy of the football team. Also unmentioned is the general undercurrent that Mulveyhill, for all his lack of educational aspirations, was far more of an instigator and manipulator in this situation than was first believed.

    While Renaud, at worst, had sex with a girl who could not legally give consent, Mulveyhill not only was a statutory rapist, he seemed to be playing both sides — lying to both Prince and Narey. When the crap hit the fan, he managed to persuade Narey to focus her ire on Prince, and he then asked best buddy Longe to start harassing Prince as well. He then assisted in the bullying (blocking Prince’s escape from the library while she was being stalked by the girls).

    The tragedy being that some (even those who have been bullied as youths) consider this a ‘normal’ part of growing up, and don’t see this as what is truly is — stalking, harassment and physical assault, that would impact any mentally healthy person, if done repeatedly for months. If adults did this at a job to a coworker, they easily could be looking at both criminal and civil prosecution. No one would be claiming the coworker’s mental health was the biggest cause of the problem, or researching the coworker’s former jobs to see how they behaved there.

  9. Clarence permalink
    August 28, 2010 1:01 am

    Despite all the ire aroused in various commenters by Bazelons piece, I’m still willing to be that when this case comes to trial few, if any, convictions will be obtained. It really seems like some people have no problem demonizing the defense but when the tables are turned they get all hurt and righteously angry. I am also willing to bet that the comments on Facebook and alot of the other things taken as “facts” by many of the people here are taken out of context.

    Just a hunch, but I bet I’m right. This case, like the Duke LAX case and the McMartin cases has “witch hunt” written all over it.

  10. Jess permalink
    May 17, 2011 2:57 am

    Emily Bazelon is what is wrong with the journalism world. Her article was irresponsible and completely counterproductive. Her actions, article and ego-maniac like appearance on The Passionate Eye was appauling. Even my 11 year old cousin (whom watched this episode in hopes to educate her on the penalties of degrading others in the bullying sense) pointed out how this women obviously “is friends with the bulliers”-she noticed it, 11 years old. Terrible that a YALE graduate could be so lacking in compassion or genuine common sense. Id love to wish the pain those who are bullied upon you, however I would do that to my worst enemy (a position you are quickly approaching there EM!) Im sure had Phoebe Prince been your child youd be singing a much different tune. Disgusting. Her article was brought up in my Psych class and everyone was so heated we thought seriously about flying out to Emilys cave and making it known how inappropriate and detrimental her “article” was-d0 flights actually run to hell?
    Emily Bazelon you are a putrid, sickening individual. You should be ashamed of yourself.

  11. Sophia permalink
    February 26, 2012 7:17 am

    People, it doesn’t surprise me. I was just writing this Emily am email accusing het of pseudo feminism (hidden machoism) in snotter article of hers in Slate about diaper free babies. Her backgroundresearch is low. She uses generalities and common assumptions as reasoning and besides that she talks like a colonialist.

  12. Sophia permalink
    February 26, 2012 7:20 am

    People, it doesn’t surprise me. I was just writing this Emily an email accusing het of pseudo feminism (hidden machoism) in anotter article of hers in Slate about diaper free babies. Her background research is low. She uses generalities and common assumptions as reasoning and besides that she talks like am old colonialist on 3rd world knowledge (“the west knows best”).

    • September 9, 2012 4:42 pm

      The woman is obviously mentally ill. She is also a great actress. She wormed her way into Yale somehow. I would love to air her dirty laundry and see how she likes it. But no, what would she do? She would sue me. Because her rules only apply to Emily.

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