Victims in the shadows - The ever present scourge of Bullying
Clearly I remember pickin’ on the boy
Seemed a harmless little f—k
Ooo, but we unleashed a lion
Gnashed his teeth and bit the recess lady’s breast
From “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam
Grade 8 was Hell for me. 1994 is a year I’d really rather forget.
But I can’t.
Because the events of that year changed me forever and continue to impact my thoughts, actions and psychological health to this day. And according to this data:
Grade 8 is one of the WORST for incidents of bullying.
It’s easy to dismiss bullying as not important and just “something kids do” but to do so is naive and dangerous. I realize we have wars, an economic recession, a volatile political climate and all manner of other issues we’re facing right now, but it would be wrong of us to ignore what is happening in practically every school in every city in the country and beyond.
Here are some statistics from bulllyingstatistics.org:
* Over half, about 56 percent, of all students have witnesses a bullying crime take place while at school.
* A reported 15 percent of all students who don’t show up for school report it to being out of fear of being bullied while at school.
* There are about 71 percent of students that report bullying as an on-going problem.
* Along that same vein, about one out of every 10 students drops out or changes schools because of repeated bullying.
* One out of every 20 students has seen a student with a gun at school.
* Some of the top years for bullying include 4th through 8th graders in which 90 percent were reported as victims of some kind of bullying.
* Other recent bullying statistics reveal that 54 percent of students reported that witnessing physical abuse at home can lead to violence in school.
* Among students of all ages, homicide perpetrators were found to be twice as likely as homicide victims to have been bullied previously by their peers.
* There are about 282,000 students that are reportedly attacked in high schools throughout the nation each month.
Some of these facts deserve to be examined more closely. I see my own experiences in these statistics too. I changed schools because of bullying and I was also kept away from school by my parents because of bullying (Explained in more detail further down). Look at the last one. 282 000 students A MONTH. This isn’t a minor issue, it’s a serious problem.
Here’s another reason these statistics should bother us: They primarily concern only bullying incidents that have actually been noted and reported. There are many that aren’t. I can promise you that for every kid who speaks up and tries to get help, there are at least four or five who don’t (probably more).
When researching for this post I found some data that indicated school violence has actually been decreasing since 1994. That may be true, but that doesn’t mean that bullying is declining. It’s still an ever present problem on the schoolyard.
It’s tough to describe to someone the true reality of dealing with a severe bullying situation, but here’s an analogy I developed for another bullying essay I wrote:
Imagine yourself sitting at a table in a relatively busy fast food restaurant. There’s plenty of people and activity around. Now imagine you know all the people in the restaurant and it’s clear they don’t like you and would rather you not be there, but it’s not easy for you to just get up and leave.
Imagine you are practically paralyzed out of fear because you know they want to do something to hurt you and probably will do something. You just don’t know exactly when or how.
Now imagine they start throwing food at you. Or one of them walks past and ‘accidentally’ spills a drink on you. Another grabs your tray of food and throws it in the trash. A third tries to smear ketchup and mustard all over your hair.
As this is going on there are other people watching, including several restaurant employees, the restaurant manager and a uniformed police officer.
Imagine none of them is doing anything to help. They are just watching silently, not saying or doing anything to stop what is happening. They are refusing to get involved in any way.
Now imagine you had to eat at the same restaurant and put up with the same abuse practically every day for a year.
Now you know what it was like being me.
That probably makes it sound like I was pretty helpless huh? No doubt you’re asking ‘Why didn’t he get help? Why didn’t he fight back? Why didn’t he do something?’
I’m not an idiot. I did do something, I did try to get help and yeah, there were even a few times I fought back. You get punched in the face repeatedly and it’s just a matter of time before you start returning the favor. Am I proud of that? Not particularly, but I refuse to stand by and allow myself to be subject to abuse when it’s not necessary. Everyone needs to understand there are consequences to their actions.
Having said that, let me make one thing very clear: I do not condone school violence.
There’s a huge difference between returning a punch from someone that hit you first and barging through the school with pistols firing at whatever happens to be in your way.
It doesn’t help much of anything either. It’d be like beating up a store manager because of a customer service issue. It might make you feel better in the short term but ultimately it doesn’t solve the issue nor help address its cause.
So you can better understand where I’m coming from on this issue, here’s a brief summary of some of the bullying incidents that happened to me at age 13:
- Knocked down a flight of stairs while in a cast and on crutches from a broken leg
- Beat up in a park and had a brand new denim jacket written all over with permanent marker
- Wedgied in front of a locker at the end of a school day, hundreds of eyewitnesses
- Hung by my belt off a fence post during recess. Again with hundreds of eyewitnesses (I couldn’t get off by myself, a fellow student had to help me off)
- Slammed into a brick wall (repeatedly)
- Prank called mercilessly
- Chased away from a local shopping mall
- Punched in the head DURING a class (the teacher at least handled the situation quickly)
And beyond that, there was daily, relentless abuse. My own mother commented how she saw my body tense up when we pulled up to the school every morning. It’s rather sad when a 13 year old gets to a point where he wishes the next day wouldn’t even come, because then he wouldn’t have to go to school.
Now you might be wondering: “Why didn’t he get help from somewhere?”
It wasn’t for lack of trying. Well ok, it was at first, but eventually I couldn’t bury it any longer and I told my parents what was happening and they tried to get me help. Four times. FOUR TIMES they and I sat in the Vice Principals office and told him what was happening. I don’t know if he did anything to try to help me, but I seriously doubt it. If he actually did, it didn’t do one bit of good.
I did have a few teachers that were supportive of me, but everyone knows the ratio of students to staff at schools is usually at least 25:1 if not more. They just couldn’t protect me all the time and they couldn’t do anything when the abuse spilled off school property, which it regrettably did.
Recently I watched an A&E documentary on the Columbine shootings. It followed a team of doctors and scientists as they attempted to better understand the two shooters psychological condition and tried to explain why they did what they did. It was rather scary how much of myself I saw in those two kids. The only difference was that I was more rational and self-disciplined.
Could I picture myself shooting up the school? Absolutely. Why? Simple.
I thought it was the only way to stop the abuse. I had tried everything and nothing was working. All I wanted was to not be scared anymore, all I wanted was for them to leave me alone. I know a shooting would not have necessarily accomplished that, but in my state of mind at the time it seemed like a reasonable enough option. Having stated that, let me say again I do NOT condone school violence, but I do somewhat understand the mindset of those who commit such acts.
Of course there was one other way out I could have taken. The same way out that far too many young people take…
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year, according to the CDC. For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Over 14 percent of high school students have considered suicide, and almost 7 percent have attempted suicide.
It’s no secret that bullying is a direct factor in many suicides amongst young people. Did I contemplate suicide? Yep. Knife through the wrists. I chose this method because I had easy access to knives. A single steak knife from the kitchen would get the job done. To this day I don’t really know why I didn’t go through with it but I think it had something to do with the fact that I knew if I did I would be giving the bullies exactly what they wanted: My complete and total destruction.
So I decided not to let them have the satisfaction. I stuck it out that whole year. My parents kept me out of school for the final two weeks of the year (I already had my grades in place and was assured of passing) to get me out of the torture chamber.
Unfortunately bullying victims today often have it even rougher than I did 17 years ago. One of the reasons for that is the advent of cyberbullying.
Here are some stats on cyberbullying
* About 42 percent of kids have been bullied while online with one in four being verbally attacked more than once.
* There are about 35 percent of kids who have been threatened online.
* About 58 percent of kids and teens have reported malicious name calling, rumors, or slanderous comments have been made about them behind their back, to their face or directed at them online.
* Other bullying suicide statistics show that about 77 percent of students have admitted to being the victim of one type of bullying or another.
* The American Justice Department bullying suicide statistics show that one out of ever 4 kids will be bullied sometime throughout their adolescence.
* 46 percent of males and about 26 percent of females have admitted to being victims in physical fights as reported in one report of bullying suicide statistics by the Bureau of Justice School.
The internet barely existed in pop culture in 1994. There was no Facebook, there were no smartphones and there were no Ipods. I do not doubt that if these things were around when I was being bullied there’s a very good chance I may not be here writing this today.
Cyberbullying is a difficult animal to deal with. Oftentimes the source can be tough to trace and, if the police get involved it can be tough to prosecute, mainly because a lot of bullying/harassment laws are not written in a way that makes them applicable to cyberbullying. Some states (like Texas for example) are considering new laws designed to specifically combat this problem, but as is often the case, the technoloy is moving far faster than the wheels of justice.
A lot of cyberbullying occurs on social media sites like Facebook, Myspace and now Twitter. Unfortunately these sites are often less than stellar when it comes to reacting to cyberbullying and removing offending content. Consider this case from Britain:
MOTHER NICOLA HOUGHTON CONTINUES WHERE DAUGHTER LEFT OFF ON FACEBOOK
Houghton (18) was instrumental in terrorizing Emily Moore after a four year hate campaign starting when she was 14 and Emily Moore was 13. With her cronies Keely Houghton chose Emily Moore as her punching bag and target for hatred. Houghton, (now that she has finally served more than school detention for her crimes!) her friends and family should do well to keep in mind that the next stop on her criminal path could well end up being “detained at her Majesty’s pleasure,” and not in a youth offender facility. They might well join her there.
Since Keely Houghton heard the proverbial bars clanged behind her arse, her mother, Nicola Houghton, has taken up her daughter’s harrassing causes and created a “club” called “Keeley Is Not A Bully.”
Although she claims to be “clearing her daughter’s name” what she has done is far different. Her chance to clear Keely’s name was in court, and obviously, the judge didn’t buy it.
This “club” (dripping sarcasm here!) to “protect Keely’s honour” is garnering support messages for Keely Houghton, but the site viciously and nastily accuses Emily Moore of lying.
Despite complaints to Facebook administrators, the site remained.
And more on the case:
Emily Moore “While it’s there, I worry all the time. Is there to be no end to this? Bullying usually ends when you leave school, but with Facebook it feels as if there is no end.”
“I looked at the comments and some of them are really nasty, asking why she’s in prison and who do I think I am. It’s indescribably horrible and upsetting to have to read this, especially after everything I’ve been through. And yet still Facebook does nothing about it.”
Keely Houghton was convicted and sentenced to a youth offenders institute for 3 months. “Keeley is likely to serve only six weeks of her term & has a a five-year restraining order preventing any contact.”
In my opinion another it’s become difficult to effectively curb bullying behavior for a number of reasons, but a cenrtal one is the lack of strict enough penalties for bullies either under the law or school policy. In most cases harassment is considered a misdemeanor and carries a maximum sentence of five years or less. Like with cyberbullying laws, several states are attempting to redraw harassment legislation to provide for stiffer penalties, but it’s a slow battle. Here’s a sobering story where kids who bullied a girl to the point of suicide will likely not see a day behind bars:
According to prosecutors on Wednesday, two classmates of a high school freshman who hanged herself in the stairwell of her family’s apartment have pleaded guilty to charges of criminal harassment, but other charges – which were more serious – were dropped and neither will serve any jail time.
Sean Mulveyhill and Kayla Narey pleaded guilty in Hampshire Superior Court in connection with what officials classify as the systematic bullying of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide on Jan.14, 2010. She had been teased and ridiculed for weeks so consistently and viciously it drove her to taking her own life, court documents stated.
The day she took her life she endured constant verbal torture which began in the school’s library and continued as she walked home in tears, according to reports.
And another tidbit from further in the story:
On the day she died, Prince was ridiculed and berated in the South Hadley High School library. The torture continued as she walked home. One of the students called Prince names and tossed a can at her as they drove by in a car. By 4:55 that afternoon, Prince had hanged herself in the apartment stairwell where she and her family lived in South Hadley.
That can incident brings back unsettling memories for me. During my time being bullied, I was once pelted with rock-loaded snowballs while walking home one day. Thankfully I wasn’t seriously injured, but I did get bruised up nicely.
Unfortunately the outlook for today’s victims of bullying is not all that positive. School systems around the country and around the developed world are dealing with decreases in funding and resources, driven by the economic downturn:
Across the nation, fewer education dollars are translating into larger class sizes, program eliminations, and the possibility of a 4-day school week.
The next generation could well be the most uneducated generation in American history at a crucial point in the nation’s future. Although critics have argued for several years that the U.S. educational system needed immediate reforming, current economic trends, resulting in severely trimmed budgets, are changing the face of education. Sadly, the only governmental measure of public schools remains in the No Child Left Behind initiatives that require funding and intense data keeping. This cannot be done without revenue.
It’s pretty obvious that if they are having trouble find resources for their core programs, they aren’t going to be focusing much on bullying. Overworked teachers and administrators aren’t going to worrying about it as much either.
Here’s another article discussing the impact of the recession on school funding and resources. The reality is evident. Bullying victims have a tough road ahead.
There’s no magic bullet for bullying and it’s a highly prevalent problem. I believe the first responsibility must lie with the parents. They need to educate their kids that bullying is wrong. Unfortunately many bullies come from a difficult home life which forces them to take their aggression out on someone else.
We must stand as a society and say this is NOT right. Despite the issues impacting us today, we cannot afford to push our children and our future into the background under the misguided assumption that those things will take care of themselves.
If you’re still with me, I thank you for reading all of this and hope you may have learned a thing or two. This is an issue very dear to my heart (for obvious reasons) that I feel too often is simply brushed aside as unimportant.
Nothing could be further from the truth.