At 9.16am exactly one year ago, I received a phone call.
I was just about to leave the house, but when I heard the ringing I backtracked from the front door and picked it up.
It was my husband.
“Hi, it’s me”, he said.
It only took three words, but I could tell instantly that something was wrong.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”, I said.
“Dad’s just called with some terrible news… It’s Izzy… She’s dead…”
A cold shiver went down my spine and out into every pore of my skin. I gasped loudly with the shock of it all.
“What????!!!!”, I somehow stammered out. “How?”
My mind wandered through a bank of possibilities and fixed itself on ‘car accident’. It must be that. It must be a terrible accident.
“She’s taken her own life”, he said.
“What????!!!!”, I somehow stammered out again. “That’s not possible… How?”
“She hung herself last night with her school tie”.
“Oh my god. Oh my god. That’s just not possible. Oh my god.”
“Gabbi found her”, he continued. “But we don’t know anything more than that”.
“Oh my god. Oh my god.”
We finished the phone call and hung up and I started sobbing uncontrollably.
Izzy and her mum Gabbi were very close family friends of my in-laws. Gabbi went out with my brother-in-law for a while when they were teenagers and when they split up, Gabbi stayed in close contact with my parents-in-law. She was already a single mother when she had Izzy, and my mother-in-law took them both under her wing. They were regular visitors to their home and would both come and stay almost every school holidays. My mother-in-law thought of Izzy like another grandchild.
I first met Gabbi and Izzy shortly after Doug and I met – on one of the first visits I ever made to his parents’ house. They were thinking of moving to Australia and were asking me lots of questions about where I grew up. I bonded with both of them instantly. Izzy was about seven or eight at the time and I could see instantly that she was bright, inquisitive, caring, polite and chatty.
Then they went off to Australia and I heard stories over the next few years about how much they loved it there. But it was very expensive and it was difficult without any family support, so they decided to come home.
By now Izzy was a teenager. We had some lovely conversations whenever we met up. She would always ask lots of questions about my life and she was always smiling and seemed happy in her skin. We’d had two children in the time they were away and they both loved her – especially my son.
Before school broke up last year, my mother-in-law went down to Devon to stay with them for about a month while Gabbi recovered from an operation. We were on our way to Cornwall one weekend and stopped in to see them on the way down. That was the last time we saw Izzy alive.
When my mother-in-law came back home, she mentioned that I should start preparing myself now for when my own daughter hits 14, because life with a teenage girl is certainly a bumpy one. I think that was her way of saying that Izzy was not herself and things were amiss. She mentioned that Izzy was being bullied and had been having a hard time, and that Gabbi had been in touch with the school lots of times to try and sort it out.
But none of us were prepared for what happened only a week or so into the new school year, on the night of Tuesday 17th September 2014.
She was adamant that we launch a campaign… so we put together a team, and we did. We’ve spoken to media from all around the world – TV, newspapers and radio. We’ve made sure that the poem Izzy wrote about the bullying she was suffering was published in most of the national newspapers and some magazines. We’ve rallied social media during Anti-Bullying Week, Safer Internet Day and Stop Cyberbullying Day. We’ve had celebrity support for our campaign. We’ve attended anti-bullying steering groups. We’ve watched Izzy’s story on ‘Loose Women’. We’ve raised money to build a memorial peace garden in Izzy’s memory. We’ve released balloons. We’ve targeted Ask.fm advertisers. We’ve visited the Houses of Parliament to meet with MPs. We’ve been in talks to develop a factual-based drama based on Izzy’s life. We’ve received letters from the Prime Minister. We’ve sold wristbands. We’ve engaged with bloggers. We’ve floated paper lanterns. We’ve spoken at conferences. And we’ve had a victory on our petition.
Yes, that’s right… we collected 144,851 signatures on the petition we launched to close down a social media site called Ask.fm which has been linked to the deaths of 16 teenagers after they were bullied on there.
We caused so much bad publicity for Ask.fm that the totally unrelated US company, Ask.com, started to receive bad press too by people who were confusing the two companies. So they did something about it – they bought Ask.fm last month. And they are now 100% committed to making it a safer place.
Last week I received a phone call from the US-based CEO of Ask.com, Doug Leeds, because he personally wanted to let us know all the things they are doing to tackle bullying on Ask.fm. Here are just some of the changes they’re making:
- Investing millions in moderation to deal with bullying behaviour
- Committing to respond to allegations of bullying within 24 hours
- Signing a new agreement with the US Attorney General which promises to make the site safer
- Making controls for users more prominent, so turning off anonymous comments, deleting, reporting and blocking are much easier to do
- Committing to removing users who’ve been subject to three complaints and blocking them from creating new accounts under different names
- Building internal technology to scan posts which will identify bullying patterns
- Improving ‘support’ sections of the site to educate and be more open with parents and users
- Recruiting a team of world-renowned child safety experts to sit on a ‘safety advisory board’
- Hiring a ‘Law Enforcement Liaison Officer’ for Europe and the US dedicated to working with the police
- Working with a suicide prevention organisation to address prevention issues and training staff to provide guidance to resources
- Promptly deleting the accounts of users who are proved to be under 13 years of age
We couldn’t be more thrilled by this commitment from Doug and his team.
Izzy always said she wanted to change the world, and it looks like we’re finally doing it for her.
So on this sad anniversary of her death, I’m shedding a tear for her while I remember the beautiful girl we all loved dearly and am hoping she’d be proud of all we’ve achieved in her name since she left us. And especially proud of her amazing mum, Gabbi.
Don’t bully. Love instead. Love for Izzy Dix #OneYearOn
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