Crime Stoppers
Serving Northwestern Ontario and Northern Minnesota

Stand Up Against Bullies

Crime Stoppers Take a Stand against Bullies

Crime Stoppers of Northwest Ontario and Northern Minnesota very strongly encourage citizens to report all bullying incidents – not only the assaults they see and the threats they hear in their home neighborhoods and workplaces, but also the more insidious harassment and intimidation they see on the Internet. Perhaps most importantly, although bullies may face criminal charges or civil penalties, their behavior signals urgent need for psychological intervention and treatment.

Bullies no longer only lurk near bike racks, along alleyways, or just out of sight. They now menace virtual playgrounds, assaulting victims in the presence of worldwide online audiences.

Bullying, and especially cyberbullying, first gained national attention in the wake of Phoebe Prince’s 2010 suicide. In January, 2010, South Hadley High School (Massachusetts) freshman Phoebe Prince, 15, committed suicide after six upper-classmen relentlessly harassed, intimidated, and assaulted her both at school and in their neighborhood. The personable, attractive Irish newcomer originally provoked their ire by dating a popular senior boy, but the attacks continued even after she stopped seeing him. The violence ultimately escalated to the point Ms. Prince no longer felt safe to attend school; and, perhaps most troubling, several faculty knew of the problem and did nothing to stop it.

At the peak of the nation’s hue and cry over the tragedy, The New York Times reported,

The prosecutor brought charges Monday against six teenagers, saying their taunting and physical threats were beyond the pale and led the freshman, Phoebe Prince, to hang herself from a stairwell in January.

The charges were an unusually sharp legal response to the problem of adolescent bullying, which is increasingly conducted in cyberspace as well as in the schoolyard and has drawn growing concern from parents, educators and lawmakers.

Indicted on a “a different mix of felony charges that included statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, and stalking,” all six teens ultimately reached plea agreements with prosecutors, and none has served a single day in jail. The Prince family eventually settled with the City of South Hadley and its school district for $225,000. Most importantly,

In the uproar around the suicides of Ms. Prince, 15, and an 11-year-old boy subjected to harassment in nearby Springfield last year, the Massachusetts legislature stepped up work on an anti-bullying law that is now near passage. The law would require school staff members to report suspected incidents and principals to investigate them. It would also demand that schools teach about the dangers of bullying. Forty-one other states have anti-bullying laws of varying strength.

The Prince cases pales by comparison, however, with the rash of suicides in tiny Anoka, Minnesota. Literally triggered by Samantha Johnson’s death from a self-inflicted hunting-rifle shot, a suicide epidemic took the lives of nine other Anoka teens within just two years. Writing in Rolling Stone, Sabrina Rubin Erdely summarized:

Sam’s death lit the fuse of a suicide epidemic that would take the lives of nine local students in under two years, a rate so high that child psychologist Dan Reidenberg, executive director of the Minnesota-based Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, declared the Anoka-Hennepin school district the site of a “suicide cluster,” adding that the crisis might hold an element of contagion; suicidal thoughts had become catchy, like a lethal virus.

“Here you had a large number of suicides that are really closely connected, all within one school district, in a small amount of time,” explains Reidenberg. “Kids started to feel that the normal response to stress was to take your life.”

There was another common thread: Four of the nine dead were either gay or perceived as such by other kids, and were reportedly bullied. The tragedies come at a national moment when bullying is on everyone’s lips, and a devastating number of gay teens across the country are in the news for killing themselves.

Researchers very strongly emphasize that sexual orientation fits within a much larger constellation of qualities that distinguish some children as “different” and therefore invite bullies’ abuse. Pediatricians Susan Kim and Frederick Rivara highlight traits common among children who are bullied (2010):

  • Victims often are exceptionally sensitive, anxious, and acquiescent.
  • Victims generally are socially withdrawn and very unlikely to stand up for themselves or bravely walk away from confrontation.
  • Given these characteristics, victims are exceptionally prone to deep depression and suicidal ideation after repeated attacks.

Kim and Rivara point out that these shy children may feel ashamed of being bullied and reluctant to report their abuse. They caution teachers and parents to be alert to warning signs, including poor sleep and nightmares, unexplained cuts and bruises, frequent bouts of uncontrollable crying, and making up excuses not to attend school.

Cyberbullying grows among adults.

Adults routinely use content from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social-media services to intimidate and harass subordinates and rivals at work
Byron Achohido, USA Today

Once the exclusive province of tech-savvy adolescents, cyber-bullying has become almost as common among adults. Writing in USA Today, Byron Achohido (2013) cites a study from AVG Technologies which found that more than ten percent of office workers discovered derogatory online discussions about them. Eleven percent said colleagues uploaded embarrassing photos or videos to social networks, and nine percent complained managers used unsubstantiated Internet gossip in performance reviews. Barely more than one-third of American and Canadian corporations currently have formal policies covering cyber-bullying in the workplace.

Signs, symptoms, and signals

When a bully threatens, intimidates, beats, humiliates, or degrades another person, he or she has just one simple motive – the need to demonstrate superiority.

Among children, a bully often can gain dominance over his or her peer group by repeatedly belittling just one victim.

Among adolescents and adults, bullies may recruit allies to assure their continuing dominance in their peer groups. In “Bullying Causes, Symptoms and Treatment” (2010) pediatricians Susan Kim and Frederick Rivara report, “Both boys and girls take part in ‘cyberbullying.” This means using high-tech devices to spread rumors or send hurtful messages or pictures. Smotional bullying doesn’t leave bruises, but the damage is just as real.”

Kim and Rivara (2010) say that, contrary to popular belief that bullies are insecure and act-out to gain respect, in fact they have inflated egos which require constant reinforcement. Most bullies expect to rule their peer groups and demand their proper homage. They seldom, however, recognize how their actions and demands have consequences for others. Kim and Rivara highlight common characteristics of bullies:

  • Bullies witness aggressive and combative behavior in their homes, and they naturally learn to associate physical dominance with personal power.
  • Although they demand recognition from their age-group peers, bullies typically are not popular. They may, however, attract small groups of devoted followers, who follow the bullies for their own protection.
  • Bullies act aggressively in almost all social situations, including in their interactions with adults.
  • Bullies typically are larger and stronger than other children their age, and they frequently push, shove, wrestle, and hit smaller children, generally without provocation. Adult bullies may also be larger and stronger than their victims, or they may occupy positions of power over the people they harass.
  • Bullies have trouble complying with the rules, and they have even greater difficulty showing respect and concern for others.

In their discussion of “Characteristics of Children Who Bully,” (2010) Kim and Rivara urge,

Bullying behavior is a “red flag” that a child has not learned to control his or her aggression. A child who bullies needs counseling to learn healthy ways to interact with people. Professional counseling can guide a child through discovering why bullying is hurtful. Through this process, a counselor can encourage a child to develop empathy, which is being sensitive to and understanding the feelings of others. In some cases, follow-up counseling may involve the parent. Family counseling has been shown to help reduce anger and improve interpersonal relationships in boys who bully.

Researchers say cyber-bullying has exactly the same devastating effects as real-life intimidation. In his breakthrough study, “Exploring the Consequences of Bullying Victimization in a Sample of Singapore Youth,” Michigan State University criminology professor Thomas Holt found that children harassed by cyber-bullies were at least as likely to skip school and consider suicide as their classmates who endured physical bullying. In fact, victims of bullying via the Internet or their cellphones more often contemplated suicide than their peers who encountered real-life intimidation. Holt told MSU Today “We should not ignore one form of bullying for the sake of the other. The results suggest we should find ways to develop school policies to combat bullying within the school environment and then figure out how to translate that to the home, because the risk goes beyond the schoolyard.”

Report bullying to the Crime Stoppers Hotline.

Many people naturally feel reluctant to report bullies, because their instinct tells them that reporting online or real-world bullying may make them targets for harassment and abuse, but the Crime Stoppers Hotline protects callers’ anonymity. Well-trained representatives never record calls or gather personal information from callers. They do immediately transmit information to police, and Crime Stoppers have built an impressive record of arrests and convictions. In many cases, tipsters earn handsome cash rewards.

References

You can also read more on the link between bullying and suicide.