Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Time for a National Bully Registry?

As the parent of a middle schooler, and someone who was severely bullied in middle school, I read A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives with alarm.
One day last winter Margarite posed naked before her bathroom mirror, held up her cellphone and took a picture. Then she sent the full-length frontal photo to Isaiah, her new boyfriend.

Both were in eighth grade.

They broke up soon after. A few weeks later, Isaiah forwarded the photo to another eighth-grade girl, once a friend of Margarite’s. Around 11 o’clock at night, that girl slapped a text message on it.

“Ho Alert!” she typed. “If you think this girl is a whore, then text this to all your friends.” Then she clicked open the long list of contacts on her phone and pressed “send.”

Margarite is a very troubled and vulnerable teen. Her ex-boyfriend sounds like a real dunce.
He told the police that the other girl had pressured him into sending her Margarite’s photo, vowing she just wanted to look at it. He said he had not known that their friendship had disintegrated.
If he really wanted to show her the photo, then he should have showed her the photo on his phone. Why did he text it to her phone? A real dunce. Or a liar.

Even before this incident, the former friend had bullied Margarite to the point that she had to eat lunch alone. Then she manipulated the ex-boyfriend to send her the photo to her phone. This was a pre-meditated act of annihilation of another human being. She knew exactly what she was doing and planned for the photo to go viral.

Rick Peters, the prosecuting attorney, never intended for the Chinook Middle School students to receive draconian sentences. But he wanted to send a scared-straight message to them, as well as to the community.

Yet when the local news media storm cascaded, the outcry was not about the severe penalties for a felony sexting conviction. It was about why Mr. Peters had not also arrested Margarite.

“She’s a victim,” Mr. Peters said. “She made an ill-advised decision to share that picture with her boyfriend. As far as she knew, that was as far as it would go.

He decided against charging Margarite. But he did charge three students with dissemination of child pornography, a Class C felony, because they had set off the viral outbreak.

After school had been let out that day in late January, the police read Isaiah his rights, cuffed his hands behind his back and led him and Margarite’s former friend out of the building. The eighth graders would have to spend the night in the county juvenile detention center.

And that's the thing that really bothers me. The outcry from the community was about making Isaiah and the former friend do the perp walk and not charging Margarite.

Read some of the comments from the article. So many people think that the DA overreacted by charging the three teens.

I think Isaiah and the 13 year old got what they deserved for their stupidity. But the instigator of the mayhem got off too lightly. Community service for destroying a girl's life? That's a slap on the wrist. Consider her subsequent behavior.
One spring evening, the three students who had been disciplined met for a mediation session with Margarite and two facilitators from Community Youth Services.
The former friend who had forwarded the photo, creating the uproar, was accompanied by her mortified father, an older sister and a translator. She came across as terse and somewhat perfunctory, recalled several people who were there.
Those three students would have to create public service material about the hazards of sexting, attend a session with Margarite to talk about what happened and otherwise have no contact with her.

After Margarite and her mother approved the conditions, Mr. Peters signed off, pleased.

Throughout last spring, on Monday afternoons after school, Eric Fredericks, Isaiah’s math teacher, met with the three students to help them develop their material.

Margarite’s former friend made a PowerPoint presentation, with slides copied from the Internet.

Not only is she an unrepentent bully of royal proportions, but she is a plagiarist, too. She has obviously not learned a lesson. She got away with it. She will do it again and again.

Why did the NY Times use Margarite and Isaiah's first names and not name the former friend?

If you were in a position to hire her or admit her to your school, wouldn't you want to know her behavior history? I wouldn't want to have that sociopath anywhere near me or accept liability for anything she might do on the premises. Would you want a unrepentent bully and plagiarist at your campus?

I gave my daughter Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons and we discussed some of the mean girls at her school. I've also spoken to the principal about a minor incident. But bullying, with and without technological tools, scares the crap out of me.

Simmons wrote in Odd Girl Out that girl-on-girl aggression is most extreme in white girls from rich and upper middle class backgrounds. My daughter attends a very diverse school that gets lower mean standardized test scores.

We live right next to one of the wealthiest zip codes in the US, and their middle school gets higher mean standardized test scores. They have way more money for extras, too. It's even closer to our house than the "home district" school that she attends.

But I would not dream of asking for an inter-district transfer because of their bullying problem. I heard about a girl in that school who was bullied so badly, she had to transfer to a school in an extremely high-poverty area to get away from her tormentors. Actually, there are several girls at my daughter's economically diverse school that are refugees from the richer school. But, right now, her school is full up. No new inter-district transfers were accepted this year.

Do you think it is time for a national registry for bullies? (And plagiarists, too.) Why is it always the bullied kids that have to change schools?


  1. Bullying scares me, too. We've already seen the start of it at day care, and I am really struggling with how to handle it.

    The statistics saying bullying is more prevalent among wealthier girls are interesting. I wonder why that is. Does the book offer any explanation?

    I was picked on a bit, but not horribly bullied. (FWIW, I went to diverse schools with lower income levels).

  2. Anonymous21:12

    Thinking about Kurt from Glee when you talked about the bullied leaving school.

  3. @Cloud She gave several possible explanations, but didn't draw conclusions. There isn't enough data to draw conclusions.

    I am passing by your neighborhood this weekend. Do you want me to drop the book off at your house?

  4. Marie-Christine02:48

    I haven't yet answered this post because I found it so disturbing. Yes, it's important to flag bullies openly, not tolet them operate without public comment. And your wish to spare your daughter what you went through is completely natural. But on an Internet, world-wide, permanent level? That's being too Mark Zuckerberg for me :-).

    I've had to deal with a couple major bullies in the past couple of years unfortunately. Ones I couldn't avoid, which is my usual tactic. I've found much to ponder at bullyonline.org which has to me the best explanations of the general mechanisms of bullying. Being able to put my particular situation in a more global context was really helpful. That site provides specifics of some situations (like school or work or home) while keeping in mind the classic mechanisms of bullying, for targets, bystanders, and perpetrators. Check it out.

    And by the way, I agree also very much with your conclusion that the bullies should be the ones forced to switch schools. That should be one of the things that managers and principals should conclude, it should be policy everywhere. But in practice getting yourself out of a target situation really should be the highest priority.

  5. I was bullied a LOT as a child. It shaped my personality in ways that bugged me for years--that moment of fear/hesitation before attempting to join a crowd.

    For me, it was racial. The only Asian child in an all white school. I agree it's terrible that the bullied bear the brunt of this, and stupid that the media reported the name of the victim but not the former friend.

    BUT, I've also been on the other side with a son with anger and impulse control issues. I'd like to think that as horrible as their behavior toward Margarite was, that age 13 is not too late to shape them into decent human beings.

  6. Anonymous07:24

    Some bully kids get the "ok" from their parents to bully. I do think a registry should be to list the bullies and their actions.

    1. Yes, my child and several others in one class reported a boy. When his parents were called into the school for a meeting, the dad made a big point of telling the staff that he was a litigation attorney. Fortunately, the boy was on interdistrict permit, which was NOT renewed.


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