During the investigation into the suicide death of 12 year old Rebecca Sedwick, a statement made on the Facebook page of one of the accused female bullies stating she (the bully) killed Sedwick and essentially didn’t care. One of the parents of the two accused girls, Vivian Vosburg, 30, said her stepdaughter’s account must have been hacked. Vosburg was herself was later charged with two counts of child abuse after a video showing her hitting two young boys surfaced. Polk County (FL) Sheriff Grady Judd, when addressing reporters, stated a link he observed between between the behavior of Vosburg and her stepdaughter.
"This clearly indicates to us that this appears to be a normal way of life. They're laughing and cussing and throwing the F bomb around. Then they're posting that conduct for all to see."
Sadly, comments to a column by Tampa Bay Times writer Sue Carlton – who admitted to being impressed with Judd’s approach to this case - revealed a shocking attitude by some towards this tragic situation –one reader, identified as “AndYNot,” argues that, despite the egregious behavior, the bullies had a right to say what they said on the grounds of Free Speech:
“Yep, they have the right to spew their filth although it is not right at all. It is good that these bullies are squirming now and the motive behind Judd's actions could just be that....and that is good. These girls need to know how horrible they have been and that it is not tolerable, at all. Yet to suggest that they committed aggravated stalking, which includes physically following someone .....well, that's a stretch.”
Another comment, by “BelayFelton,” revealed a callow attitude towards suicide in general:
“Now when an adult dies of suicide will they investigate and charge those that may have upset that person. Kids of today can't handle any adversity. They are taught to go tell an adult at the slightest infraction. We all had to deal with bullies in school. Bullying does not stop after grade school.”
"'Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don't give a ...' and you can add the last word yourself," how is this a crime?”
TURNING A BLIND EYE?
Following the much-publicized suicide of Phoebe Prince in 2010, New York Times Op-Ed contributors Mike Males and Meda-Chesney Lind claimed in a column that the culture of mean girl bullying was a myth:
“But this panic is a hoax. We have examined every major index of crime on which the authorities rely. None show a recent increase in girls’ violence; in fact, every reliable measure shows that violence by girls has been plummeting for years. Major offenses like murder and robbery by girls are at their lowest levels in four decades. Fights, weapons possession, assaults and violent injuries by and toward girls have been plunging for at least a decade.”
At issue is the very different approach between males and females when it comes to approaching the issue of bullying. While males are taught from a very young age to “suck it up” or “face down” those harassing them, young females are in a much more precarious state, taught to behave like ladies but seeing images of women fighting and name calling glorified in books, movies, television and online. Programs such as “Big Brother” and “Glee” have romanticized the Mean Girl culture, first exposed in the movie with the same title.
ZERO TOLERANCE EQUAL ZERO REPORTING
Making this situation stickier is that many “mean girls” tend to ingratiate themselves with not just their parents, but with authority figures, and so-called “zero tolerance” policies have created retaliatory sub-culture among the victims of this behavior; essentially, these girls do not report out of fear of being ostracized by their peers or, in many cases, not being taken seriously because the perpetrator, or the parents of the perpetrator, has earned the trust of those in the position to stop the bullying the first place.
These policies also tend to have a strange counter-effect when the victim stands up – oftentimes, both children face disciplinary action until the investigation is completed. Appeals on both sides are heard and, oftentimes, both the victim and assailant receive no punishment. In some cases, the victim is still chastised for creating the condition by not “fitting in.” The result, tragically, is that bullying among young females is grossly underreported.
DEFENDING “MIGHT MAKES RIGHT?”
What makes this situation all the more tragic is that many on both sides of the ideological spectrum tend to look at ways to justify a behavior which amounts to “might makes right.” In a 2011 column on the Huffington Post website, writer Laura Stepp essentially tells women who have been victims of bullying to “get over it,” justifying her attitude as being based in the principle of gender equality:
“Women are multi-dimensional, sometimes warm and generous, sometimes cold and conniving. We should expect no more from them than from men -- and no less.”
Where Stepp misses the mark is that many adult bullies, both male and female, go on to raise children who view such behavior as acceptable, and this simply continues the cycle. Fortunately, Sheriff Judd didn’t drink this sort of Kool-Aid, and is quite correct that this behavior is learned. Study after study has demonstrated that bullying is oftentimes learned and, when left unchecked, can lead down a very dark road. Worst still, so-called “tween” girls are dealing with a variety of issues ranging from hormones to self-image, and the acceptance of the “mean girl” culture has created a greater danger than ever for young girls just entering the highly volatile stages of adolescence.
Both young girls and young boys suffer from this insanity. For boys, this behavior leads to a lack of respect for self, and lowered test scores and, in many cases, an lowered expectation of life goals. Some young males who have been labeled as "losers" and "slackers" by their teachers are, in actuality, the victims of bullying both online and in school. Too often, the male perpetrators get away with it on the grounds of the victims not being willing to "man up," but when the deck is stacked against them by not just their peers, but by authority figures as well, what chance do they really have to stand up for themselves.
WELL BULLIES GET THEIR DUE, IT'S OFTEN BIG
The one area of solace young men can take heart in is that male bullies, more often than not, see their behavior backfire on them at some point in life. Consider this fact - former Republican nominee Mitt Romney ultimately admitted bullying a gay student in school, and that fact dogged him throughout the presidential campaign against incumbent Barack Obama. Some voters admitted voting for Obama because they didn't want to put an admitted bully into office.
This is an issue which has been around since the dawn of civilization. Addressing it requires not a zero-tolerance policy, but a zero-judgment policy towards the victims. Much like victims of sexual assault must be given their power back, so too much victims of bullying because, in the end, it is a mental assault. It requires a cultural change which goes beyond feel-good approaches considered exercises in political correctness; true courage and principle must be demonstrated by those in authority.
Those seeking to regain their power, dignity and self-respect deserve nothing less.
If you like John's writing, please support his Family Relief Fund, aimed at providing financial support while they get on their feet in Atlanta.