Cyberbullying victim puts past behind her

March 25, 2014

By Christina Corrales-Toy

The lewd images and messages scrawled across her daughter’s Facebook page in 2011 still burn bright in Issaquah resident Tara Cote’s memory.

In a case that made national headlines, then 12-year-old Leslie Cote was the victim of cyberbullying, as two classmates hacked into her social media page and posted altered photos, including one with “I’m a slut” superimposed on it.

Two Issaquah girls, who also used the site’s instant messaging service to act as Leslie to proposition boys for sexual acts, were charged with cyberstalking and first-degree computer trespassing.

The Cote family asked media outlets to name Leslie, then a student at Issaquah Middle School, as the victim in an effort to bring awareness to cyberbullying.

It was the right decision, Tara said, but the three years since the March 18 incident haven’t always been easy.

“It was hard, let me tell you,” she said.

 

Getting past the anger

The summer immediately after the March 2011 incident was a rough one for Leslie, Tara said, especially because one of the girls lived in the same apartment complex.

“It was hard to overcome, because she wouldn’t leave our apartment,” Tara said of her daughter. “All summer long, your kids want to go outside and play. She wouldn’t.”

It’s been hard on the family, too, Tara said, watching Leslie go through that pain.

Flash forward three years, and Leslie, now a freshman at Issaquah High School, said she’s put the past behind her.

“Yeah, I don’t pay much attention to that anymore,” she said of the stress caused by living in the same complex as one of the girls. “It’s the past and we’ve moved on.”

One of the girls received a suspended sentence, requiring her to stay out of trouble for six months, attend counseling and perform 20 hours of community service. The Juvenile Court Diversion Committee ordered the other to complete community service.

Leslie said she’s not angry with the girls anymore, but it has taken her some time to get to that point.

“At first, you have anger, you’re upset and you have rage, but now I think she feels more sorry for them,” Tara said.

 

Classes together

After the incident, the girls never had class together at the middle school, and one even moved away to a different school. Leslie also received court-ordered no-contact provisions against each of the girls, though Tara said she was unsure if one or both of the orders are still in effect.

The Cotes knew the three girls would attend Issaquah High School this past fall, but with a school that large, they couldn’t imagine Leslie would be in any classes with them.

But Leslie has classes with both of them, and in one of them, she sits right next to one of the girls. It’s something that gives Tara anxiety, knowing how close Leslie is to the two girls.

“It gives me chills just thinking about it,” she said.

Lorraine Michelle, the Issaquah School District’s director of communications, said in an email she could not speak about specific students due to federal privacy laws, but added that in general, high school class lists are computer generated.

Middle schools do communicate to the high schools about incoming freshman students both academically and socially, though, she said.

“The goal is always to help students have the best transition from middle school to high school as possible,” she wrote. “If there is an ongoing situation, current court order, or continued behavioral problems or concerns at the middle school at the end of eighth grade, then those would be communicated to the high school.

“However, in cases where an issue perhaps came up in sixth or seventh grade, but had been worked through and resolved, and there were no continuing problems with a student or group of students, that information would not be communicated to a high school.”

On the first day of classes, Leslie said she thought it would be hard to be in the same room as the girls, but despite her mother’s ongoing concerns, she hasn’t felt the need to take it up with a school counselor or teacher.

“I guess you could talk to the teacher and say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable’ sitting next to this person, but then again, it’s not like I’m afraid,” she said.

If any student reported to the school that they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, then “steps would be taken to remedy the situation,” Michelle wrote.

 

‘We’ve moved on’

Leslie is enjoying high school much more than middle school so far, she said. It has forced her to come out of her shell a bit and meet new people.

Many of her new friends don’t even know about the cyberbullying incident.

“It’s not something I want to just share with everyone,” she said. “We’ve moved on.”

She hasn’t experienced any negative cliques at the school, and she said she is adamant she won’t change herself just to fit in with a particular group.

“That’s what I’m doing, all my friends, we go with what we are and we accept the differences between all of us,” she said.

She participates in choir, is a member of the junior varsity tennis team and a few of her teachers recently awarded Leslie for her exemplary work ethic and leadership.

With all that she’s been through, Leslie has inadvertently become a soundboard for peers seeking advice about everything from breakups to bullying, Tara said.

When it comes to advice about bullying, Leslie said she always tells people there’s no shame in telling an adult about it.

“If you’re able to try to get help early, it’s best to talk to somebody instead of holding it in,” she said.

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