By Nathalie Bonney

PATHETIC, poison and a b**ch were all words Sarah Donohue was being branded during a barrage of online abuse

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Videographer / director: Vivian Howard
Producer: Tom Midlane, Nick Johnson
Editor: Kyle Waters, Ian Phillips

Stronger: Sarah wants to help others after her ordeal

But 44-year-old year Sarah doesn’t fit the typical teenage profile of a cyber bullying victim.

As an adult, Sarah struggled to find the help she needed to deal with the abuse – and the repercussions of how it still affects her now.

She said: “When you talk about cyber bullying or just bullying, everyone presumes it’s teenagers and children and I think there are more adults getting bullied than people are aware. The reason you don’t know about it is people are too ashamed.”

Devastating: Sarah was inundated with abuse online

“I don’t think all these people knew the damage they did to me. They don’t realise that I cried morning, noon and night.”

Sarah found the abuse extra hard to understand as she runs a fitness and beauty contest, the Miss Galaxy Universe Pageant that seeks to empower its female contestants.

It was through one of the show’s contestants that the online bullying began. When a dispute arose with a contestant over her post-competition obligations, Sarah and her team got in touch to politely point out they couldn’t work with her any more. 

 

Success: Sarah is a champion powerboat racer

A barrage of online abuse by the former contestant and her mother then appeared on social media which then led to a hit squad joining in, posting hundreds of malicious and sometimes threatening messages.

Most of the people commenting and messaging Sarah hadn’t even met her.

Sarah said: “I was called narcissistic, egotistical, a b**ch, an abuser and that I isolate my victims.”

 

Ashamed: Sarah was so embarrassed by what was happening that she hid it from her mum

Sarah said: “With cyber abuse there’s nothing you can do. These people are keyboard warriors. They are in a different town, in a different city.”

Everyday Sarah would dread logging onto her computer to see what fresh poison had been injected into her inbox.

“A lot of people will say, ‘Oh you can just ignore it,’ but you can’t. It’s with you all the time. It’s going to be there on Twitter, it’s going to be there on Facebook and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”

Support: Sarah says her husband Lee helped her to beat the bullies

Sarah was so ashamed she didn’t even tell her parents what was happening to her for over a year, despite living next door to them at the time.

Her eyes red from crying, Sarah would tell her mum she had allergies instead. Patricia, 72, remembers the moment Sarah finally told her what was really happening.

She said: “I was devastated when she told me. We have always been quite close. She just sat there and told me everything it was absolutely awful – I didn’t think bullying online could go so far – or that it happened to adults.”

Training: Sarah is strong in body and in mind

Failing to find any information or support online for adult bullying victims, Sarah called the National Bullying helpline for children and teens.

She said: “I remember crouching down on the street just in a doorway and calling them. I was so upset, I just needed to talk to someone.”

The beauty pageant founder also tried contacting the police but was told they couldn’t intervene because cyber bullying is a civil rather than criminal matter.

“I thought if the police can’t stop it then what? That’s when I began to lose hope."

Sarah won't let the bullies bring her down anymore
Sarah poses at home with poerboating trophies

Deciding to seek legal action, Sarah’s lawyers took her on a no-win no-fee basis.

The cyber bullying campaign lasted nearly three months; eventually the accused agreed to cover the substantial legal costs and pay £15,000 in an out of court settlement.

However, the protracted process had devastating consequences to Sarah’s health and wellbeing and she was a shadow of her former bright and outgoing self.

Big day: Sarah cancelled her wedding but eventually found the strength to make it down the aisle

She said: “I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t get dressed during the day. Sometimes I couldn’t even be bothered getting out of bed until the afternoon. I cried all the time.”

A former European powerboat champion, who used these skills to appear as a stunt double for Angelina Jolie in The Tourist and James Bond film The World is Not Enough, Sarah had no motivation to carry on with her healthy lifestyle either.

“I didn’t really go to the gym for two years. I had nothing to give. I couldn’t focus. I’m lucky I don’t put on lots of weight but I didn’t really care what I ate either.”

Super woman: Sarah has worked on major films as a stunt double
Ripped: Sarah has competed in fitness competitions for most of her life

Feeling unsafe Sarah and then fiancé Lee even made the decision to move out of the home they loved so the cyber bullies wouldn’t know where they lived.

Sarah said: “When you read posts saying they are going to post things through your door, it’s really concerning – I didn’t feel safe.”

The strain caused by the online abuse also forced Sarah and Lee, 40, to postpone their wedding.

Eventually marrying a year later, husband Lee recalls the devastating impact the bullies had on Sarah.

Physique: Sarah is dedicated to her body
Better late than never: Sarah married Lee in a romantic beach ceremony

He said: “I’ve never seen something upset her so much - I have honestly never seen her cry before but she was just waking in the middle of the night laying in the bed next to me crying.”

Over two years since the online attacks occurred, Sarah wants to start a charity to support adult victims of cyber bullying. Having been a victim of cyber bullying Sarah understands the lasting damage it can do.

“Once you get cyber bullied nothing is the same again. I cried over it for two years, Nowadays I am more angry than upset.”