By Paul Grossinger
Hope has many meanings. For Donna Witsell, it is the name of her 13-year old daughter, who tragically committed suicide in 2009 following school, online, and mobile cyberbullying. She has founded Florida for Hope Outreach Ministries to make sure no parent has to experience what she went through.
Hope’s “crime” was to send a topless photo to her boyfriend, for which she received ridicule, taunting, and digital violence from classmates.
“She was ridiculed. She was called names. She was spit on. She was shoved into lockers,” Witsell, the founder of Florida for Hope, told students Tuesday during a cyberbullying forum at a St. Petersburg, Fla., middle school, according to the New York Daily News.
Hope’s suicide in 2009 was, in many ways, a precursor to the current cyberbullying epidemic our nation faces. It was a clear, sad, and often ignored warning of what was to come: Gabrielle Molina, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, Hannah Smith, and numerous other children have killed themselves because of cyberbullying this year and the number continues to climb.
Only now, parents, educators, policymakers, and national media are beginning to see the problem and draw attention to its magnitude. But not Donna Witsell, the founder of Florida for Hope, who has made it her crusade since 2009 to help rid American schools of cyberbullying.
Her Florida for Hope lectures, which began locally but now have a statewide appeal, focus on showing the deadly consequences of relentless, 24/7 digital bullying. It is that type of education, combined with enforcement tools like MMGuardian Parental Control, which helps parents monitor texts for bullying content and block threatening contacts and apps, that can help stop bullying in the future.
Indeed, Witsell’s approach is daring and, if successful, can pave the way toward ending cyberbullying. She targets the potential bullies themselves – children and classmates of victims and potential victims – relying on lectures, education, and action to teach kids to stop bullying.
“They have that power,” Witsell said of potential bullies, according to CBS. “They have the power to stop hate.”