“KILL HER, KILL HER KILL HER!!!!”
A ragged circle of over twenty middle school kids shouted their evil mantra, as an angry girl named Raven attacked my daughter Julie just outside of their middle school cafeteria.
The back of Julie’s head was slammed against the wall over and over. The flesh around her face was pummeled until engorged and mottled. Cowering under a barrage of punches, her arms were a mass of defensive wounds.
Raven showed no signs of stopping.
No one saw. No one came. Almost ten minutes went by. No teachers, no faculty, no security.
At the end of the assault, Julie had a bleeding concussion in the right temporal lobe of her brain. Her doctors told us that she was lucky. A few more slams to her head could have had dire consequences. She was out of school for over a month, hospitalized twice because of extreme dizziness, and debilitating migraines. She was covered with cuts, welts, and bruises, her eye lids were swollen shut. Terrifying nightmares would jolt her awake to the sounds of her own screams.
The reason for the beating?
She’d finally mustered the courage to verbally stand up to a girl named Raven, who along with her gang had made Julie’s life unbearable for nine long years.
It began when Julie and Raven were assigned to the same kindergarten class. From day one Raven singled her out and taunted her, encouraging others to join in.
Julie suffers from bi-polar disorder and is more depressed than manic. Add a slight weight problem and she stood out from the other girls. Shy, gentle and frightened by confrontation, she would back down when provoked rather than assert herself.
Raven’s friends saw to it that Julie was the last to be picked for teams in Phys Ed, and was excluded from birthday parties and play dates. New kids played with her until someone else came along and befriended them. That someone was usually Raven who would swoop in, recruit the newbie and warn her to play with anyone else but my little girl.
Julie’s favorite doll suddenly disappeared. When I asked her where it was, she suddenly burst into tears.
“Raven said she’d be my friend if I gived her Rachel Lorraine. But she lied. Raven just wanted my baby” she sobbed.
I wanted to cry too.
I got the doll back. But I never forgot the selfish, self satisfied sneer on Raven’s seven year old face as she handed it to me through her front door. So cold. It made me shudder to think of what she’d be like in a few short years.
My daughter was the saddest, loneliest child I’d ever seen. It broke my heart to drop her off at school each day, knowing what lay beyond the double doors.
God knows we tried to stop it.
I volunteered in Julie’s classes to give her a sense of “Mommy’s here” security, as well as hoping to catch the varmints in the act of tormenting her.
But I was never that lucky.
As slick as landfill rats, Raven and her minions patiently waited to pounce on Julie until after I left the room.
Her dad and I frequently met with Julie’s teachers, guidance counselor and the school principal, demanding they put a stop to the constant abuse.
Each time we got the same line of drivel.
“Kids will be kids” or “It’s natural for children to pick on each other” or “I didn’t see anything happen so I can’t punish her based on Julie’s word alone.”
It might be natural for kids to pick on each other, but it’s not right for one child to crush another child’s spirit.
That was Raven’s specialty.
If it were financially possible, I’d have home schooled Julie. But at the time we were like many young families; dependent on two incomes to pay the bills.
Our county had strict school zones. We couldn’t send Julie to another school unless we sold our house and moved – which we couldn’t afford, or unless we presented the district with extenuating circumstances.
Playground bullies weren’t considered an extenuating circumstance.
Another dead end; I checked into private school but the cost of tuition was out of our reach, and they told us we made too much money to meet the criteria for a scholarship. Most of our grocery shopping took place in the generic food aisle where foods were cheaper and of questionable quality, so it was a surprise to learn that we were living too high on the hog to qualify.
Alone and discouraged beyond words, we had no choice but to suck it up and try to cope with the losing hand we’d been dealt.
And we did our best, until Raven’s attack on Julie changed everything.
Raven faced juvenile aggravated battery charges; a felony that would have remained on her adult record.
Of course her stooges did everything they could to get us to drop the charges, and used our frightened daughter as their carrier pigeon. They issued multiple death threats, hissing them in Julie’s ear as they passed her in the hall, in class or in the cafeteria. Reportedly, the plan was to set fire to our house in the middle of the night and burn us to a crisp in our beds.
As usual the threats were made out of the sight and hearing of school faculty.
Reporting their crap to the Sheriff’s department and State Attorney’s office did little good other than to document the harassment, as well as give them someone to interrogate if we were actually barbequed.
Otherwise there was no proof that the threats were ever made.
I didn’t and still don’t blame law enforcement. They were outwitted at every turn by children who clearly knew how to work the system.
Because it was close to the end of the year, we pulled Julie out of school and all remaining assignments were completed at home. Since administrators couldn’t or wouldn’t protect her, we had no choice.
When Raven’s case finally went to court, the State Attorney’s office reduced the charges to battery, a misdemeanor. She received a slap on the wrist, six weeks of community service, and one year of mandatory anger management classes.
After all that Raven had done to Julie, the sentence was like a bad joke.
Following the criminal process, we filed suit against the school board for negligent security on the day of the attack; ten minutes of unsupervised hell.
Their attorneys arranged a mediation hearing which was nothing more than a face-to-face ambush to get us to drop the suit. They had investigated Julie’s medical history, discovered she was bi-polar and made it the cornerstone of their case. Their lead attorney stated that if we went to trial he would grill our daughter mercilessly, drag every detail of her illness in front of a jury and make her look like a lunatic who had asked for it.
Thank God my husband was holding me back or I’d have flown across three feet of mahogany and strangled the bastard.
We dropped the suit for Julie’s sake, with the stipulation that by doing so our daughter would be given an immediate transfer to the school of our choice; a place where she might have a fresh new beginning.
For once they agreed with us.
Julie’s final four years at her new school were far different than the nine years that had preceded them. She blossomed, made lots of new friends, was a member of the cross country track team and graduated with honors.
After nearly a decade of heartache, she finally knew the pleasure of a life without Raven. If only we could have provided it sooner.
According to recent reports, 25-35% of teenagers have been the victim of intolerable bullying. And in the last decade a number of bullying victims have taken matters into their own hands; usually with tragic results. I’m sure we all remember the Columbine High School massacre. Most school shooters have been classified as misunderstood, brutally teased loners.
Bullying incidences have not only escalated, but some have become hi-tech. The internet affords bullies the ability to spread hate filled messages to a much larger audience, which in turn dramatically increases their victim’s humiliation.
A recent example of cyber bullying is promising violinist Tyler Clementi, a quiet 18 year old freshman at Rutgers University. He jumped to his death from New York’s George Washington Bridge after learning his roommate had secretly broadcast live video of Tyler and another male having sex. On both occasions the roommate announced the encounters on Twitter, the second time with instructions on when and how to watch. Without his consent, Tyler’s most intimate moments were available for the world to see, outing a horrified young man who wasn’t ready to announce to his family and friends that he was gay.
Like adults, children have a breaking point too. And despite society’s prevailing belief that kids are tough, they are often far more fragile than we think.
How many more children must suffer scarring humiliation, or be driven to take their own lives before our society takes appropriate steps to nip this deeply disturbing epidemic in the bud?
As the mother of a bullied child, I’ve seen a lot, heard a lot and thus have drawn a number of conclusions.
First of all it’s easy to blame the bullies. But who raised them to have so little regard for others?
Their parents are the people we should really be pissed at.
Our children imitate us. If we are cynical and critical, engaging in snobbishness, rudeness and name calling, our kids will emulate that behavior. If we ignore or abuse them, our actions may provoke them to lash out at the innocent. I’ve noticed that most bullies have low self esteem. The only way they can feel better about themselves is to tear down someone else.
I’ve also noticed that when we demonstrate compassion, tolerance, love and respect toward those who share our world, children will follow our example.
Actions are far more powerful than words.
Any parent knows that children will test us to see if we’re asleep at the wheel. When we’re passive or indifferent to their actions, we leave the door open for anyone who will take charge and lead them; even if that person is the school bully, or worse.
Ask gang members what drew them to that lifestyle. Many will say that they were looking for a family where they could be loved and protected. In spite of their nefarious activities, gangs offer many kids a sense of security and group acceptance that they don’t get at home.
As I look back at Raven and her gang, nearly all came from badly dysfunctional homes. A few were foster kids who had been shuttled from place to place because their parents lost custody or were serving time in jail. Raven’s parents went through a nasty divorce, and she had to raise herself while her workaholic father avoided his daughter.
One of Raven’s friends lived in a communal wreck of a home, her family’s lifestyle similar to that found at the Manson ranch. Her father had married five times, and her mother had married six times, each with countless boyfriends and girlfriends in between weddings. Nearly every relationship – married or not, produced an additional child to feed. No continuity, no guidance, lots of drugs, and alcohol.
With her strong personality it’s no surprise that Raven ended up as the leader of a group of badly neglected and damaged girls who flocked together, desperate to feel a part of something.
And because bitter children can become bitter adults, it concerns me that a percentage of today’s juvenile anger balls might be caring for us in nursing homes someday. I don’t know about you, but that prospect scares the hell out of me.
Anti-bullying campaigns and the enactment of laws with harsher penalties have helped control those who step out of bounds. But breaking a child’s lifelong pattern of caustic behavior is about as easy as an ordinary citizen expecting to meet President Obama for an impromptu coffee date at Starbucks.
Rules and regulations after the fact are a poor substitute for raising children to be kind and caring in the first place.
The solution for halting the rampant spread of bullying has always been and always will lie with parents. Kids are here because we brought them here. Until tolerance, respect and responsible parenting is a way of life for all of us, bullying will continue to thrive.
And those undeserving of a bully’s rage will continue to suffer.
It’s a vicious cycle that only parents have the power to stop once and for all.
It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength. ~ Maya Angelou
Michelle Close Mills©