Bullying alleged following female firefighter’s death

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This is so sad.

There’s no other way to put it.

Last week, a search and rescue effort in Shenandoah National Park ended in the worst possible way. Searchers found the body of missing Virginia firefighter-paramedic Nicole Mittendorf, who had been missing for several days. Published reports indicate she committed suicide. She was just 31.

Alleged Cyber-Bullying Surfaces

Although authorities found a note, it is unlikely its contents will ever be released to the media or general public. So at this point Mittendorf’s reasons for taking her own life remain unknown. And at this point, no one can say if the three-year veteran of Fairfax, Virginia’s fire and rescue services knew about an apparent online campaign against her and other women in her line of work.

News about the apparent cyber-bullying sparked outrage following Mittendorf’s death.

“It was pretty raunchy. It was raunchy. It was offensive. It was disrespectful. It was ridiculing,” retired federal government worker and Fairfax County resident Jane McKinley said in an article on firechief.com. “I was alarmed and wanted to let the public know that there was this blog out there that was defaming these female firefighters and medics, not only Nicole but others as well.”

According to various media accounts, the sexist posts were anonymous. Needless to say that has prompted considerable speculation about who engaged in the activity and the matter is now the subject of an official investigation.

You’d Think We’d Know Better

When it comes to Internet bullying — or any bullying for that matter — the emphasis is on protecting our kids. And rightly so. But sadly, bullying doesn’t end when school does.

Irrespective of what form it takes or whether it was a factor in this case, there is no doubt that adult bullying is also pervasive in American society. You can read a comprehensive post about the issue here.

Another post on nobullying.com focuses specifically on cyber-bullying by adults. The information found there includes a definition of the activity and characteristics of those who engage in it. Not surprisingly, the first trait these cowards have in common is that they enjoy the anonymity the Internet provides. Other traits include:

  • Accessibility: The cyber bully can approach his victim at any time over the Internet; since the contact is not physical or face-to-face, there is no specific time during which the bully has access.

• Punitive Fears: Victims often fear retaliation from their tormentors; and if the victim is a child, the fear of losing the accessibility of a computer or other technology is a prohibitive factor.

• Bystanders: Bystanders to bullying in the cyber world can be numerous, as the information can be sent via email, cell phones, social media, and other means of technology.

• Disinhibition: The anonymity of the Internet can encourage an individual to commit acts they might not otherwise attempt in person. It affords “false courage” when the bully thinks he can’t be identified.

The post also provides detailed information about another type of cyber-bullying known as “trolling.”

Been There, Survived That

Alexandra Bogdanovic
Founder/owner of In Brief Legal Writing Services, Alexandra Bogdanovic. Photo by N. Bogdanovic

Thankfully I’ve never been targeted online. But I dealt with workplace bullies throughout my newspaper career and I was bullied in school.

A couple of boys made my life miserable for most of my elementary school years. I finally put an end to it in fifth grade. By that time I had been taking judo lessons for a couple of years and when one of the bullies picked a playground fight, I literally kicked his butt. Not that I’m advocating violence — but it worked.

In middle school the bullying started all over again — and this time it was even worse. The bullies were rich, pretty, thin, teenage girls. And they were relentless. I tearfully called my mother at work every day. My schoolwork suffered. My self-esteem was in the tank. I am not exaggerating when I say that those were the worst years of my whole entire life.

Thankfully everything changed in high school. That’s when I started covering school sports for our local newspaper. The popular girls wanted to see their name in print. So let’s just say they were really nice. And I got the last word.

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