‘Slenderman stabbings’ blur the line between online and real worlds

May 31st of this year marked one of the most tragic and shocking stories of the dangers of technology amongst children and teens. The case, now known as the Slenderman stabbing, occurred earlier this year when two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha County, Wisconsin attempted to stab a classmate to death in order to please an online fictional character known as Slenderman.

Following a sleepover, the Wisconsin pre-teens lured their friend to the nearby woods of a local park, and stabbed her 19 times in the arms, legs and torso. After being abandoned by the perpetrators, the victim managed to crawl out of the woods to a roadside where she was discovered by a cyclist.

The victim spent a week in hospital, was released to recover further at home and was able to start the school year in September. Doctors noted how lucky the girl was to survive, as the stabbings nearly hit one of her major arteries. The two girls responsible are set to be charged as adults for first-degree attempted homicide and are currently undergoing competency hearings to assess whether they can stand trial.

According to investigators, the murder was the result of the two girls attempting to impress Slenderman, a fictional character popular on numerous Internet forums and the website Creepypasta. Slenderman is depicted as a tall, thin, faceless man in a black suit who features in numerous online horror stories and is known for abducting, traumatising and hurting children.

Dr. Laura Davies, an adolescent psychiatrist based in California, notes the role mental illness likely played in the Wisconsin Slenderman case, a position also held by one of the girls’ defence lawyers, Anthony Cotton, who stated his client has “mental health issues.” Davies, who has not treated either of the girls, noted the possibility that a delusional disorder, known as folie à deux, in which one individual loses track of reality and pulls others into a fictitious world, may have afflicted girls. The line between fantasy, delusion and psychosis is blurred here, complicated tremendously by the unsupervised online world in which the girls were involved.

Less than two weeks after the Wisconsin stabbing, a similar incident occurred in Ohio, this time when a 13-year-old girl attempted to kill her mother in their family home. The attack, which the teenager had been planning for months, was again an effort to appease Slenderman, which her mother only discovered after returning from hospital and going through her daughter’s belongings. The girl, who has a mental health disorder, is currently being held in a detention centre and will be charged as a juvenile.

While stories such as these are relatively uncommon, the fact that they occur at all is of concern, as are their common ties to a dark online world to which children have access. According to Donna Hughes, President and CEO of the non-profit Enough is Enough, which was founded to help make the Internet safer for kids and families, the problem is one of supervision—or rather, a lack thereof. As children spend so much of their time online, it is crucial, she stated, to monitor how they spend that time and which sites they visit. Both the Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack and the superintendent of the Waukesha School district urged parents to be aware of what their kids were looking at online and be vigilant about their online and Internet safety.

To learn more about how to make the internet safer for you and your family, visit Enough is Enough: http://www.internetsafety101.org/internetsafety101.htm