A RECOVERING anorexic, plagued by cyber bullies, has overcome years of depression to pursue a career as a model.
Harriet Knock, from Hartland, wants her story of beating the bullies, depression and eating disorder to inspire others.
The 17-year-old, ex-Bideford College student, got so low that she was prescribed anti-depressants and received counselling at The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service in Barnstaple.
“The cyber bullying started when I was about 14. There was no particular reason why they chose me. I think they just needed someone to bully and I was there,” said Harriet.
The bullying included comments on Facebook about Harriet’s weight – they said things like “best not eat another meal” and called her “chubster”.
“I began to feel low about myself, my appearance, I had no confidence and that’s when skipping meals started,” said Harriet.
Harriet’s weight plummeted to six-and-a-half stone and she almost had to be put into an eating disorder clinic but the counselling and support from her mum, Sarah, helped her through.
“It was terrible, absolutely awful to see my daughter go through what she did,” said Sarah.
“There were times I didn’t want to leave her alone and if I did, I was constantly ringing her and checking she was OK.”
Harriet said: “The thing with cyber bullying is that it is out on a public arena for all to see and it is impossible for people to monitor.
“But I want people to know that you can get through it and I am proof of that.”
Harriet no longer takes anti-depressants or needs counselling and is now pursuing modelling as a hobby for now, but hopefully a career in the future.
“Having suffered from such low self-esteem and confidence, the modelling has given me something to focus on.
“The cyber bullying has started again but I feel like I can deal with it all now. I just want to say to people out there who are dealing with the same thing, talk to someone, get help.
“Now I have overcome this at such a young age, I feel like I will be able to tackle, not everything, but a lot of things thrown at me in the future.”
Veronica Matthews, principal of Bideford College said: “Cyber bullying is the downside of social media – where people of any age can get carried away with the need to respond quickly and, sometimes, without thinking or caring too much about what is said or the impact it might have on others.
“We run a series of assemblies and lessons about staying safe online; we also make sure that they understand that actions in the virtual world might have consequences in the real world.
“We emphasise that you shouldn’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say to someone face to face. Our computer systems are set up in such a way that social media sites cannot be accessed from school.
“Within college, we inform our students about it as well as protect them from it. We have provided information leaflets and run workshops to help parents provide the same level of protection out of school hours.
“We also make sure that students know what can happen and what to do to avoid it. We encourage them to tell someone as soon as they see it and not to respond as, with any form of bullying, it is the response that keeps the bully interested and encourages them to carry on doing it.”
A Devon and Cornwall police spokesman said: “Although we cannot police the internet and social media sites, if incidents are reported to us we will provide advice and often refer the caller to the relevant social media company.
“However, if a crime has clearly been committed we will investigate as far as possible in order to bring the perpetrator to justice.
“Such cases would include a campaign of harassment, malicious communication and incidents of hate crime.”
What is cyber bullying?
Cyber bullying is any form of bullying which takes place online or through your mobile phone.
This can include abusive comments across social media, threatening emails or malicious text messages.
There is a lot you can do to protect yourself online and get abusive material removed quickly – social networking sites have advice on how to do this.
However, if the comments are threatening, or you are being blackmailed online in anyway, take a print screen of the abuse before you delete the message or comments so you can report the incident to the police.
With any text messages or voicemails, make sure you keep a record of them so you can report them to the police.