As “bathroom bills,” military transgender bans and elimination of protections for LGBTQ federal employees demonstrate, we are a long way from a society in which coming out is a realistic option for all. The truth of this likely hits youth the hardest, who still risk family rejection, bullying, even homelessness for coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.
The least we can do is demand that LGBTQ youth’s needs are concretely recognized in the agencies and systems created to serve young people. Does your local school district include LGBTQ-supportive sexual health literacy? If not, press your local schools to get sexual health literacy out of the closet and into a regular curriculum. By doing this, you not only increase understanding among all youth about a vital aspect of being human, but you will increase health and decrease bullying of LGBTQ youth.
It is intolerable that such programs largely don’t exist in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems where queer youth are represented at more than twice the rate of their numbers nationwide, and where they rely on system officials for their most basic needs, including sexual health care. How do young people in these facilities thrive when their very existence is denied or treated as aberrant?
October is national Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM). If awareness leads to action, we will see increased advocacy to decrease the number of young people caught up in the so-called justice system. In recognition of the reality that that number is sadly substantial, the Center for HIV Law and Policy’s focus for YJAM is on policy changes that would make future National Coming Out Days (Oct. 11) a safe option for all the young people in detention facilities across the country.
Access to scientifically sound sexual health care would be a very good start. What’s more, it’s part of the essential care detention facilities are obligated to provide to young people in custody. When youth detention facilities fail to provide a basic part of essential health care, we should hold them accountable.
Comprehensive, LGBTQ-affirming sexual health care includes sexually transmitted infection diagnosis, treatment and prevention, including access to condoms and other forms of birth control, pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV, and sexual health literacy programming that promotes understanding of the full spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. It includes guided instruction on healthy sexual attitudes, relationships and behaviors. It includes addressing mental health substance abuse. And it includes services that address the violence based on discriminatory views and stereotypes of various sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions.
Professional standards and expert consensus support provision of these health services for all youth. In view of the ballooning rates of sexually transmitted infections, particularly among young people, sexual health care is also smart public health policy.
To learn more about what you can do to uphold the sexual health rights of youth in detention, check out Teen SENSE, a project of The Center for HIV Law and Policy.
Pepis Rodriguez is a staff attorney for The Center for HIV Law and Policy.
Collective action is needed to ensure the safety of lesbian, gay and bisexual students, who experience violence and other health risks at higher rates than their heterosexual peers, a new federal report says.
Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the first nationwide study that tracks the health behaviors of LGB teenagers and found they experience higher rates of bullying, physical and sexual violence and drug use. The study analyzed questionnaires from 15,713 students. It did not ask about students who identify as transgender.
The report found 34 percent of LGB students reported being bullied in school, compared with 19 percent of their heterosexual peers, and 28 percent reported being bullied online, compared with 14 percent of their peers.
LGB students also were more likely to report being physically forced to have sex and experiencing sexual violence and physical violence while dating.
In addition, more than 40 percent of LGB students reported seriously considering suicide and 29 percent reported they had attempted suicide during the past year, the report said.
The report draws from the biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which included questions about students’ sexual identity for the first time in 2015. The report categorized sexual minority youth as those who identified themselves as such, had had had sexual contact with only persons of the same sex or who had had sexual contact with persons of both sexes.
The report does not assess why LGB youth are more at risk than their peers for certain behaviors.
The majority of LGB students “cope with the transition from childhood through adolescence to adulthood successfully and become healthy and productive adults,” but the findings highlight the need for school, community and family support to minimize the risks to students, the report said.
Youth service providers are one group that can put the findings to use, researchers and advocates said.
Emily Greytak, director of research at the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, said the data offer important insights into the experiences of LGB youth, which should encourage youth workers to examine how their programs acknowledge and seek to address disparities.
“Hopefully it will provide them with the motivation to ensure that their work is inclusive and supportive of LGB youth — in order to decrease the experiences of stigmatization, discrimination, and victimization that are prime factors in their elevated risk factors,” she said in an e-mail.
Some of the higher rates of risk, especially around sexual assault, dating violence and substance use, may be because LGB teenagers do not see their experiences reflected in prevention and support services, Greytak said.
“Youth service providers should ensure that their intervention and response services are culturally competent for LGB youth and also explicitly demonstrate that they are welcome and affirming of LGB youth,” she said.
Making programs and services inclusive requires training and reviews of policies, procedures and materials, she added.
Youth service workers and others also should be careful not to use the findings to make judgments about LGB youth, which could make them feel distrustful of the adults who say they want to help and compound their health risks, said Emily Halden Brown, an organizer at Georgia Equality who helped form the Atlanta Coalition for LGBTQ Youth.
LGB youth are well aware when a program is not designed to meet their needs, she added.
Brown said youth service providers who want to make their programs inclusive should try:
- committing to regular staff training on sexual orientation, gender identity and how they intersect with race, ethnicity, age and other factors;
- making sure relationship curriculum includes same-sex relationships;
- using safe space insignia, such as rainbows, in common areas;
- designing intake forms that are open-ended and allow teenagers to identify the way they want to.
Brown said she hopes that in addition to studies of risk, researchers will look at what helps all young people, including LGB teenagers, thrive. Youth-serving organizations and others need to know more about what mitigates risk, not only what the risks are.
“There are a lot of resilient young people who go through hard times who emerge,” she said.
This story has been updated.
In prison I could often tell who would be a target for victimization. I developed this ability the old fashioned way, through observation. Predators abound in that world, so opportunities to witness their attacks were common. Whether it was robbery, rape, extortion or some other attempt to dominate those who were on the losing end had often had something in common.
According to the convict code the victims were “weak.” This isn’t surprising, since the code was created by those with an interest in perpetuating such crimes. The truth wasn’t that the victims were weak though, instead I see now that they were different somehow. They didn’t fit in, didn’t make friends easily, and didn’t elicit much sympathy from bystanders.
The same dynamic is at play in bullying, whether in schools or the workplace, where the number one risk factor for being a victim is, again, being different. When we consider the nature of systems, which to some extent have to be invested in self perpetuation, this isn’t really surprising. Widely divergent groups, from yogic vegans to Rush Limbaugh fans, employ similar tactics to maintain group conformity and distance themselves from outsiders, though obviously these don’t always take the form of violence.
Keep these examples in mind, and reflect that our society is a group as well, and like other groups it works to maintain a status quo. And, again like other groups, some people are more “in” than others. Some people are more likely to be picked on. Consider the criminal justice system, including the portion that applies to juveniles. Blacks are much more likely to be incarcerated than whites, up to six times as likely in recent years. Other groups that come in for rough treatment include homosexuals, the poor, the uneducated and those suffering from mental illness.
Falling into any of these categories, or God help you more than one, increases your chances of being arrested, being convicted, getting a longer sentence (and being less likely to be diverted) and being less likely to be paroled. These same groups are impacted disproportionately by other ills as well, including homelessness and violence.
This kind of structure is so deep as to be almost invisible to the larger society, and largely passes unnoticed as anything other than the way things are. White collar criminals who steal millions often end up doing less time than petty thieves. Homeless users of crack do more time than celebrities snorting cocaine. On and on the imbalance and injustice goes, pointing to deep levels of hypocrisy not only in our criminal justice system, but in our society as a whole.
In bullying prevention work one of the most effective strategies is to engage bystanders. Most bullying behaviors occur in front of others, who may sometimes egg on the bully but more often just stand by and do nothing, relieved perhaps that they are not the victim. Bystanders may in fact blame the victim for being different, and sense somehow that they have brought their situation on themselves.
A little education can change this though. Just pointing out to people that victims don’t deserve what is happening to them, and encouraging bystanders to speak up or go get help can radically lower the incidence of bullying. Can something similar be accomplished in the larger realm of our society, where much of the behavior is unconscious and invisible to the unaffected? I think so, and I encourage you to spread the word.
Back in the fall of 2011, kids bullied Alycin Mabry so severely that her mom decided to home school the Atlanta 14-year-old. At the time, her mom Annise Mabry saw homeschooling as the shining answer the family needed.
But today, Mabry says, it’s clear that their struggle was far from over.
“Maybe two or three months into the online school, Ali started to become more and more isolated,” Mabry said. “I just couldn’t get her out of the room. It just started spiraling. … Finally, my breaking point was when she stopped brushing her teeth, taking showers and I couldn’t even see her face for her hair.”
Mabry, suffering from an autoimmune disease and also struggling to provide for her second child, 8-year-old Niles who has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, felt there was no way for her and her family to overcome their issues.
Little did they know, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) was considering their story for its new series, “Trouble Next Door,” now airing on Monday nights. The series focuses on helping families in crisis by implementing the very specific community based method of getting their neighbors involved.
“We really wanted to address bullying and [the Mabry’s] story really stood out,” said the series’ executive producer, Domini Hofmann. “We wanted to be able to help these families with this method of working with neighbors. And it was clear that Alicyn needed to just get out of her room. She needed interaction with other people. And, Annise was overwhelmed.”
When the show began shooting last May, it drove the Mabry family to put everything on the table and let their next-door neighbors fully into their lives and their struggles. And, although the process of being completely transparent was difficult, Mabry feels that it saved her family.
As seen during the episode, by opening up and sharing their story with their neighborhood, things began to change in a positive manner. Alicyn even gained an educational opportunity when she landed a scholarship at the East Minster private school, in Conyers, Ga.
“Before the show, I had a very tiny community, which didn’t include my neighbors. I would wave at them, but I didn’t know who they were,” Mabry explained. Now, months after the cameras left, Mabry still talks to her neighbor’s daily and they continue to be an immediate source of help when she needs.
Alicyn continues to deal with the trauma she suffered when she was bullied at her previous school. She was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder last October.
“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘so the child that I sent to that school in 2009, I’ll never see that little girl again,’” Mabry said. “I had to grieve for that, but I also had to celebrate that now we know what’s wrong. And now we have not only a neighborhood community supporting us, but also a school community.”
With this series, OWN wants to illustrate how getting to know the next-door neighbors can create positive change.
“We want people to look at themselves and their relationship with their neighbors, and see how things could be different,” Hofmann said.
And although her family continues to have ups and downs, Mabry feels that creating a relationship with her community was the answer she desperately needed.
“[Community based methods] work.” said Mabry. “… The thing about having neighborhood support like this on this level is that I’m in their neighborhood. So whatever happens to me happens to them. There’s more of a vested interest to take care of the person next door because this is somebody that you’re going to see.”
The Mabry family will be featured on OWN’s new docu-series “Trouble Next Door” airing Monday, January 21 at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
Photo courtesy of OWN.
Given the high rate of torment suffered by LGBT youth in custody, activists applauded last week’s finalizing of a landmark law that took nine years to get from adoption to implementation.
Last Monday, the federal Department of Justice finalized a set of guidelines under the Prison Rape Elimination Act that could help stem the risks of the already at-risk LGBT population that is incarcerated, including minors.
“We were already working on this issue while PREA was being passed, but this raises awareness,” said Sarah Schriber, senior policy analyst with the Chicago-based Health and Medicine Policy Research group and community convener for the Illinois Court Involved LGBTQ Youth Task Force.
According to Schriber, few juvenile detention center personnel even knew what the existing anti-harassment rules were. “A much harder part is making those policies meaningful on the ground,” she said. “We’re really lagging in education.”
Along with anti-harassment policy, the new regulations create federal requirements for employee training and place limits on cross-gender searches and screenings, ensuring they only happen behind closed doors with a licensed medical practitioner.
Much of this work was already underway in Illinois, due in part to a coalition of researchers, lawyers and justice department personnel. In 2010, the Illinois Court Involved LGBTQ Youth Task Force was established to draft better policy for the Illinois juvenile justice system and lead employee trainings.
Two years later, the task force has led trainings for nearly every Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center employee who works directly with youth, educating personnel on policy and broader issues and on definitions related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Similar workshops are being held for juvenile prisons, run by the State of Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, as well as Cook County juvenile probation employees.
The issues facing LGBTQ youth in custody are often invisible to juvenile justice personnel and policy makers, because many young people choose not to self-identify, said Mykel Selph, director of the Office of Girls and Gender at Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.
But a 2010 study by Angela Irvine, director of research at the Oakland-based National Council on Crime and Delinquency, found 13 percent to 15 percent of youth in the juvenile justice system consider themselves gay or gender non-conforming. In the overall population, 5 percent to 7 percent of youth identify this way.
According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, LGBTQ youth are more likely to end up in the juvenile justice system, likely due to higher rates of bullying and harassment and lower social support at home.
Once in custody, research suggests gay and transgender youth may be more likely to experience sexual assault and harassment.
Research from 2007 by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation found 67 percent of gay or gender non-conforming men reported sexual assault by other inmates, a rate 15 times higher than among heterosexual, non-transgender male inmates.
Some sexual abuse and harassment stems from housing gender non-conforming youth with members of their biological sex. In the nation’s juvenile justice centers, a young transgender woman must still live among young men.
“People assume if you put a transgender female in a female unit, that person will assault others,” Schriber said. “Often it is the other way around.”
In Chicago, Cook County Jail has begun housing transgender women with other women, but Schriber said the policy is harder to change for youth facilities.
“People don’t understand that gender identity is pretty well established early on,” she said. “They think it’s a phase.”
The PREA guidelines mandate that “in deciding whether to assign a transgender or intersex resident to a facility for male or female residents, the agency shall consider on a case-by-case basis whether a placement would ensure the resident’s health and safety.”
But there are smaller changes detention centers can make to create a safer environment, Selph said.
Allowing transgender boys to wear boxers or having every youth in custody wear the same clothing, instead of blue and pink t-shirts, can go a long way in helping a transgender youth’s mental wellbeing, Selph said.
“Homophobia can happen in a very subtle, unintentional way,” Selph said, during a recent gathering of experts and practitioners hosted by the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. “When we talk about safety, emotional safety is implied but not focused on in a deliberate [way.] It is emotional safety that is of the utmost importance.”
Christie Thompson is a reporter with the Chicago Bureau
Photo by Advancing Transgender Equality
A wider (and younger) audience will be allowed to see the documentary “Bully” in theaters thanks to a new edit of the film that received a “PG-13” rating. The film was initially rated “R” by the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) ratings board meaning anyone under 17-years-old must be accompanied by an adult, Reuters reports. The new rating lowers that to 13-years-old.
Lee Hirsch, director of the anti-bully film, cut three scenes because of language but left in a key scene for which he lobbied hard.
"I'm just glad that we held strong. I think this is a great resolution," Hirsch told Reuters about his and distributor The Weinstein Co.'s battle with the MPAA, which assigns films ratings based on language, sex, violence and other content.
The documentary follows five children and their families who have been impacted by bullying. The rating controversy stemmed from the use of a certain word that originally was heard six times in the film. Use of the word more than once results in an “R” rating. A compromise between Hirsch and the MPAA allowed one critical scene, containing three instances of the word, to remain while cutting three other instances.
“Bully,” a documentary movie that follows five kids who are brutalized by classmates over the course of the year, is set to hit theatres by the end of the month, but not as many teens may be seeing the movie as the producers had hoped.
When the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) stamped the movie with an “R” rating back in February, a number of people raised concerns that it may not reach many in the demographic the film aimed to impact -- those under 17 and still dealing with aspects of bullying in their daily lives.
What do you think of when you hear about bullying?
Hitting, slapping, harassment, name-calling and profanity are but a few of the adjectives that come to mind. All are present in the movie -- and why wouldn’t they be? This is a documentary, after all, and kids can be rather brutal and vulgar at times.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t the violence or harassment the MPAA objected to when coming up with the adult rating. It wasn’t the suicide of a boy following a torrent of bullying from students. Instead, it was the profanity –- specifically the use of the “f-bomb” – producer Harvey Weinstein told CBS.
For their part, “Bully” producers have been pushing a petition with the hopes of changing the MPAA’s stance and landing a PG-13 rating ahead of the film’s debut. Weinstein even went as far as to threaten "a leave of absence from the MPAA for the foreseeable future" for The Weinstein Company, distributor of the flick, if the rating wasn't changed.
The official website for the movie contains a link to sign the petition under the caption “Don’t let the MPAA bullies win!” and a stamp that “this movie is not yet rated.” So far, the efforts have garnered more than 300,000 signatures.
“Unfortunately, there is a misconception about the R rating of this film limiting the audience to adults,” Chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration at MPAA Joan Graves said in a release. She went on to compare the "Bully" rating to films such as Schindler’s List that have been used for educational purposes and shown to minors despite the R-rated status. “The R rating and description of ‘some language’ for Bully does not mean that children cannot see the film.”
“As with any movie,” Graves continued, “parents will decide if they want their children to see Bully.”
Parents will have to decide for themselves if the movie is appropriate for their kinds, but an R rating certainly does make it harder for teens to gain access to the film in theatres – even with their parents consent.
A number of theatre chains require parents to attend R-rated films with those under 17, not just buy tickets. Regal Entertainment Group and AMC Theatres, the two larger movie chains in the country, both enforce this rule. Even if a parent buys a ticket for their kid(s), many theatres check IDs once inside for anyone appearing underage.
“No one who is 13 wants to go see a movie with their mom or dad,” Katy Butler, the 17-year-old that launched the online petition to change the rating, told CBS.
If 16-year-old Kelby from Tuttle, Okla. -- one of the teens chronicled in the documentary -– wanted to see the movie at the closest theatre in nearby Yukon, a parent or guardian would have to be present throughout the screening.
Censoring teens from the realities of their own lives may seem a bit… unusual or pointless. The teen may not be exposed to the content in the theatres, but the next day on a bus back to school is a different story.
“Over 13 million American youths will be bullied over the course of this year alone, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in our nation,” representative Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said in a letter to colleagues. “I believe an R-rating excludes the very audience for whom this film is most important, and ask you to join us in calling upon the MPAA to reconsider their rating and allow access to those who need to see this film most -– today’s youth and our future leaders.”
The movie puts an emphasis on raising awareness among teenage social groups under the tag of “STOP BULLYING. SPEAK UP!” The filmmakers have teamed with Creative Visions Foundation, a non-profit, to raise funds for the cause.
Still, it’s unlikely the MPAA will change the rating. The film already went through the appeals process and the rating stood. There is no process for a second appeal, according to the MPAA.
A collaboration between the Southern Education Desk and JJIE will air on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s 17 radio stations this week. The series, focusing on bullying, was written by GPB’s Maura Walz and JJIE’s Chandra Thomas.
Below is a breakdown of the series’ schedule:
Tuesday, November 8 during All Things Considered (5:50pm) and Wednesday, November 9 during Morning Edition (between 6:00-9:00am)
1. Georgia's Revamped Bullying Law Arrives In Schools (Maura Walz) Description: Public school students and parents are seeing some changes this year in the way their schools handle bullying. That's because of a law passed by the legislature last year that schools are now starting to put into practice. In the first of a four-part series, Maura Walz of the Southern Education Desk at GPB looks at what the new law requires and how school districts are implementing it.
Wednesday, November 9 during All Things Considered (5:50pm) and Thursday, November 10 during Morning Edition (between 6:00-9:00am)
2. Mother of Bullied Student Calls for Justice (Chandra Thomas) Description: Public school students and parents are seeing some changes this year in the way their schools handle bullying. That's because of a law passed by the legislature last year that schools are now starting to put into practice. In the second of a 4-part series on the new bullying law, Chandra Thomas of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has the story of how the suicide of Jaheem Herreira was the catalyst for the law.
Monday, November 14 during All Things Considered (5:50pm) and Tuesday, November 15 during Morning Edition (between 6:00-9:00am)
3. Schools Focus on Bullying Prevention (Maura Walz) Description: Public school students and parents are seeing some changes this year in the way their schools handle bullying. That's because of a law passed by the legislature last year that schools are now starting to put into practice. One way schools are trying to comply with the law is through a renewed focus on bullying prevention. Maura Walz of the Southern Education Desk has the third of our four-part series.
Tuesday, November 15 during All Things Considered (5:50pm) and Wednesday, November 16 during Morning Edition (between 6:00-9:00am)
4. Bullying Forces One Student Into Homeschooling (Chandra Thomas) Description: Public school students and parents are seeing some changes this year in the way their schools handle bullying. That's because of a law passed by the legislature last year that schools are now starting to put into practice. Chandra Thomas of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has the story of one bullied student who chose to be home-schooled rather than face any more bullying.
You can read the complete series here.
At age 12 we moved from a small town in Kansas to a suburb of Albany, .N.Y. Over the summer, I befriended another boy named Dean. On the first day of school, while at the bus stop in front of my house, a group of boys approached. When Dean saw them, he became visibly upset.
"What's wrong," I asked.
"That's Jeff and his gang." he said. "They're trouble."
It was not their bus stop. "This could not be good," I thought.
When they arrived, Jeff said something I couldn't make out, but I knew from his tone and body language that he wanted to pick a fight with Dean.
Having been raised to be chivalrous -- or some would say "stupid" -- I stepped between Dean and the gang and said something foolish that went something like "You will have to go through me."
They just looked at each other and laughed. I thought their laughter to be incredulous but at the same time praying my mother would look out the window and rescue me.
She didn't and I was contemplating, "Do I run toward the house or stay and get pummeled to death?"
Just before I turned to look at Dean, I was thinking, "At least I have my friend Dean."
But there was no Dean. He opted to do what I was just thinking, he ran!
I turned back around facing Jeff. He says to me, "What are you going to do now?"
Just as I was about to run, I heard a loud motherly voice. In that split second, I thought of my Mom -- but it wasn't her -- it was Dean's mom. He ran to get help.
"You leave now before I call the police," she hollered.
Jeff and his gang of thugs left, but they didn't forget.
A week later, I was standing in the back of a crowded bus. I felt a tap on my shoulder, I looked around and there Jeff stood with a hateful stare.
He slapped me across the face. I stood there and didn't move. His friends were standing around waiting for me to do something. I didn't. I was too scared.
They soon discovered I had a sister. She rode the same bus. It wasn’t long before they attacked her. That’s when my personality changed forever. I became a fighter.
I got into a lot of fights that year protecting my sister. The gang of bullies made sure to attack when adults were not around.
I took a beating physically and emotionally until it dawned on me that I could start my own gang. If Jeff can bully in numbers, I can defend in numbers.
My friends Mike, Louie, and John soon had my back. It didn't take long for Jeff to figure out that I wasn't worth his trouble. You see -- my friends were bigger and smarter.
I fought off my bullies because I was resourceful. Most victims are not resourceful. The research shows that many teachers are not aware of the frequency of bullying in the school. Much of it has to do with the bully's covert approach to harming others coupled with the victim’s failure to report the incidents of bullying.
Studies show that most don't tell on their attackers for a number of reasons. In a survey of post-secondary students, most students believed that teachers are not helpful and may make the problem worse by drawing more attention to the bully without taking effective steps to prevent further abuse. The bully is now aggravated and the attacks occur more frequently and with greater intensity.
Other reasons given include fearing retaliation, feeling shame at not being able to stand up for themselves, fearing they would not be believed, not wanting to worry their parents, having no confidence that anything would change as a result, thinking their parents' or a teacher's advice would make the problem worse, fearing their teacher would tell the bully who told on him or her and thinking it was worse to be thought of as a snitch.
What should we expect from kids who are under neurological construction? Their frontal lobe -- the part of the brain that translates emotion into logic -- is not developed until age 25.
For my sister and I, we didnt want our parents to worry. It’s an interesting paradox the love between a parent and child. My parents were nurturers. They were protective -- not overly so -- but always hugging, asking questions, and in our business.
Here is the rub -- knowing the extent of their love also meant knowing the anguish and pain they would experience if they knew our pain. They always told us we could talk to them and share problems, but we didn't always do that. Not because we didn't trust them, but because we loved them, in our cognitively short-sighted way.
In hindsight, my adolescent male ego was bigger than my immature frontal lobe. I didn’t want the bullies and others to witness my Mom in action to save me and my sister. I trusted my Mom to fix things but I didn’t want the embarrassment of being labeled a "momma's boy."
Ironically, my selfless chivalry was in part driven by my selfish need to avoid humiliation. Sadly, this irony placed my sister in harm’s way. I am sure she wasn’t concerned about mommy coming to the rescue. My emotions were not getting filtered through an objective lens to reach logical decisions. That's the nature of adolescence.
As I cull through the evidence-based approaches to combat bullying and look back on those dark days, I am convinced that the best approach is not zero tolerance, it's teaching the teachers to identify bullies coupled with programs designed specifically to assess and respond to their need to bully.
Otherwise, kids will continue to be traumatized. They will find their own way to deal with it. Some are resourceful -- most aren't.
The effects can be long lasting. Others simply try to take their own life -- and some succeed.
‘It Was Just Pretty Much Assault Every Day’: Alleged School Bullying Victim, Mom Speak Out On Georgia’s New Bullying Law.
Back to school season is in full swing and like so many other families around the country 13-year-old Alicyn and her mother Annise Mabry are busy keeping up with the demands of the school year.
However, instead of preparing to go to a local school, Ali takes classes at home. Instead of a classroom, she logs onto her laptop for online lessons. Instead of a teacher, her mom is her instructor.
“It’s a lot better, it’s a lot more fun and it really brings out a lot of the things I found enjoyable in school,” says Ali, decked out in a hot pink Hello Kitty T-shirt, rows of colorful plastic bracelets dangle from both of her arms.
She used to attend a public middle school near their Conyers, Ga. home just outside of Atlanta, but this year for 8th grade, she’s relying on the online Georgia Cyber Academy for her curriculum.
Ali and her mother say excessive bullying from classmates on and off school grounds brought on Ali’s transition out of a traditional school.
“They were just really mean, the pushing, the shoving, hitting, slapping. Basically it was just pretty much assault every day,” she says. “With girls it was hair, my face, the way I dressed, the way I looked. The way I talked. Things that you really can’t help. I felt like that was my only reason for coming to school; just to be pushed around.”
Ali says as much as she loved learning, it was a struggle every day.
“I was a straight-A student, and I still was able to maintain straight A’s and still maintain on honor roll, but I was really considering dropping out.”
In addition to traditional bullying, texting and social media such as Facebook and Twitter, she claims, made her predicament worse.
“One could be in the classroom, two was Facebook, three was the bus and then four was the text messages,” she says, a dismayed look on her face. “And then it would go back to one. And it would get worse every time that you got back to one.”
Ali claims that she reported the incidents to her teachers and counselors and they did nothing. Her mom says ultimately it was too much for her daughter to take.
“Another suspension came when another student had been taunting her and hit her repeatedly with a book in the presence of a teacher and the teacher did nothing to intervene,” says Mabry of her daughter. “And Ali got mad, and she got tired of being hit, and she hit back. And that resulted into a two-day suspension.”
Ali says no adults intervened.
“They never did anything, never said anything; they never reported it, never even stepped in,” she says. “I was in and out of the counselors office frequently; more frequently than most students. I even had appointments there weekly.”
The incidents took their toll. At times she felt the bathroom was her only refuge.
“I went to the bathroom to eat lunch,” she says, a tinge of sadness in her voice. “Actually what I would do is I would take my binder to lunch. I would go to the bathroom. I would leave my binder in the bathroom intentionally. And then I would come back and do my work and everything else because I couldn’t sit at the lunch table because kids were so mean.”
She says the longer the bullying went on, the more she spiraled down.
“My self-esteem just dropped,” she says. “When I tried to get it up, it was like trying to throw paper in the air and expecting to catch it.”
Her mother says she knew something had to be done and she realized it was up to her to take action.
“When she got suspended the third time is when I finally said, ‘something has to change,’” says Mabry. “‘I can’t keep sending her through this.’ Ali was biting the skin off of her hands [because she was so stressed out].”
Decatur (Ga.) High School Counselor Ken Jackson says extreme examples like Ali describes are increasingly more common. He sees about two serious cases a year.
“Bullying by definition means that there's some kind of harm, it’s repeated and there is a power difference,” he says. “Somebody has social, physical power over someone else.”
He says students who don’t fit neatly into a student body’s established social structure are often targeted.
“I do think some of it is that [the bullies] feel that they have social permission to pick on some types of students,” he says. “Some kinds of student [behaviors] are seen as less acceptable. Likewise, students in these groups may feel the social stigma and not feel they can go anywhere for help.”
The number of bullying incidents that became more public in the past year was an impetus for changing the bullying law, he says. Still Jackson calls the new Georgia law a step in the right direction, but cautions that it is not a cure-all for the bullying issue.
“But we also know that simply establishing a law does not fully change a climate, a behavior in a person or a school,” says Jackson. “Setting a climate in which the expectation of what is good and appropriate behavior, what is inappropriate behavior responses to bullying is a necessary thing.”
Mabry feels not enough was done to protect her daughter. The former teacher resigned from her job as a dean at Devry University for medical reasons, then opted to home school her daughter for the past year. The Georgia Cyber Academy, she says, has been a great fit.
“And the beautiful thing about the cyber academy is that it falls under the charter school umbrella and it’s free for all Georgia students,” she says. “They ship your books. If your student does not have a computer they give you the computer. All of the supplies you need to go to school, they UPS to you. The only thing is it requires someone to be present for five hours a day to monitor the learning.”