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Bullying: Who Gets Targeted and Why
Edie Raether Enterprises  and  Wings for Wishes Institute Edie Raether Enterprises and Wings for Wishes Institute
Charlotte , NC
Monday, August 22, 2011


                             Bullying: Who Gets Targeted and Why

     Anyone can be a target for it is not just those referred to as geeks and losers that are harassed, although I personally don't think anyone is a "loser."  Kids who are more intelligent and achieving than the norm do stand apart and that makes them fair game. Bullying is cross-cultural, and like alcoholism and many other social problems, it has no borders or boundaries regarding socioeconomic groups.  The methods of abuse and the motives may vary, but there is no safe territory.  Allison's story illustrates the cover-up that may go on in exclusive private schools. 

     Unfortunately, the after effects from bullying can linger on and force families to leave their communities and travel across the country to find a safer haven.  Anyone who is different than a norm established by a group of bullies is in the line of fire. For example, kids who are very talented and academically gifted are also targeted. I do recall one of my sons being teased for being "a brain."  Oh, pardon me, I did not know that academic achievement was grounds for being shunned by one's peers. I am guessing China, India and other countries scoring higher in math and science do not shame students who are high achievers.

     In this case, Allison was also a talented musician and quite liked by the teachers, which only set her up for even more rejection and really mean stuff like being pushed down the school stairs and rammed against walls.

     After repeatedly being sexually abused by three friends at sleepovers, continually called a lesbian and given other hurtful labels, Allison began to have panic attacks, diarrhea, fainting spells and other physical symptoms.  By the 7th grade Allison could no longer return to a school where the environment was so toxic her body was screaming to get out.  She then attended a nearby school where she again became the target of continued assaults.  There was no escape.

     Then the cyberbullying started, but even after hiring an independent consultant, the IP address could not be traced due some very tech savvy bullies who were terrorizing Allison 24/7.  Her parents spent $50,000.00 for therapy to correct a problem that should have been prevented.  A counselor finally spoke out and demanded that Allison be removed from that school. The counselor took a risk of losing her job for the school had a code of cover-up to maintain an image necessary for the generous endowments it received.

     Since the bullying followed Allison to a new school, home schooling was the next alternative. She did complete that year with straight  A's.  It's easier to achieve more with less stress and anxiety due to continual threats to one's safety.  Home schooling was also necessary due to an injury where Allison had broken her neck, but miraculously suffered no paralysis.

     You can run, but you can't hide seemed to be the theme of Allison's life for the family then maintained a New York City apartment so Allison could attend school in new city, giving her a fresh start. One of the girls at this private school happened to be from the city Allison had escaped and like a plague, the same assaults continued in yet another school environment.

     Allison, who had been able to sustain her academic performance, now turned to drugs, smoking, drinking and had become came mean and violent.  Those who hurt...hurt. They not only act out and hurt others, but often turn on themselves as well.  Allison had also begun to cut herself and therapy was again in order at a cost of $15,000.00 per week. There were repeated visits to the rehabilitation center which had become Allison's second home.

     Things got progressively worse with extreme disassociation, nightmares, excessive sleep, bingeing and purging, and black clothing and chains became the attire of choice. Her parents mourned the loss of their sensitive, loving child, their ballerina, and accomplished violinist. An "A" student, athlete and charming little girl who had endless potential and possibilities now suffered from no self-worth. Running away from home seemed to bring her back home. The family found help and hope at VISTA, a treatment center in Utah, that they now call home.

     Allison is now 16 years old and although she is now free of being bullied, the real menace is her broken spirit. Memories mold the mind, making it difficult for Allison to trust and  reach out to others who could be her friends.  After being hurt so often by people who have betrayed her, staying alone feels like the safe choice. A life of loneliness is often a lingering effect for those who have been bullied.

Identifying the Intentions and Actions of Bullies

1.    There is an imbalance of power whether it be size, age, authority positions, physical advantage, privileges or power in numbers. 

2.    There is intent to harm another physically, psychologically or socially. The intent is to break another's spirit and thus elevate his own sense of power and superiority.


3.    Fear and threats of further aggression are typical of the harassment that increases another's anxiety and state of hyper vigilance.

4. Terror through continual intimidation and violence results when bullying is out of control. The viral nature of cyber-bullying can be terrorizing.

          Yet, there are some bullies who do it just because they are provided the opportunity. Being a bully is part of their identity and becomes who they are and thus dictates what they do and how they behave.  Bees sting and horses gallop. Once we identify with being a bully, our choices are driven by the identity we have chosen.  

Bullying as an Opportunity: A Game Turned Ugly

          Mark Haas, a young boy at a nearby school took a stand and spoke out on TV about his incident of harassment. His father reported that in late March, 2011, Mark, a 14 year old Freshman at North Gaston High School in Dallas, North Carolina, was dragged from his gym class into the nearby locker room.  The teacher had left the area briefly to attend to a maintenance man's request in the girls' locker room which created a moment of opportunity for two young boys, with a third boy threatened to be next if he did not serve as the look-out person.

        Although other students were around, they were focused on the game and Mark was too scared to even cry out for help. Our survival instinct throws us into fight, flight or freeze mode and with three larger boys against one eighty-seven pound kid, many would freeze just as Mark did. That choice might have been influenced by previous encounters when the same boys kicked Mark in the ribs, demanded money and pinned him against a wall and then with their forearms tried choking him. 

      This time they tied his hands with a hooded sweatshirt and stuffed his mouth with another hooded sweatshirt while wrapping the sleeves around his face and neck. They kneed him in the butt and then dragged Mark into a bathroom stall where he was wedged between the toilet and the wall and was unable to move.  When classmates reported the incident, the boys came back to release him, but not without more threats of what might happen if he did not act like nothing had happened. The noose seems to only get tighter. 

     Although these boys have a repeated pattern of terrorizing kids at that school, they have never been expelled, but merely suspended for ten days which is all the principal can do for only the board and superintendent can extend that action. Mark and his parents have been very pleased with the support from the school, the students and the community. In addition to a campaign and hundreds of supportive blogs, a rock was placed outside the school with the message, "We love you, Mark."

     Both attackers are being charged with bullying and 2nd degree kidnapping. As I have said, kindness needs to be taught, shown, encouraged and rewarded at a very early age. It is hard to make up for a late start and the consequences to the bully may also be life long.

Edie Raether, known as the Bully Buster, is an international speaker, parenting coach and bestselling author with her most recent book being Stop Bullying Now. She is an expert resource for various parenting journals, USA Today, CBS, and Reuters.  She has also been a radio and TV talk show host with ABC.  She is a behavioral psychology expert and has been a family therapist.  Visit www.stopbullyingwithedie.com.  Contact her at edie@raether.com or call her at (704) 658-8997.  

Edie Raether, MS, CSP
Edie Raether Enterprises and Wings for Wishes Institute
Charlotte, NC