Bullying has a profound impact on victims and can leave them terrified. Photo iStock
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In some communities across the nation, law enforcement agencies have money in their budget to fund the placement of police officers in schools enabling them to keep the peace and forge beneficial relationships with students and staff. They can serve as School Resource Officers and, in some situations, they may be in the right place at the right time to ward off violence or even make an arrest, if necessary.
Other jurisdictions may not be afforded the budgetary luxury of deploying officers in schools on a permanent basis. Instead, officers will respond to a school when called upon in an emergency situation or when the need arises for their services. Regardless of which scenario law enforcement officers find themselves in, it’s important they be attuned to the important aspects of bullying behavior and the consequences that can ensue. These consequences can impact students, teachers, the administration, parents and the community.
Bullying warrants attention in the educational system and other venues. Both law enforcement and educational professionals must be knowledgeable, as well as proactive, about the issue. Dan Olweus, a noted Scandinavian expert on the subject of bullying defines it as follows: “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative acts on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.” It’s the expectation that children should be able to obtain an education in a non-threatening and safe environment within the school system.
A Case in Maryland
Lynn Strange, 39, of Elkridge, Md., is a widow and mother of three children who attend classes in the Howard County, Md., public system. Throughout the past several months, Strange has become acutely aware of the issue of bullying as a result of the experience of her 13-year-old daughter who is an eighth grader at Elkridge Landing Middle School.
As a result of a dispute over a necklace her daughter owned that was similar to one of another student, the other student, along with several of her friends, allegedly taunted Strange’s daughter in the school hallways and in the classroom. They called her a thief and threatened to beat her up. Afraid of the bullies, her daughter ate her lunch in the restroom, and she sought refuge in the office of the guidance counselor. Afterward, she was reportedly questioned by the principal concerning why she went to the guidance counselor. Strange reveals her daughter was told not to wear her feelings on her sleeve and that there would be people who don’t like her, and she was advised get “tough skin.”
Subsequently, Strange began receiving phone calls from the school indicating that her daughter was skipping classes. Her daughter explained to her that she was being harassed by the girls who were saying mean things about her. According to Strange, the vice principal told her she didn’t believe that her daughter was being harassed.
“I told her if my kids are wrong, I’ll reprimand them but if they are right, I have to advocate for them,” Strange said.
Following these incidents, Strange noted her daughter appeared despondent and became very quiet. One morning when Strange called her house from work, as she does on a daily basis, her daughter was crying and stated she wanted to kill herself.
“She kept saying, ‘I don’t want to be here.’” Strange urged her daughter to get on the bus, called ahead to the school and notified them that someone needed to meet her daughter at the bus. Strange said the guidance counselor subsequently acknowledged her daughter was at a critical point and needed to go to the hospital. Strange took her daughter to the hospital, where she remained for 33 hours. She was subsequently transferred to another health facility for a psychiatric evaluation and hospitalized for seven days.
“They said her suicidal ideation was from the psycho-stressor of bullying,” Strange said.
Her daughter was out of school a week following this hospitalization.
“No one called to see how she is feeling,” Strange said.
Meanwhile, Strange made numerous efforts to contact school officials to determine what was being done about the bullies and if any type of mediation would be arranged. She was dissatisfied with the school’s initial unwillingness to acknowledge this as a bullying situation. Moreover, she was even more disturbed that she had to be proactive in attempting to communicate with the school on this matter instead of the school reaching out to her. Strange indicates she was frustrated that no viable solutions, including mediation, were being offered or arranged.
Instead, when her daughter returned to school, she would spend most of the day in the guidance counselor’s office with her books and go to one or two classes of her choosing that were switched from those the bullies attended.
“I think actually she has been educationally deprived of a free and appropriate education with the schools’ resistance to properly eradicate this severe problem of bullying. My emotions continually go from horrified to grief, and they become more exacerbated every day that I see my daughter’s response to this and the school’s failure to handle this matter,” Strange says.
The traumatic effects of the bullying remain with Strange’s daughter. She presently is requiring additional mental health treatment in a partial hospitalization setting and is absent from school as a result. A decision will be made, following her treatment, concerning how her educational needs will be met in the future.
The Case of Phoebe Prince
In Massachusetts, bullying had a fatal consequence for 15-year-old Phoebe Prince in January 2010. She committed suicide by hanging herself in her family’s apartment. She endured what the prosecutor in the case described as a “relentless campaign of bullying.”
Prince was the victim of demeaning comments that were pasted on Facebook, she was yelled at in the school library and called an “Irish whore” and the bullies threatened to beat her up. Six teens involved in that case are expected to plead guilty to criminal harassment.
How LEOS Can Help
Law enforcement personnel must have a thorough understanding of the dynamics of bullying. They must also recognize the fact that schools may not always be amenable or forthright in disclosing the actual behavior occurring in their schools. Police officers should carefully and thoroughly investigate any alleged instances of bullying.
Law enforcement officers must not pre-judge. They need to keep an open mind, be communicative and be willing to listen to what is being conveyed to them by all parties. They should not immediately dismiss what students or parents are telling them simply because school officials may provide an explanation that seems logical and feasible. Police officers need to conduct a thorough and objective investigation into any alleged occurrences of bullying.
Victims of bullying are tormented, traumatized and feel a strong sense of helplessness. They don’t feel safe, they don’t know how to escape the situation, and they may feel too ashamed or embarrassed to openly disclose their situation to their parents or anyone else. Consequently, they may suffer in silence for a long time and, as they do so, the intensity and frequency of bullying may increase which only adds to the tortuous impact they are experiencing.
Bullying can produce serious consequences that can be severe as well as tragic. Therefore, it is vitally important for law enforcement agencies to train their officers on this topic, focus on its importance as a priority and disseminate knowledge and information in schools and communities that this behavior, at any level, will not be tolerated.
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