“Did you hear about the 12-year-old girl in Georgia who livestreamed her suicide?”
It took me a moment to grasp the question a church member had just asked me. Wait, what? My brain whirled trying to accept the concept. This was a passing question in the hallway of my church one Sunday morning.
Now, being the youth director at my church I frequently receive shocking information about young people and am asked to get involved. But there was something about this question that hit me differently—something that has left me with a terrible churning in my gut for the past few days.
This instance isn’t the only livestreaming violence we’ve seen, and it’s not even the most recent. In the past week or so, the internet has been scandalized by a man who streamed a murder on Facebook Live and the committed suicide a few days later. This presents an unprecedented problem, one that the world is facing all together and all at the same time.
Perhaps as you have come across these stories, and you have had the same question I do: In an age and culture where people can kill themselves and stream it live on social media—what do we do? Is there anything we can do?
I wonder how many other adults out there feel that same gnawing in their gut—yet are also perplexed with a runner-up emotion of bewilderment in how to even reach someone like Katelyn Nichole Davis. I am hoping that together we can find ways to reach the one young person who maybe, just maybe, is within each of our own realms of influence.
Perhaps together, we can be the outstretched arm of Christ to the literal tens of thousands of kids in America who face harrowing situations. But to do that, we must understand the stories of these children. To do that, we are brought back to Katelyn.
Katelyn was a middle schooler from Polk County, Georgia. From her YouTube channel she revealed her struggles about physical and sexual abuse from those who should have protected her. She also indicated that there were situations of bullying in her peer circles. Additionally, it appears that she was told by multiple people who had influence in her life, including an abuser, to go and “hang herself.”
She did just that on December 30 during a 45-minute livestream in which she shared her reasons, prepared materials and then went through with her plan. Although I have personally been unwilling to watch the video, commenters of various blogs have reported that even during this video she was receiving derogatory messages and instructions to keep going through with it because she was “worthless.”
It makes me physically ill to know this is the reality of a child.
It brings me back to the question, “What do we do?”
In Katelyn’s story, there is little we can do. Authorities are now left with an investigation. There are debates on whether the video should have been removed or not based on the girl’s wish to have a voice, free speech and “journalism.” This article, however, is not that debate. Most of the pages I viewed in order to understand Katelyn’s story had dozens of comments, and to be honest, many of those comments are equally sickening. Which brings me to the actions each of us can uphold. I believe it begins with this:
Have the right conversation.
When a child is hurt or hurting—keep the conversation focused on providing help, not pushing a personal aside. I understand comments of other victims who are sharing their own experiences. They are seeking their own voice and to find a way through their own healing and restoration. I get this. To an extent, I see that as healthy conversation.
What is not healthy is to use this girl’s pain and blame her, use ugly and derogatory language about her, to shame her, to re-victimize her with your own anger, disgust or ignorance of depression, anxiety, suicidal thought, neglect or abuse. Adding such demoralizing judgment only keeps other victims shamed into silence—never reaching out over fear that you would do the same towards them. Even if other victims aren’t silenced—your actions are just cruel. It isn’t kind. It doesn’t exemplify Christ. It “kills and destroys.” If you choose to add your voice to the discussion, let it be out of kindness, gentleness and a resolve to aid the vulnerable.
Raise Awareness—in yourself.
In a social media world, it seems as if “raising awareness” is a key phrase for every cause. I am not against this. It’s good for us to understand how to provide help and assistance in a variety of complex issues. Yet when it comes to child abuse or suicide prevention—I believe we need to go beyond just knowing a problem exists toward gaining skilled knowledge, especially if we have regular influence over kids.
And for the record, that doesn’t mean this responsibility is only for youth pastors, teachers and coaches. If you are a parent, your children have friends who may need you to look out for them. If you work in any job that deals with children, families, schools, hospitals, sports or community involvement—there is a good chance you have already come in contact with a child who could be looking for someone to listen. If you ever open up your home or office to have children interact with you or your family—you need to know what to look for.
But learning what to look for is the scary part. How do I know what to look for? What if I am wrong? These are all legitimate thoughts I have had and many of us have. That is why I implore you to raise awareness in yourself first. Attend a community workshop, call your local Child Protective Services chapter (many states require each county to have one) and ask to be registered for the next class.
Yes, it will take a Saturday morning to attend. Yes, it won’t be convenient. Yes, it’s a commitment. But I guarantee you if you invest in this training, you will be more confident to make a call if you ever need to. But before you ever pick up a phone, you will need to understand why it’s so important and how to legally proceed. Increase your awareness to a level of confident, skilled knowledge. A child’s life that you know could actually depend on this.
Pursue Intentional Kindness.
There is something to be said about diligently and intentionally seeking out opportunities to be appropriately involved in the life of children. Many young people would benefit from someone actively pursuing intentional kindness toward them.
This is where it gets messy—because many children are difficult, especially the ones who desperately need adult guidance. They do not always have social cues, might be hidden in layers of aggression, anxiety or depression or could resist adult interactions because they withdraw out of self-preservation. It might only be through pursuing intentional kindness that will admittedly test your patience, try your nerves and make you have to choose love instead of feel it, that will lead toward conversations that matter.
In all of these matters, the end goal is not that each one of us can make phone calls or disrupt children’s lives. I take grave care and concern in all borderline cases that come through my door. I don’t hunt for perpetrators. I don’t troll for abusers. But I do actively and intentionally seek to have the right conversations, raise awareness in myself and pursue intentional kindness.
It’s why I started my own response videos that any of my students can watch for themselves or their friends so they know at least one adult is on their side. It’s why I am frequently found at our local café, mentoring girls. It’s why I write and share these thoughts.
I truly believe that each of us can challenge ourselves with these three goals within our own realm of influence and be agents of change, hopefully being the outstretched arm of Christ to any young person with a similar story as Katelyn before they make a harmful decision.
If you suspect a child is being harmed, please call The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).