Monday, March 29, 2010

Bullied to death

The crimes involve the statutory rape of a fifteen-year-old girl, the relentless intimidation and harassment of the young victim, which finally culminated in the girl's suicide.

The perpetrators mostly targeted and attacked the girl inside a place where she should have been safe; others knew about the abuse, but did nothing, were inconsistent in their efforts, and sometimes ignored the whole thing.

A Catholic church somewhere? Another sordid tale of clergy misconduct?

No. Just scenes from an ordinary year in one of our nation's public schools:

(CNN) -- Nine Massachusetts teenagers have been charged with involvement in a months-long campaign of bullying that led to the suicide in January of a 15-year-old girl, a prosecutor said Monday.

Phoebe Prince's body was found hanging in the stairway leading to her family's second-floor apartment in South Hadley, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth D. Scheibel told reporters in the western Massachusetts town of Northampton.

"It appears that Phoebe's death on January 14 followed a torturous day for her when she was subjected to verbal harassment and physical abuse," she said.

Earlier in the day, Prince had been harassed as she studied in the library at South Hadley High School, apparently in the presence of a faculty member and several students, none of whom reported it until after the death, Scheibel said.

Prince, who had recently moved to the area with her family from Ireland, was also harassed as she walked through the halls of the school that day and as she walked on the street toward her home, Scheibel said. [...]

Though initial news reports blamed Prince's suicide on cyberbullying, Scheibel said the students' actions were "primarily conducted on school grounds during school hours and while school was in session." She said any use of electronic social networks was secondary to "commonly understood bullying methods."

The bullying of Prince was common knowledge to most of the student body and to certain faculty, staff and administrators, Scheibel said. At least four students and two faculty members had intervened during the harassment, but the school's code of conduct was inconsistently enforced, she said.

Though the faculty, staff and administrators' behavior was not deemed criminal, "the actions, or inactions, of some adults at the school are troublesome," she said.

Troublesome? Troublesome?? They're much more than that.

School bullying is an epidemic in America. We're not talking about mere teasing, either; we're talking about the kind of bullying that has involved physical and sexual abuse, that has sometimes gone on for years, that has left parents at a loss when dealing with uncaring school administrators and teachers who tend to shrug such things aside, and that sometimes, as in the case of this poor girl, led to the death of the victim.

Victims of the abuse of this kind of bullying who survive are walking wounded, who may need years of therapy to undo the damage caused by vicious little brutes who inflict physical, mental, and emotional pain on them for years with little or no intervention by the authority figures who have the power to stop the abuse.

In fact, it's not too much to say that our nation's public schools have an institution-wide tendency to sweep this sort of bullying under the rug, to pretend it doesn't exist, to lie about it, to act as though "diversity" seminars or similar efforts have "solved" the problem, and to tell parents who continue to complain that they are the troublemakers, that their son or daughter is just too sensitive or that he or she invites the bullying, and to suggest that the best option is for the parents to remove their child from the school, and explore other educational options.

How many children have been the victims of targeted bullying in their school careers? Numbers are hard to find, since lots of people don't like to admit to having been bullied or harassed by their peers in school. There is a tendency to think that the victim of bullying must be weak, a wimp, not strong enough to stand up for himself or herself.

How many bullies ever end up being punished in any real way for their bullying? Few, I suspect. It took Phoebe Prince's suicide before the bullies who were making her life a living hell were arrested--and while I think that was the right thing, I am stunned that the school administrators are not being held accountable for their failures here.

While most of the mainstream media is still busily trying to tie Pope Benedict XVI to abuse cases that are decades old, children are being harassed, threatened, attacked, beaten, assaulted, and otherwise mistreated every single day in America's public schools. And nobody even wants to talk about the problem. A case like this one will be seen as a horrifically sad anomaly, not a glaring indictment on the American public school system as a whole. It will be a nine-days' wonder, and then everyone will go back to talking about how evil the Catholic Church is for crimes that happened twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago.

Will it take fifty years for the American public school to become a safe place for parents to send their children, to know that they will not be, like Phoebe Prince was, literally bullied to death? I don't know. All I know is that somewhere in America tonight, some child, some little boy or little girl, will lie awake in the darkness of the night dreading the sunrise, because sunrise means school, and school means a catalog of horrors, again, every day, from now until what seems like forever. Maybe he or she has tried to tell Mom or Dad; maybe Mom or Dad has even seen the teacher; maybe the teacher has even talked to the class about bullying and said it won't be tolerated. But none of that matters much to the child whose stomach is in a knot of fear for those lonely, dark hours before the dawn.


Anonymous said...

"School bullying is an epidemic in America. We're not talking about mere teasing, either; we're talking about the kind of bullying that has involved physical and sexual abuse, that has sometimes gone on for years, that has left parents at a loss when dealing with uncaring school administrators and teachers who tend to shrug such things aside, and that sometimes, as in the case of this poor girl, led to the death of the victim."

An excellent point. And yet, here in Iowa, when our legislature has offered up bills to try to increase both penalties for such bullying as well as funding for training educators to better recognize the signs of bullying and react to them, it is members of the religious right that oppose such bills.

For years many people have been pushing for the adoption of such laws. I would invite you to check out the archives of the Des Moines Register to see for yourself how this has been handled in our state.

I know other states have faced similar opposition from Christian groups, including the Catholic Church, when anti-bullying laws were considered.

Having been active in getting these laws passed here in our state of Iowa, I find your argument a bit misleanding, and perhaps somewhat uninformed of the battles that are being fought state by state over this terrible issue.

I do appreciate your ongoing concern about school bullying, but could you please inform other conservatives that they should be on our side of this issue?

Anonymous said...

I don't wish to overlook the points where you and I agree on this issue, Ms. Manning. For example, here is another story regarding yet another suicide resulting from school bullying, in this case anti-gay bullying.

“He hated school,” his mother said. “They would spit in his food, call him ‘gay,’ smack him and say, ‘I can’t wait until you are six feet under!’ A lot of [the] time he would go to the counselor’s office and call me. We complained, but nothing much was done. If we had the financial means, we would have put him somewhere else.”

There's also this terrible account:

"The announcement came Saturday at a vigil for the boy, who committed suicide after continued anti-gay taunts and bullying from classmates. His death prompted an outcry that included gay clergy members holding a vigil and an ongoing investigation by the DeKalb District Attorney."

Yet in spite of these tragedies, many people -still- oppose tougher legislation.

"Speaking to about 13 people at a town hall meeting this week, Phibbs said his opponent's "aye" votes on the state's anti-bullying act and the Healthy Youth Act as evidence that Purcell supports "the homosexual agenda".

"What they are pushing for is legitimacy and special rights," the Albemarle Republican said.

The anti-bullying act – the School Violence Prevention Act – legitimizes homosexuality in the Tar Heel state, he said, as it identifies sexual orientation and gender identity on a list of criteria for differentiating characteristics in defining bullying."

"Alabama's Anti-Bullying Law Could Further Gay Agenda

Alabama schools are now required to write stricter anti-bullying policies, thanks to language in a bill that opens the door to the gay agenda."

chimakuni said...

Why not ban all bullying? Not just to those who are perceived to be "gay" - but to everyone?

Our local school district does the bullying here. The administration - the superintendent, the principal, the counselors and the teachers. And who do they bully?

The parents - and they get away with it every day, day in and day out throughout the school year. They tell us we don't know what is best for our students, we must accept their way of doing things or we are blackballed and our students along with us.

I oppose the Gay and Lesbian Clubs up at the school - I oppose young men and women being groomed for the sexual proclivities (disordered) of the homosexual community.

I have been labeled a trouble maker for opposing the very dangerous lifestyle of the gay community and for trying to keep them away from our children.

When the administration and the staff stop bullying then perhaps we can get the students to quit, too.

Anonymous said...

Such a sad story. I didn't have it quite that bad, but I certainly hated every single day of elementary school. Teen years were better - teasing still came from certain corners, but I'd made good friends and we had safety in numbers. Typical teenage angst here and there, but never anywhere near suicidal. Had I continued on the path from elementary school and not been surrounded by honors students and fellow band nerds, who knows how I would have ended up.

This is but one of many reasons that we homeschool our own kids. People tell us, "you can't protect them from everything". I say, the heck I can't! My children are REQUIRED to act lovingly toward their siblings, and their friends in our local homeschool group are kind, generous, and friendly, and nobody cares what you look like or what you're wearing.

When they are MATURE young adults, they will be able to cope with the shocking world that confronts them. Until then, I see absolutely nothing wrong with protecting them - in fact I see it as a responsibility.

As to public policy solutions for bullying in schools, that is a tough one. Tend to agree with the previous commenter, "hate crimes" laws dealing with specific types of bullying (racial, sexual, etc.) are not needed.

I wonder if it has occurred to proponents of gay youth protection that bullying is a likely CAUSE of same sex attraction disorder. When bullying is allowed, gentle and timid boys are not warmly welcomed into the world of young men. Abundant research is available, but it is often dismissed as quackery by those who want to remain in their broken state. But I believe that glorifying the disorder which results from and improper and unbalanced childhood and adolescence is not helping anyone.

chimakuni said...

We home educated our sons until they were in high school. We know we have an obligation to educate them - and part of that education is not buying into the current culture of anything goes.

They attend the public school up the road from us and we are still extremely involved in their education.

The story that I heard on CNN tonight is that the poor girl in Massachusetts, a young FRESHMAN, had had sex with a senior male football team member. He shot off his mouth, she was teased and it went from bad to worse.

Where is Planned Parenthood in all of this? They promote this type of behavior and yet, they are not even being mentioned as part of the problem.

H.L. - this situation had nothing to do with same sex attractions ... it had to do with extremely poor behavior on the part of a heterosexual male and sadly, statutory rape and eventually suicide.

Let us pray for the repose of this poor young woman's soul.

Anonymous said...

One of my children was teased and taunted in a Catholic school, and his teacher and the principal acknowledged they knew about it but didn't know what we expected them to do about it.

Bullying happens everywhere.

It happens in schools, in offices, in extra-curricular youth groups, in camps, in Churches -- everywhere and by people of all ages, races, creeds, sex and orientation directed towards similarly diverse targets.

It's not a public school v. homeschooling issue, or a public school v. religious people issue.

It's a nasty truth of human nature.

The only way to end it is to shine a light on it and confront it full-on.

Bullying flourishes in an atmosphere of fear.

Light obliterates fear.

When someone bullies your or a child in your care, you drag that bully out into the light -- you show the world who and what they are and you show the world that you will not tolerate being treated in such a way by anyone.


A. Nonymouse said...

A part of the problem is perspective. I know a boy who was knocked down and kicked by a much larger boy. By this time a teacher noticed and intervened, but not before the victim had put his hands in front of his face in defense.
The victim was suspended from school for "fighting". He was told if this happened again, he was to do nothing in his own defense, but to just wait, then report the attacker to the office.