Ellen Degeneres videotaped a message to the bullied and the harassed Friday in the wake of the suicide death of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, who threw himself from the George Washington Bridge in New York after a video of him and another man having sex was streamed live online. The Emmy-winning talk show host said she was “devastated” by Clementi’s suicide, then listed the names of three other boys who killed themselves during the month of September — “these are just the stories we know about” — to escape the bullying they received because they were gay or thought to be gay. Noting that one death was “tragic,” Ellen Degeneres suggested that four was indicative of a “crisis.”
The video, though less than two minutes long, is a poignant and heartfelt appeal to America. After listing the names of 13-year-old Seth Walsh in Tehachapi, California. Asher Brown, 13, of Cypress, Texas and 15-year-old Billy Lucas in Greensberg, Indiana, Ellen stated: “This needs to be a wake-up call to everyone: teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic in this country, and the death rate is climbing.”
Being a teenager was difficult enough, she said, without having someone attacking you.
“My heart is breaking for their families,” she said, visibly struggling to keep an even tone, “their friends and for a society that continues to let this happen. These kids needed us. We have an obligation to change this. There are messages everywhere that validate this kind of bullying and taunting and we have to make it stop. We can’t let intolerance and ignorance take another kid’s life.”
And then she got personal. “I want anyone out there who feels different and alone to know that I know how you feel. There is help out there. You can find support in your community.”
Degeneres suggested that anyone needing or just wanting someone to talk to should go to her website, where there are organizations listed that can perhaps be of service.
She concluded: “Things will get easier, people’s minds will change, and you should…” There is a noticeable catch in Ellen’s voice, but she continued after a breath: “… you should be alive to see it.”
According to a comprehensive study of teenagers in an urban environment conducted by UCLA and published in 2003, one in five adolescents were victims of bullying. Seven people out of one hundred tend to be bullies. Boys are twice as likely to be bullies and nearly twice as likely to be bullied than girls.
Jaana Juvonen, UCLA professor of psychology, said in an interview with UCLA Newsroom in 2003 that victims of bullying “are reluctant to talk about their plight.”
“Young teens who are victims of bullying are often emotionally distressed and socially marginalized,” Juvonen said, adding that they were usually “disengaged” from school as well.
The study also found that bullies were psychologically stronger than their victims, do not need an ego boost, and do not suffer from low self-esteem. Juvonen said that those involved in the study hoped to dispel that particular pervasive myth. Juvonen also noted that the victims of bullies were psychologically less strong, more prone to depression, headaches, feelings of loneliness and social anxiety, and stomach problems.
The case of Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers student and violinist attending via a music scholarship, was the extreme end result of harassment and bullying. His taking of his own life has not only seemed to be Ellen Degeneres’ tipping point with regard to what appears to be far too many young people committing suicide, but the story also seems to have touched a responsive chord in people across the nation. Many were shocked and outraged that Clementi’s roommate video-streamed him and another man having sex, “outing” him. His reaction to discovering what his roommate had done was to leave a message last week on Facebook that he was jumping from the George Washington Bridge.
Authorities found his body in the Hudson River Wednesday.
Dharun Ravi, 18, and another Rutgers student, Molly Wei, also 18, were arrested and charged with two counts of invasion of privacy.
There have been no charges filed in the cases of the other three bullied teens, nor are any expected to be filed.
Ellen Degeneres’ questions still lingers long after it registers: “How many other teens have we lost? How many others are suffering in silence?”
A list of support organizations can be found on Ellen’s talk show website.
Ellen Degeneres’ “wake up call” to America to face the bullying suicide crisis follows.