Sitting in front of an email inbox full of messages from strangers, Kate Everett has to steel herself before she starts opening them. It’s become an almost daily occurrence and the contents of some messages still shock her.
The letters are stories of bullying and cyberbullying. They come from parents, kids, grandparents and teachers from all over Australia.
“Many are quite devastating. They bring tears to our eyes,” Kate says. “Kindergarten kids through to Year 12. We were unprepared for the number of stories we heard. It’s devastating to realise this has become a culture in society.”
Even more devastating is the reason people feel impelled to write to the Everetts.
Kate and her husband Tick have been through the unimaginable tragedy of losing their 14-year-old daughter, known as Dolly. In January 2018 she took her own life following a prolonged campaign of bullying against her. “The bullying started when Dolly went to boarding school as a 12-year-old,” Kate remembers.
The family who live in the Northern Territory sent Dolly to a prestigious boarding school in Queensland for the best chance of an education. “She changed during her two years at school,” Kate says. “We thought some of it was her age and that adolescent time.”
But in reality, Dolly was facing an onslaught of abuse, much of which her parents only discovered after her death.
“She told me that boys were calling her a slut – she was 12,” Kate says. “I don’t even know whether 12-year-olds know what that means, but they shouldn’t.
“I used to tell her: ‘It will get better, you’ll fit in. Everybody’s trying to fit in and they’re just working out their pecking order. Try not to be mean.’”
But over the two years Dolly battled with fitting in. The school dismissed Kate’s concerns as a “bit of rough and tumble” in the playground and “not a massive issue”.
“At one time she wanted to leave school but then was determined to go back to school after the Christmas break [in 2017],” Kate remembers. “She made us believe she was strong enough to face the problem and deal with it.” If only they’d known, but tragically they only discovered the extent of the problem too late.
Following a very normal evening on January 3, in which Dolly made her signature dish of potato salad, coleslaw and steak for the family, Dolly and her sister Meg went to bed at 9pm. But later that evening, her horrified parents found Dolly dead – their daughter had taken her own life.
“There was nothing we could do,” Tick told A Current Affair. “It’s the most horrible thing you, anybody, any parent ... you just, you should never have to do that.”
Horrifyingly, given their remote location, it took three-and-a-half hours for help to arrive.
“I actually just laid with her for hours,” Kate said. “Cuddled up with her for hours and I just made a promise to her that this wouldn’t be in vain ... that I was so, so sorry that I hadn’t made better decisions.
“There was nothing I could do to save her. I don’t know if anyone thinks this is the answer to their problems, it’s not. It just gives them to somebody else.
“She had so much to live for,” Kate continued.
“I wish she could see herself through my eyes and not through the eyes of the people who made her feel like that.”
In the days and weeks that followed the Everetts discovered Dolly’s tormentors got to her in every way possible. “There was verbal bullying with name calling, insults and accusations. There was physical bullying at school and cyberbullying online, which followed Dolly home,” Kate tells New Idea.
“We have obviously spent long nights thinking about ‘what if’ … but we don’t have many answers. There was clearly so much we didn’t know … Dolly put on a brave face, I guess not wanting to disappoint.”
As Dolly’s story hit the media, people started reaching out to the Everetts for help and advice. Some wanted to offer support, others were at their wit’s end. It seemed Dolly’s story had touched a nerve and now, a year on, Kate and Tick’s pledge not to let it all be in vain is coming to a head with an awareness and fundraising Do It For Dolly Day on May 10.
“It will be whatever people want it to be on the day,” says Kate. “That might be to do a fundraising activity, schools might have a ‘wear it blue for Dolly’ day, we will release more support material for parents.”
Above all Kate and Tick want the day to trigger conversations and for families to work on what they can do to be safer and kinder online.
“We are committed to make sure that Dolly’s legacy will be an improved environment for all the other Dollys in the world,” Kate says.
WATCH! Dolly Everett's parents awarded Australia’s Local Heroes of the Year
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 131114 or www.lifeline.org.au
For more information about Do It For Dolly Day, click here
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