Targets of Hate: Why We Can't Just Let Bullying Go
Standing in front of a room full of women at the largest blogging conference in North America, she told us in a quivering voice of how she had been bullied at one school, then the next, and finally online. They told her she was useless. Unworthy.
They told her she should be dead.
I had wandered into the cyberbullying session at BlogHer '11, not really planning to stay initially, but when she spoke I knew I needed to hear what was said, for Maiah just as easily could be my child.
Back in March, my son -- a sweet, soft-hearted, slightly nerdy, computer whiz who always looks out for the underdog -- became a target of bullies. For reasons unknown to our family, three teenagers that were once his friends concocted a story so bizarre that when their parent called us, we were confused. Surely they are talking about someone else?
They accused my son of plotting to kill their mother on a Friday, involved the police, social workers, and their parents, then went to school on a Monday and laughed in his face.
In the weeks that followed, Kevin was never once interviewed about the alleged incident, nor were any witnesses. I had expected, perhaps naively, that his innocence would prevail and the accusers would face severe punishment for wasting the RCMP, school, and social worker's time. The accusers, on the other hand, were given plenty of opportunity to use their voice.
I was not prepared for the reality of three systems, all with different mandates, who would not work together or even share information with each other, and especially with us. The story grew and spread throughout Kevin's school and the community as we desperately tried to reign in the damage, with little success. I pestered the RCMP and Social Services mercilessly and continued to ask questions until eventually, it dawned on me that nobody had any intention of listening to Kevin. Ever. It's not our job to talk to you, they said. Ignore them, it will go away. Friends and co-workers gave us their sympathy but as the months passed, they too became obviously weary of the saga.
Don't feed the trolls. We don't want to get involved. So sorry this is happening to you, but we don't really want to be mixed up in this. As the months passed, pressure mounted to just let it go. Why hang on to it? Why continue to fight?
We fight because, like a disease, hate doesn't go away. Recently we were approached by one of the kids and taunted in the grocery store, and in an act of desperation, I called the RCMP. I'm going to tell them the story this time, I reasoned. Surely they'll help us.
Instead, the officer called the truth "very conspiracy theory," claimed that kids "don't think outside of themselves like that," insinuated that I was a hysterical crazy person, and stated the accusations towards my son as if they were fact.
I promptly burst into tears on the phone. So this is how it feels to be powerless, and without a voice. When the bullies can convince even the police that you are crazy, and they've never even set eyes on you. In that moment, I almost gave up until I remembered Erin's words. (Paraphrased because I don't remember them verbatim.)
"You go back to the police again. And again. And again. You go and you talk and you keep talking until you make them listen."
You may read this story and believe that bullying or harassment won't happen to you because it's a teenage issue, but you are wrong. Recently, Naomi Dunford went into hiding because she received death threats. Shauna James Ahern has talked about how she's been ridiculed and harassed online. Some bloggers have entire sites dedicated to mocking their blogs, with the people going as far as verbally attacking their children and whose goal, it seems, is to silence their targets.
The blogging community is amazingly rich and diverse with voices, but we do categorize and divide ourselves. We talk about "big" vs "little" bloggers, and clump ourselves into groups according to interests. We judge each other's ethics, debate over business practices, and discuss the differences between blogging for money or for creative enjoyment. This is a business, after all, and sometimes it can be a little cut throat. We may not all get along and be friends, but we can have tolerance and compassion for each other.
What people often forget is there is a flesh and blood person behind that twitter feed or blog, and you have no idea what they have been dealing with that very day. You would never know from looking at my site that last week I held the hand of a dear friend who is fighting for her life. Or that my husband has not been well for the last year, and I very nearly lost a family member two weeks ago. You would not know that my son has left public school to escape the bullying, and he can't wander alone in our tiny community because there have been veiled threats that he would be harmed.
I'm a member of this community because I love how our voices weave together in common threads despite our differences. If once voice is lost because we allow someone to cut those threads and render our members isolated and frightened for their very lives or the lives of their families, we do ourselves, and our community, a horrible disservice. We lose the richness of what those people contribute. By turning a blind eye and not speaking up, we contribute to the destruction of the very thing we love the most. It's true that we may not always agree, but surely if the blogging community can be riled enough to take on J.C. Penney to have a shirt that some find offensive removed, we can stand up to those who wish to silence our members. In fact, I strongly believe it is our duty to.
We owe to the Maiahs and the Kevins out there, who are learning far too young what it's like to be the target of hate. We owe it to each other, for our rich and varied voices are what make our community so powerful. We owe it to ourselves, and the craft we love so dearly because in the end, it all comes down to one frightening fact.
You or I could be the next target.
Photo Credit: csessums.