IT WAS a simple message Cassie Whitehill brought to Singleton last week – Australia urgently needs to change its anti-bullying laws.
This Tasmanian mother of two tragically knows, more than many of us, the impact bullying can have on a person’s life.
In September last year Cassie’s 15-year-old sister Chloe Elizabeth Fergusson committed suicide.
Chloe had been subjected to prolonged and sustained verbal, physical and cyber bullying that culminated in a physical attack on her by a group of females as she alighted from her school bus in Hobart.
This attack was filmed on a mobile phone and posted on facebook. The attackers bragged they had ‘finally smashed Chloe’.
“Two days later my sister took her own life – she was our baby and she was only 15,” said the quietly spoken Cassie who was in town at the invitation of St Catherine’s Catholic College teacher Mandy Black to speak to her year nine students.
Cassie spent her time at the school speaking to the students about the impacts of bullying and her campaign to have laws changed across the country to prevent another young person like Chloe being so harmed that they feel the only way to escape the bullying is by ending their life.
Since the tragedy Cassie has spent a great deal of time on her campaign to stamp out bullying. She has established the Chloe’s Law website and facebook page, lobbied politicians about the urgent need to change laws and at the same time coped with the grief of losing her sister.
As the Chloe’s Law website says ‘In loving memory of Chloe” the youngest of eight siblings, a beautiful young woman, loving sister….our ray of sunshine with a contagious smile that managed to light up an entire room.
Cassie’s story is all the more poignant because of the fact she was not only Chloe’s eldest sister but also her principal carer. Their mother died from cancer in 2006.
“My role was a bit more complicated because I was her sister and her mother which was a wonderful experience but also requiring a delicate juggling act to play both roles,” Cassie said.
“Chloe had endured such terrible bullying that in the end our family decided to move her to another school and she appeared to be much happier.
“But the bullies were relentless and continued their campaign against her especially on social media and the final straw was the physical attack and seeing it posted on facebook.”
Cassie describes the bullying that takes place today as an epidemic adding there is no place a person can escape from theses attacks.
“You simply can’t escape. People say turn off your phone and computer but when it becomes physical and verbal as it did in Chloe’s case where can a person find refuge.
“The laws need to be changed to provide far better protection, in particular from cyber bullying, but also everyone has to learn to take responsibility for their actions.
Cassie’s message to the students was please be caring and considerate because you don’t really know everything that is happening in people’s lives.
“The day you say something harsh to a person well that might be the day they have just had some terrible news and your comments tip them over the edge, ” she said.
“Remember when you are typing a message and it appears on a screen that message has gone to a real person.”
Ms Black wanted to thankthe major sponsor for Cassie’s visit Coal & Allied and also Bulga Coal and the Charbonnier, Singleton for providing accommodation.
To visit the Chloe’s Law website: chloelaw.com.au
If you need help or counselling contact: Lifeline 131114, Kids Helpline 1800551 800, Lifelink Samaritans 1300 364 566.