Jon Carmichael, age 13
Hope Witsell, age 13
Justin Aaberg, age 15
Asher Brown, age 13
Seth Walsh, age 13
Phoebe Prince, age 15
Billy Lucas, age 15
All of these children — from places like Houston; Tehachapi, Calif.; and Rushkin, Fla. — killed themselves this year. Each was a victim of bullying, or what is now called “bullicide.” Many of these teens were also victims of anti-gay hate crimes.
Here we are in October — National Bullying Prevention Month — and rarely have we seen, directly as a result of bullying, such a high toll of teenage suicides in less than a year. What’s so confounding is that now, more than ever, there’s ramped-up awareness about bullying, more anti-bullying programs in schools across the country, and more anti-bullying legislation passed in 45 states.
Who do we blame now that so many bullied kids are taking their lives? The bullies who continue their abuse unchecked? Negligent school administrators? Lax state and federal laws? Adults who aren’t taking kids’ and parents’ complaints seriously enough?
Read news reports following most any of these kids’ suicides. The victims’ parents often echo one another, saying that their school’s administration didn’t take strong action following repeated complaints. This is the case with 13-year-old Asher Brown, whose parents said he was “'bullied to death’ — picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. Kids also accused him of being gay, some of them performing mock gay acts on him in his physical education class… The 13-year-old's parents said they had complained about the bullying to Hamilton Middle School officials during the past 18 months, but claimed their concerns fell on deaf ears.”
Or, despite undergoing anti-bullying training at Jacobsen Middle School in Tehachapi, administrators still didn’t put an end to the bullying of 13-year-old Seth Walsh.
(Imagine going to work and, day after day, having office mates send out humiliating and threatening emails to the entire staff and tripping and punching you as you walk by their cubicles. And continuing to have to show up, without anyone putting an end to your physical and emotional abuse.)
How can we save bullied kids’ lives? Columnist Dan Savage has done his part for GLBT (gay, lesbian, bixexual, and transgender) kids by launching the It Gets Better Project, with grown-ups giving testimonies that, once they left school, life got better for them. (There are compelling reasons to directly reach out to GLBT kids: Nine out of 10 GLBT students have experienced harassment at school and are bullied two to three times as much as straight teens. More than one-third of GLBT kids have attempted to commit suicide and are four times as likely to attempt suicide then their straight peers.)
There’s hope that with a strong enough no-tolerance campaign for bullying, such abuse will virtually end. A friend who is familiar with the schools in Norway has told me that’s what happened in that country. Home of the original anti-bullying program, Olweus, which is being implemented in many U.S. schools, bullying there is far less common, just through the sheer force of creating a zero-tolerance anti-bullying culture.