Reform Bullies and Protect Their Victims
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 28, 2010
School bullying has become a matter of public attention. Everyone considers the problem serious. Everyone agrees on the need for increased prevention. Given such a widespread consensus, the government agencies responsible should immediately look into the matter, and establish mechanisms to prevent bullying. After all, our childrens' development is not something that can wait.
In fact, bullying reflects the dark side of human nature. Education is part of a child's socialization process. Education inculcates self-restraint, respect for others, and the need to abide by certain norms. Anyone who has read the novel, "The Lord of the Flies," knows how children left to run amok, can degenerate into cruelty and barbarism. The campus is a place where children must be educated. It must correct deviant behavior. It must not become a place in which children are subjected to the law of the jungle. It must not become a killing field in which some children are destroyed.
Campuses will always have bullies. Students will always have conflicts. Students will always be subject to ostracism. Recent examples of campus bullying however, suggest some worrying trends.
One. The level of violence has escalated. Many incidents of abuse are quite violent and cruel. They resemble incidents from movies. They have already reached the level of indictable criminal offenses.
Two. Incidents of sexual assault have increased. Many bullying incidents, particularly those with female victims, involve sexual violence. Victims are stripped of their clothing and photographed naked in obscene poses. They are subjected to sexual assault using bottles, and photographs of them are distributed.
Three. Incidents of teenage girls engaging in bullying behavior have increased. Incidents of bullying by girls were once rare. Incidents were mostly verbal attacks or social ostracism. Recently however, the incidence of bullying by female students has increased, and so has the level of violence.
Four. Gangs and illegal drugs have cast a shadow over schools, complicating matters. Many bullies, on and off campus, are gang members. They engage in displays of machismo to impress their peers. Even teachers are intimidated.
Five. Bullying has entered the age of the Internet. The younger generation is intimately familiar with the Internet. Some bullies launch their attacks on the Internet. They spread rumors, isolating the victim. The harm inflicted upon their victims is every bit as great as direct physical harm. Their traumatic impact is increased by the effect of the Internet.
In particular, some bullies see the Internet as a means of showing off. They triumphantly post their videos on the Internet. This amplifies the impact. Such videos wind up circulating on the Internet forever, making the victim's trauma even worse.
Such trends underscore the need for a strong response to campus bullying. In fact, the bullies, their victims, and bystanders, are all affected to a greater or lesser degree. The bullies need isolation and counseling. Their victims need counseling and protection. Bystanders may experience feelings of panic and impotence. They may be afraid they will become the next target. They too may have psychological scars. A bullying environment acclimate members to violence and bullying. They will lose their sense of right and wrong, of fundamental respect for human rights, and of the right to self-defense. All of these problems need to be addressed.
Most people focus on protecting the victims. They want to punish or even ostracize the bully. They want to make campuses safe again. But the source of bullying, the bully himself, is often himself the victim of simplistic labeling and stigmatization. He may have been depicted as a heinous criminal. His background, character, and motivation may be ignored.
But bullies are also children who must be educated. Their problems must also be addressed. They may include family dysfunction, inadequate parenting, and individual or peer group influences. If these children can be reformed, society may be spared future crimes. Give up on them prematurely, refuse to give them another chance, treat them as public enemies, consider only punishment or ostracism, and we will only push more people into the abyss. Our campuses and community will not necessarily be more secure.
As we focus on counseling students who engage in bullying, we must of course ensure that the campus is a safe environment for learning. Students and teachers must be protected by the law. They all have a right to a safe environment. Therefore we must establish an effective communication mechanism to deal with bullying. We already have mechanisms for the prevention of domestic violence, We have anti-fraud hotlines. We should have similar mechanisms to control bullying. Basically schools would be responsible. When the need arises, such agencies would provide assistance.
Most importantly, if schools are concerned about airing their dirty laundry, if they tolerate it or cover up bullying, children will lose their faith in adults and our social institutions. If the bullying reaches the level of an actionable criminal offense, then the police must be notified, and the matter dealt with according to the law. The law protects peoples' basic rights and interests. This line of defense must not be broken merely because the violations occured on campus.
One of the most urgent tasks is to establish a safe environment for children. We must protect children from bullying. We must not give up on children who engage in bullying. Protecting and educating the next generation is the responsibility of adults. On campus or off, we must not let our children down.