Friday, October 08, 2010

Four suicides

This is flooring.

The 16-year-old's last words, scribbled in English and her native Croatian, told of her daily torment at Mentor High School, where students mocked her accent, taunted her with insults like "Slutty Jana" and threw food at her.
It was the fourth time in little more than two years that a bullied high school student in this small Cleveland suburb on Lake Erie died by his or her own hand — three suicides, one overdose of antidepressants. One was bullied for being gay, another for having a learning disability, another for being a boy who happened to like wearing pink.
Now two families — including the Vidovics — are suing the school district, claiming their children were bullied to death and the school did nothing to stop it. The lawsuits come after a national spate of high-profile suicides by gay teens and others, and during a time of national soul-searching about what can be done to stop it.
If there has been soul-searching among the bullies in Mentor — a pleasant beachfront community that was voted one of the "100 Best Places to Live" by CNN and Money magazine this year — Sladjana's family saw too little of it at her wake in October 2008.
Suzana Vidovic found her sister's body hanging over the front lawn. The family watched, she said, as the girls who had tormented Sladjana for months walked up to the casket — and laughed.
"They were laughing at the way she looked," Suzana says, crying. "Even though she died."
Four suicides in two years in one high school - all linked to bullying - suggests a systemic problem within the school. I suspect that if social workers, psych- and sociologists were allowed to rip the lid off the place, they would find a mix of administrative indifference or permissiveness amounting to incompetence, and a Lord of the Flies cultural structure within the student body, and/or a few key ring-leaders in the student hierarchy .

An anti-bullying program, if one existed in the school, clearly did no good. Indeed I suspect the only remedy for some bullies is the experience of a brutal reversal of fortune. We did this once in elementary school. One day a student saw his friend getting pummelled by the playground bully, then walked up, put the bully to the ground and let fly. Later on, I don't remember if it was that day or another, the rest of the school turned on the bully, backed him into a corner of the playground, yanked his drawers down and yelled at him until he bawled. I remember at that moment feeling both empowered but also sick at the nature of that empowerment. We had to be brutally cruel to stop the problem. However, he never tormented anyone after that.

If as if often the case the bully is themselves a victim of abuse, this is secondary to the welfare of their victims. In the immediate they can be expelled. They can also be criminally charged. Let's hope parents can also sue the fuck out of their schools. Then we might set about forcing a change in the institutions we use to educate and socialise our children.


Beijing York said...

Great post, Boris.

Edstock said...

I'd recommend that anyone facing this kind of problem learn full-contact combat-grade karate (as opposed to kata-weenie-grade), Spetznaz "Systema" or jujitsu. Bullies don't like pain. When I taught, I found that it helped victims become able to cope with their prior, nasty experiences, and be less in fear of future aggressors.

manikarn said...

Who knows how much conditioning these bullying kids go through at their own homes.. I always felt that the kids who bully are the greatest victims - to the pressure of conforming, to the vainness and ego of their parents. Holding the kids responsible can only address a part of the problem if the parents are bigots to start with.

Purple library guy said...

Victims, perhaps. But if they drive people to suicide, hardly the greatest ones. They're still alive, right?
And the fact is that lots of people go through nasty crap and do *not* become bullies. Individual responsibility remains; if you do vicious crap, it was ultimately your decision to do it and you bear responsibility for the pain you cause. And if someone beat the living daylights out of you for it, my sympathy is limited.