Thursday, March 13, 2008

Address bullying to prevent future tragedies

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The effects of bullying should never be underestimated as evidenced by the recent tragedy of an 8-year-old student from Robert R. Gray Elementary School who hanged himself as a consequence of the victimization [‘‘Boy, 8, allegedly hangs himself after being bullied,” Feb. 28]. Fellow students, teachers, others in the boy’s life, as well as the community, are shocked by this extreme resolution to a problem. It is the ultimate horror for any family to have to go through.

Bullying is a serious matter. The issue of bullying should initially be confronted through prevention, education and awareness, and intervention. Students, as well as teachers and other school personnel, should learn what constitutes bullying behavior and how to identify it. They should understand that bullying behavior is unacceptable and that, under no circumstances, should students feel compelled to endure it and keep silent. Students should also be enlightened to the fact that they should not feel ashamed, reluctant or embarrassed to confide in a teacher, parent or someone else they feel comfortable with, that they are being victimized.

Bullies employ power and control. They intimidate their victims and instill fear in them to the point that students become reluctant to acknowledge it to themselves, let alone to others. Bullying behavior is abusive behavior, and it involves manipulation, verbal harassment, threats, intimidation and physical violence. Bullies choose their victims and prey upon their vulnerabilities. They know how, when and where to confront their victims with the least amount of resistance enhanced by their ability to instill in the victim a significant amount of fear.

Victims who are bullied continuously begin to lose their sense of self-control and inner security. They begin to doubt themselves and feel helpless about their own lives. It is not unusual for them to feel ashamed and, therefore, they isolate themselves from the world around them. They insulate their fears and fail to communicate with those who could help. Consequently, their outlook becomes one of hopelessness with no way out. They feel trapped and unable to resolve the overwhelming burden that envelops their lives. As a result, the distress they experience may cause them to resort to options that result in tragic consequences.

As the grieving process continues over the 8-year-old victim who ended his own life, a renewed commitment embraced with proactive measures needs to be expeditiously acted upon to demonstrate that this young boy’s life mattered and to preclude another similar tragedy from recurring under similar circumstances.

Karen L. Bune is an adjunct professor at George Mason and Marymount universities in Virginia. She is also a victim specialist in the state’s attorney’s office for Prince George’s County, but is not writing on behalf of the office.