Bullies Will Be Bullies, Victims Will Be…

Bullying isn’t a federal crime. Neither is cyberbullying.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised to notice this year, that as we recognized National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, there was one group missing: victims of bullying.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week pays tribute to crime victims and survivors in America, while honoring the services and professionals that support victims every day, of every week, or every year. But we fail to recognize victims of actions that aren’t considered a crime.

Victims of bullying and cyberbullying are often only noticed when it’s too late. We are lacking when it comes to listening to our young people and the experiences they struggle through. More importantly, we are lacking in any type of legislation that would make severe, repeated, and hostile bullying a crime.

The other night, while watching a news report on Timothy McVeigh, the man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, several professionals said they knew exactly from where McVeigh’s deep-seated hatred stemmed: bullying.

McVeigh was extensively bullied in high school and apparently had no help, no release. His inner frustrations with these experiences only grew and perhaps made it easier for him to latch on to ideas throughout the rest of his life that would allow him to be the one in control, allow him to be the one to judge.

This isn’t groundbreaking news. Studies show that bullying can negatively impact the academic performance, self-esteem, and mental and physical health of children – and even lead to suicide or homicide. Rather than build character, bullying and cyberbullying can cause children to become anxious, fearful, unhappy, and even cause them to be physically sick. These are serious consequences that can leave lasting wounds on young people.

Phoebe Prince, a teenager from Massachusetts, is just one recent example of a young person who committed suicide because she was bullied past her ability to cope. 13-year old Megan Meier, from Missouri, was tormented and emotionally harassed by cyberbullies until she eventually hung herself in her own home in 2006.

And Jaheem Herrera and Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover both took their own lives in 2009 as a result of repeated and severe bullying. Tragically, these are not the only names. The list keeps growing.

That is why I believe we should do more than lament the lives lost. We must act to protect children from such outrageous and harmful behavior.

Yes, sometimes bullying involves simple name-calling which can be protected by free speech, but when bullying is repeated, hostile, and severe, and done with an intent to harm, it is time to stop protecting the bullies and start protecting the victims. Unfortunately, even when schools do have policies against bullying, they are often unable to enforce those rules when bullying occurs over the internet instead of on school grounds.

With the advent of social networking, text messages, and other new media, new forms of bullying, especially cyberbullying, are even more cruel and pervasive than many adults today can imagine. It’s a shame that recent suicides are the loudest voices for change in the way we think about bullying and cyberbullying. Next year, as we recognize National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, I hope that victims of bullying are included.

Congresswoman Linda Sánchez represents the 39th District of California and is the sponsor of the “Bullying and Gang Reduction for Improved Education Act,” and the “Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act.”

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