Mob mentality fuels culture of bullying

Published Feb. 11, 2013

Adults told me that these were the best years of my life. The thought that it wouldn't get better left me defeated and alone.

Most mornings I had to be dragged out of bed, and other days stomach pains of anxiety and panic would send me to the nurse's office. I would beg my mother to come and pick me up, swearing I didn't feel well. Now, I'm finishing college and some would even consider me successful, as last year I worked on a presidential campaign.

But there is something that still affects how I get up and get moving every day, although some may not fully understand. I was bullied, harassed, stalked and generally made to feel like I existed just for a certain group of classmates' amusement while I was a student at River Ridge Middle/High School in New Port Richey. It was nearly a decade ago, but it feels very much like last week.

I used to be followed closely at all times, with every move I made closely judged and every little strike, hit or kick made to me deemed hilarious. It made me a paranoid person who still feels anxiety in social situations. I still wonder what made me a target, which makes me feel crazy sometimes, trying to see myself through the eyes of the other young teenagers who established a pecking order by going after me. It wasn't girls; far more often it was young men who crossed the line and became physical.

The breaking point for me was to be sexually harassed by a group of middle and high school boys who waited until the school bus had pulled away before chasing me down and jumping me. The next day, too ashamed to tell my parents what had happened, I went to the school administrators. I filled out an incident report, but an overwhelmed and uninterested school administrator said since the school bus driver hadn't seen anything, the school could do nothing.

My mother let me drop out and be home-schooled, and I just wanted to move on. As a teenager, I began speaking openly about what I had dealt with at a workshop for teachers and was then interviewed on Vermont Public Radio. What surprised me was when the adult survivors of school abuse called in, weeping over the pain they felt. Nationally, fellow survivors of bullying began taking their own lives at an alarming rate, and it has not ceased.

Last month, after I moved back to Florida for the first time since that time, a 12-year-old boy took his own life in Hernando County, the cause of which seems to be torture by other classmates. A young girl from my old school district is nursing her wounds after being beaten up on the back of a bus. Both happened after the children told the schools and had disappointing responses.

I have an issue with the overuse of the term "bullying." It projects an image of teasing and/or whispering behind each other's backs. In fact, bullying in schools these days is more physical violence, sexual humiliation and deeply personal attacks. And a bigger issue is that survivors aren't talking openly about what they dealt with, and it is necessary to help the kids now who are suffering. They need to know from us is that it can be stopped, although it doesn't feel possible.

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What is needed to end bullying in our schools is a change of the culture. We need a class-by-class intervention system, and the policies schools claim to have are antiquated. Our schools have become a place where mob mentality and hierarchies are thriving.

It seems in overburdened schools a student's safety has fallen down the priority list because of ignorance of the full problem and how to solve it.

I believe its time for those of us who have lived through the experience of being abused to begin to work for the students in this situation, not in defending the broken policies of the schools. And I must add, perhaps parents need to look at their children and wonder if they are being bullied, but also wonder if they are bullying others.

This is in memory of all of those who have taken their lives, but also in deep hope that those who have reached the end of their rope will reach out for help. We understand. We get it. It gets better.

Alexis Lounsbury, 22, recently moved to Spring Hill, and is a writer and student at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt.