The recent suicide death of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, age 12, is the latest tragic end to unrelenting bullying that has proven to be a significant problem in schools, especially among the middle school years. Rebecca jumped from a tower after receiving online messages from several girls telling her things like she was hated and should kill herself by jumping off a building. Her story is one that has unfortunately become very familiar and is a glaring indication that bullying has serious consequences and that is a problem that more needs to be done to solve.
Bullying runs rampant among children, with over one-fourth of children between six and 12 grade suffering under the torment of bullies. The rate goes up to 63 percent for children with autism, and the likelihood of bullying is tripled compared to their siblings without autism.
30 studies conducted all over the world report clear and common trends among children who are bullied, that they are twice as inclined to manifest psychosomatic symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, sleeping difficulties and bed-wetting.
Another study recently published showed that children who were victims of abuse experienced changes in their brain that had serious implications into adulthood if no intervention was provided them.
Add to these figures the growing number of teenagers who have taken their own lives to escape the peers who tormented them beyond their capacity to cope and the full gravity of the situation shape. Children who are subjected to bullying are up to nine times more likely to commit suicide. These children have been shown to comprise half of the suicides of youth in Britain, possibly even more.
Preventative measures are being taken in the form of numerous programs including those within the schools and those programs that travel between schools offering workshops for the students. However, more needs to be done to hold accountable those who perpetuate this serious problem through active bullying.
Most bullying is treated similarly to stalking cases. Verbal threats and harassment are not enough to be considered criminal. Even physical attacks have to accumulate before criminal charges can be brought up.
It gets more complicated than just proving repetitive attacks. There seems to be a tendency to turn a blind eye to attacks, even in cases where significant physical damage can be documented.
A mother in Florida removed her son from his school after the bullying against him escalated to a physical attack that resulted in him needing 12 stitches in his lip. The mother was so distraught over the repeated abuse that she was nearly taken into custody at the school. Yet the school claims that no report of bullying was ever made and according to Florida law, with no report on file the school is not required to investigate whether or not any bullying was taking place.
Another instance a young man had his head smashed into a locker. He too, needed stitches to repair the damage done to his head. This time the school investigated at the behest of the parents, determined that the event had been an accident and refused to allow the parents access to the security footage.
The examples do not end there. In 2002, a young man hanged himself after being tormented for years. His story was given national attention as a casualty of bullying. Many children stepped forward after his death to outline the extremely physical nature of the abuse he endured. An investigation was conducted which resulted in his mother being charged with a crime after being found to have been neglectful. None of the children who had abused him were ever charged with any crime.
It is more than unfortunate that the toll does not end there. There are a staggering amount of stories of children being stalked, humiliated, abused and terrorized — often very publicly and freely, thanks to social media outlets — with no repercussions for children dealing the blows.
The children who are victims of bullying are facing down a very serious problem and more needs to be done to protect them and not the other way around. That children are committing suicide to escape their abusers speaks of the serious emotional and physical health issues that result from the abuse that they endure. It is estimated that many children fear reporting or taking action against the bullies they suffer under because of a fear of backlash or inaction. Community support, comprehensive rallying of forces behind the victim to help them reclaim their power, is the most highly recommended approach, according to research. It would behoove these young children for the public to embrace this approach, hopefully sparing lives.
Written by: Vanessa Blanchard
First Coast News