Bullying is not a new topic, but from what I’ve read, it’s harder to escape from than when I was in school. I’ve been following, with sadness, the story of a 12-year-old girl in Florida who killed herself after being bullied online. The girl, according to an article by the Associated Press, “was tormented online and at school by as many as 15 girls” before she jumped to her death. She tried to escape it by being home schooled, then switching to another school. It wasn’t enough. The bullying continued online. Two girls have been charged in the case with third-degree aggravated stalking. It doesn’t undo what’s already been done, and now a young girl is gone forever and a family is suffering from an inconsolable loss. And it’s not an isolated incident. Included in the article was this finding: “In a review of news articles last month, AP found about a dozen suicides in the U.S. since October 2010 that were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying.”
Closer to home, an article by the Burlington Hawk Eye and picked up by the AP states that last year, 55 incidents of bullying were reported in the Burlington School District. Similarly sized school districts in Iowa were contacted for the number of bullying incidents reported. Ottumwa was the only respondent, with 19. The article continued on, using numbers from an earlier database that used information that was collected between 2007 and 2012 on Iowa districts’ annual Basic Educational Data Survey. In that time period, Ottumwa reported 592 incidents, 63 percent of which were founded (meaning “proven to a degree disciplinary action could be taken”). If I did the math correctly, that works out to about 373 incidents in a five-year period. That averages out to 74-75 incidents per year. I’m glad to see the number decrease last year, but 19 is still too high.
When I was in junior high, bullying wasn’t really on the radar, b ut that didn’t stop it from happening. It happened to me. One day, for no reason that I knew of or saw (and still don’t to this day), a group of girls started to “pick on” me. I tried to stay out of their way and would go into a corner and sit by myself during recess. That didn’t stop them. They sought me out and continued to taunt me. In a way, I was lucky, at least compared to today’s victims. When I left school, I was left alone. But that didn’t mean the hurt, the confusion, the insecurity, the isolated feelings were gone. I thought about asking my parents if I could switch to one of the private schools in town, but in a year and a half, I would have been back in the same school as them, as our town only had one high school. And yes, there were times I thought maybe it would be better if I didn’t exist. That’s what bullying does. It makes the victim feel worthless and weak. It’s not “harmless teasing” or “a good time” or “just for laughs.” It’s personal, and it hurts.
Then one day everything changed. I was hiding out in my usual corner when it started again. I tried to run away, but they formed a wall around me. Eventually I broke through and ran to a different part of the blacktop and just broke down. I couldn’t take it anymore, and I was no longer able to hid my emotions. Another girl, a girl I had known since kindergarten and had always gotten along with, though we were never close, came over and asked me if she wanted me to get a teacher. With a nod of my head, I stopped being a victim.
I was brought to the school office, and it all came out. Speaking out gave me new strength. I wasn’t fighting alone anymore. I had the administration and my teachers on my side. My parents, who have always been on my side, gave me the confidence I needed to fight back, “as long as I didn’t throw the first punch.” I don’t know exactly what happened with my tormentors, but I heard that they were warned if they harassed me one more time, they were going to be suspended. In my case, it was enough to make it stop. One of the girls’ older sisters came after me looking for a fight one day, but when she saw I was willing to stand my ground, she backed down. I found confidence and self-worth again, but at times I still feel the impacts of my experience.
So I write to take a stand against bullying. I write in hopes that a victim might find the strength to speak out. I write in hopes that a victim can see that it does get better and that there are people on their side willing to help. All they have to do is ask. All I had to do was nod my head.