Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Bullies ignored...

The other day I heard of a story that made me rather angry. At a Lancaster County Pennsylvania school, a child was pulled into a restroom stall where three other boys proceeded to urinate on him to the point that they had to call his mother to bring in a change of clothes. His mother was understandably outraged, and demanded something be done about this obvious case of bullying. The school, however, maintained that they didn't feel it was a case of bullying and have decided to sweep
it under the rug. What?!

At first I thought, "Great... Another case of a student getting a free pass to be an asshole just because he's on the football team." I've visited and read about plenty of towns where the high-school football team is far more important to the administration than test and SAT scores. But upon further reading I found that this event happened at Price Elementary! The victim, a mere ten years old!

How is it that this school claims that urinating on someone isn't bullying? Well, they have a few different (and ultimately ridiculous) explanations. They claimed that the victim was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The three students in question were merely engaging in horseplay according to the school. Pardon, but how is pissing all over another person considered 'just' horseplay?

The school claims to have an answer for that as well. School district spokeswoman Kelly Burkholder actually had the gall to claim that they had determined that the three students in question accidentally urinated on the victim. How the hell does someone accidentally get pulled into a bathroom stall and then pissed on by three fellow students? Was is something like this... Well you see, they were trying to see if the three of them could overflow the toilet with piss with the stall door open. Then the one boy tripped and fell past them and across the toilet into their 'line of fire'. Oops. Sorry but I can't imagine a single scenario that doesn't involve copious amounts of alcohol where three people manage to accidentally urinate on someone.

Oh, but the school says they 'instituted corrective behavior' on those involved. So are they expelled, or at least suspended? It sure doesn't sound like it. Rather, it looks like they got away with a slap on the wrist. But don't worry, principal Saupp said that they "take bullying and student safety very seriously." Really now? Is that why the boys mother wasn't called until two hours after this took place? A two hour wait hardly sounds like concern. Also, considering urinating on someone not a big deal... What about all the potential health risks with being urinated on and being allowed to marinate in it for two hours?

Then there is the excuse that proves that the school either has no idea about bullying, or is just pretending that they are above the problem. They claimed it wasn't bullying because there wasn't a history of him being bullied by these students. Not bullying, but just boys being boys... The official position was that it was no more than an isolated incident. Move along, move along. Nothing to see here... So, if someone beats their spouse once and only once, does that mean that their not a victim of spousal abuse. Sorry ma'am, but there's no history of continued abuse (yet) so we're going to have to let it slide. Would anybody accept such an outrage? I sure wouldn't. But that's basically what Price Elementary is doing.

Being that I was bullied in my youth, I can confirm that the claim that there being no prior history means that it's not bullying is bullshit. True, most bullying is something that results in many cases, but one instance can be bullying as well. For me, bullying is not necessarily determined as much on quantity as it is on intent and other aspects.

The Oxford dictionary defines bullying as: 
Use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force them to do something
And defines it as:
Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.
Intent is a big part of what makes bullying bullying. Suppose that someone calls your girlfriend a whore. You get angry and get into a fight. In this case, anger was the motivation. Such a case would be assault, not bullying. But what if someone beat up another just for the 'fun' of it, because of a real or perceived difference, or just because of religion, sexual preference, etc? Then the motivation is very different. It would still be assault, but would also be bullying as well.

I was lucky in that the vast majority of my bullying was verbal rather than physical (though there were some instances). Some bullied me more than others, and some only once. While verbal abuse may not leave physical bruises or scars, it can certainly leave it's mark. I think that it all started for me in middle school (save one bitch of a racist elementary school teacher).

I was (and still am) rather slender due to my metabolic rate. As soon as we learned about eating disorders, the seeds of my bullying were planted. I was skinny, yet ate a decent bit at lunch. Couple that with me being new, and the assumption was made that I must have an eating disorder. Lunch time, and the surrounding classes became a predictable flurry of accusations and questions about why I bothered eating lunch if I was supposedly going to go throw it up anyway. This continued and I largely tried to ignore the lies and annoyance as best I could. But I didn't realize that it was retreating into a shell. I became very shy. I found myself introverted and feeling like an outcast that didn't fit in.

In high school, being the quiet kid that didn't really socialize or hang out with anybody resulted in more teasing and verbal bullying. Because of my shyness I never felt comfortable or even capable of dating, so I didn't. Oddly enough, I still felt that way when girls started asking me out. Surprisingly, even some of the more popular girls at my school. But I had no idea how to respond to that. A popular attractive girl was asking me out? Given my experiences with other classmates, I assumed that one of the jocks was probably having a cheerleader ask me out as a joke. If I accepted, I would find myself stood up, or walking into a trap.

Looking back, I actually feel bad because hindsight tells me that most (if not all) may have been genuine. Some asked me a few times, and the questions of 'why?' as well as the facial expressions that I assumed were an act, may have been that of actual rejection. Why did they show interest in me? Was it pity? Something else? I may never know. Luckily I eventually did find my wonderful wife though.

Of course, when a guy in high school doesn't date, and turns down the advances of female classmates the rumor that they are gay spreads rather unabated. No denial on my part made a bit of difference, and a whole new wave of taunting filled the void left behind by the previous abuse I had internalized and learned to deal with. But one note of physical bullying... Just like the student in this story, I was a victim of a school wanting to sweep a case under the rug to make it just go away.

One day in gym class, we were playing dodge ball. During play, I hear my name called from the sideline where my team-mates are waiting for someone to catch a ball so that they can return to play. I turn to see someone on my team, someone who fairly regularly teased me standing just over the sideline with a ball. The moment I was facing him was when he drilled me in the face with the ball at point blank range. My glasses went flying (but luckily didn't break aside from having to pop a lens back in), and I went down. As I look up, I see him and a buddy high-fiving and laughing in celebration.

Obviously, I went straight to the principal and reported exactly what happened. The precedent meant that he should at least be getting a few days suspension. But day after day he was still in school, and up to his old tricks. Confused, I went to the principal to ask him what was going on. He claimed to have talked to him and that he had said it was an accident, and since I said it could have been an accident he just told him to be careful.

There was a huge problem with that though... It obviously wasn't an accident, and I never told him that it could have been one. When I told him that I never said that, he responded that he had already turned in the paperwork, so there was nothing he could do. His hands were tied, supposedly... Sweet justice was done a few years later though, when he was arrested in the next city over trying to proposition a prostitute. He was shamed, lost his job, and I think his family.

The happiest day of high school wasn't our team beating an arch rival, a championship, the prom (that I didn't attend), a first love, or anything like that. While graduating as Valedictorian was a highlight, my fondest memory of high school is graduating and never having to see those that tormented me on a daily basis again. Though the bullying had come to an end, it would still take years and a few good friends to fully rid myself of many of it's effects.

Bullying is very real and serious whether it is verbal or physical. And while they may talk a good game, there are schools out there that really do just ignore this problem or sweep it under the rug. So it pleases me that friends of this kid's family are looking into setting up an anti-bullying group. Hopefully it will get the school to take the issue seriously, and maybe, just maybe, it will result in some parents ceasing to raise such asshole children.

-Brain Hulk

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