Student Bullying

Predatory kids are a problem for both school administrators and police officers.

School administrators will tell you their number one priority is to create a safe learning environment for their charges. Students cannot learn in an environment where they feel threatened. Student bullying greatly compromises a student’s feeling of safety and so it compromises the learning process and has long-term detrimental effects on the bully and the victim.

Bullying has changed with new technologies and new cultural resources. Most campus officials and law enforcement officers will immediately recognize traditional forms of bullying such as assault, tripping, intimidation, and taunting. But you may not immediately recognize rumor-spreading, isolation, name-calling, and the sending of insulting messages via e-mail (cyber-bullying). It is not necessarily bullying every time one of these acts occurs; a key component of bullying is that the victim is physically or psychologically less powerful than the actor.

The Victims

A victim of bullying is selected for several different reasons. Commonly the actor is physically larger or psychologically more intimidating than the victim. The victim may also have a personality trait (shy, withdrawn, socially awkward) that makes him an attractive target. The victim may be from a different culture and may dress differently. A target may be selected because of taste in music, interest in academics, or sexual orientation.

In the past, bullying was not a problem that the police had to deal with; it was a matter for teachers, principals, and parents. You may not feel it is a law enforcement problem today, and may not feel equipped to understand the problem.

In order to put bullying in a light police are familiar with, you may want to view it through the prism of domestic violence.

Not too long ago, domestic violence was not considered a law enforcement matter; a fight between a married couple was a family problem. Domestic violence was thought to be a matter that the husband and wife would straighten out between themselves. Victims soon stopped calling the police because of the impotent response. Victims began to blame themselves for the violence they incurred. The victims would feel embarrassed and powerless to stop the abuse. This emboldened the actor and the attacks would become more frequent and more severe. It wasn’t until later that we came to realize the long-term consequences of domestic violence. Today, there is no police department in the country that does not have a comprehensive policy designed to immediately handle any type of domestic violence call.

Parallels can be drawn between the early stages of domestic violence and bullying. The acts that constitute bullying have been seen by many as a harmless rite of passage. “Kids are kids and they will straighten it out amongst themselves in the schoolyard,” is the attitude of many adults.

This may be true in some cases, but it is not true for the 8 to 38 percent of students who are regularly bullied. Most students do not report bullying; surveys indicate that the students do not believe telling an authority would do anything to help the problem. They suffer their abuse in silence because of the feckless response from adults. The repeated, unpunished acts embolden the 8 to 20 percent of students who chronically bully other students. The attacks become more vicious and more frequent. It is only now that researchers are starting to realize there are long-term detrimental effects for both the bullies and their victims.

Victims of bullying are obviously embarrassed and frustrated. Research indicates that they also have low self-esteem, which can lead to depression. This condition lasts for years after the attacks. The victims tend to be absent from school and be in poorer health. They experience higher incidence of social dysfunction (loneliness), anxiety, and insomnia. They also contemplate suicide more often.

The Bullies

The bullies themselves should also be of interest to the police. Bullies have higher incidence of status offenses like truancy, underage drinking and smoking, and dropping out of school.

Research also shows that bullying leads to other forms of criminal behavior such as assault, vandalism, and weapon possession. Without intervention, young bullies tend to remain bullies. They become adult bullies. And bullies have children who tend to become bullies. So the cycle continues.

Despite the damage, most victims are reluctant to report bullying. They believe the authorities will not do anything. They fear retaliation from the bully. And they fear they will be mocked for not standing up for themselves. They fear they will not be believed and nothing will change. When a local police department has a strong anti-bullying apparatus in place, many of these fears are allayed.

The absolute worst response is to tell the student to simply “stand up” to the bully. First off, the student probably thought of this tactic already and didn’t need to be told. Secondly, this strategy can be physically and psychologically harmful to the child.

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