Knopf: Standing up to bullies (column) | SummitDaily.com

Knopf: Standing up to bullies (column)

Susan Knopf
Guest column

I'm going to bet sometime in your life someone bullied you. And it felt terrible. And I'm going to bet sometime in your life you bullied someone else. Bullying is complicated. It's is the most common form of violence in our schools, and in schools in England, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, France, Finland and Austria, according to an international study.

About 30 percent of U.S. students report being involved in frequent or moderate bullying either as aggressor or victim. According to the National Institute for Health, bullying is more frequent amongst our more vulnerable 6th to 8th graders than for high schoolers.

Bullying is an offense that affects us all, and costs us money. A kid who suffers bullying is more than twice as likely to be incarcerated for drug abuse or more serious crimes. The more chronic the bullying, the more likely the individual will wind up in prison, according to LiveScience.com.

Whether the victim, the bully or someone who witnesses bullying, exposure to bullying adversely affects everyone long term, says Stopbullying.gov. Studies show brain activity and functioning can be affected. A child who is bullied can have difficulty falling asleep or staying awake, as well as stomach aches, heart palpitation, dizziness, bedwetting, chronic pain and possibly other presentations of physical illness caused by the emotional distress.

And kids aren't the only ones. Numerous studies track workplace bullying.

So why do people bully others?

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Usually the aggressor seeks power and authority over others, according to Ditch the Label. Ditch the Label (DTL) is a multinational organization seeking to support victims, and publish landmark research on the subject. DTL also collaborates with other organizations to combat bullying, and thus create lasting community change so that bullying is never perceived as a normal rite of passage.

Ditch the Label started as Liam Hackett's response to his own suffering. His story is remarkably similar to that of Jacob Zellerman. Both were victims of prolonged campaigns of violence, and death threats. Jacob is the subject of "Bullied," a Dreamscape Productions film, directed and produced by Daniel Marlow. "Bullied" will be showcased at the next Summit Colorado Interfaith Council Summer Sundays Film Series, Sunday August 12 at 6:30 pm, at Colorado Mountain College. The film and discussion following is recommended for families with children from age 7 through college, and anyone else who has experienced bullying, or anyone who is concerned about the topic. Admission is free. Donations are welcome.

You can find bullying in almost any environment. I led a Girl Scout troop. One of my scouts, let's call her Carrie, was frequently bullied at school. The bully, let's call her Paula, had a posse. They would knock over Carrie, throw her books out of her locker and intimidate her in the restroom. I knew several people in our town whose daughters also had suffered at Paula's hand. Somehow the school always found a way to make the victims responsible for the bullying.

Paula was a member of another Girl Scout troop in our town, and thus participated in our town's camping trip. On this trip, Paula, her sister and their crew continued their bullying: intimidating the girls in campsites and when they were in canoes on the lake, which was inky black and cold in late fall. When Paula's troop fell apart at the end of the year (due in no small part to her bullying), she tried to get into our troop. I objected because at least three girls in my troop had been threatened by Paula and her group. My actions made me the next target for bullying by Paula's mother. She tried to get me fired from my new job. Ultimately we disbanded our troop and the girls went into other troops, all this to avoid Paula and her family.

Carrie's experience was unusual in the sense that most face to face bullying occurs between males, according to research from DTL. Usually the aggressor has experienced some stressor, some loss of control, like parents divorcing, or perhaps something as simple as a new sibling entering the home.

Today bullying can be ubiquitous. The internet and cellphones bring bullying home with the victim, so there is no escape. Tulane University reports girls are twice as likely to be cyberbullied. And unlike face to face bullying, cyberbullying is seven times more likely to come from a so-called "friend," than a stranger. Scary. Worse yet, a Tulane University study has found parents and school officials are far less likely to learn about cyberbullying. Cyberbullying will also be a focus of the Interfaith Council's Summer Sunday's film program.

About half of all young adults surveyed by DTL report they have experienced bullying as victim, bully, or bystander. The resulting impact, whether face to face or through the internet, can lead to real psychological trauma effecting children in their formative years. Trauma can lead to violence which affects us all. We all must join forces to put an end to bullying.

Susan Knopf, a Summit County resident, has won awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for her news reporting.