Accounts of young people being beaten, hazed and harassed date back centuries and for much of that time it was glossed over, often seen as a rite of passage for children. And, although that attitude was never acceptable, it somehow managed to persist well into modern times.
But something has changed, and it’s time for parents, educators, and law enforcement officials to recognize that change. While bullies have always existed, the advent of the hyper-connectivity afforded by smart phones and other electronic devices has now weaponized the behaviour.
It’s no longer necessary for a bully to look their victims in the eye. They can simply text, tweet or otherwise send threatening and harassing messages to their victims. And bullies don’t have to stop there. They are now able to send hateful messages to hosts of others, enlisting them into a mob mentality with the potential of destroying the target of the bully’s campaign.
A 13-year-old victim of bullying in Sooke has, for well over a month, endured this sort of attack. She has been physically threatened and advised that suicide may be her best course of action, all through cyber space.
The fact that the bully was once a friend made it all the more hurtful and confusing.
The young lady in question has now done the right thing by speaking out about her situation, first to her mother and then to others.
It was not an easy choice. She now faces the possibility that some may view her disclosure of the bullying as breaking the confidence of the bully, as though that person hadn’t given up that consideration when they embarked on a campaign of trying to hurt her victim.
Others will accuse her, the victim, of over-reacting, while having no idea of the fear, emotional damage ,or physical manifestations of stress she’s endured.
These attitudes are can be deadly. They are the attitudes that kept Amanda Todd silent to the end. She was only 15 years old when she committed suicide after being bullied on-line. Tiffany Beckford was 16 and Madison Wilson was 13. They too, took their own lives after cyber bullying.
The truth is that cyber bullies rely on the victim keeping quiet and afraid. And they depend on the impersonal nature of the Internet to allow them to behave badly from the shadows. Shine a light on their behaviour and their strength evaporates.
Equally as important, it’s important to realize that bullies are often damaged themselves, lashing out through their own pain. Exposing their behaviour may, in the long run, serve to identify the bully and get them the help they need.