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October 23, 2012

Fighting Back Against Bullying

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month:
Read this story and find out what ADL is doing to prevent bullying.

ADL teams with schools, government and Hollywood.

“They punch me in the jaw, strangle me, they knock things out of my hand, take things from me, sit on me. They push me so far that I want to become the bully.” — Alex, 12

Alex, a student from Sioux City, Iowa, is a target of bullying whose story is told in the powerful documentary, “Bully.” The film, released by The Weinstein Company with ADL as a partner, vividly depicts verbal abuse and violence that made school a living hell for Alex and four other children—two of whom committed suicide.

ADL has used this film as a teaching tool. To date, we have screened it at ADL anti-bullying events in two dozen locations around the country to drive home a point we’ve been making for more than a decade: bullying has serious consequences and must be dealt with seriously. According to research by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program of the Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life at Clemson University, 16.8 percent of youth are bullied two to three times per month or more.

“The impact of unchecked bullying is one that carries over beyond the school years and affects the behavior of adults and the entire society,” ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman wrote about the movie in an article for The Daily Beast/Newsweek.

“ADL’s mission to fight hate and prejudice does not stop at the schoolhouse door,” says ADL Civil Rights Director Deborah Lauter. “We continue our work so that all children feel truly protected, including students who are bullied because of their ancestry, color, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, national origin, religion or race.”

 

A Holistic Approach

ADL is unique because we fight bullying holistically, by tracking the nature and magnitude of the problem, developing education programs for parents, teachers, administrators and students, and by crafting legal and legislative responses. “It takes a whole community to allow bullying to go on, and it takes a whole community to make sure it doesn’t,” Mr. Foxman says.

“ADL’s anti-bias, anti-bullying programs, which reach over two million every year, sensitize participants to the pain inflicted by bullying and cyberbullying and train teachers, students, parents and administrators to respond effectively,” notes David Waren, ADL Education Division Director. “Our programs give a voice to the target, build empathy in the perpetrators and inspire bystanders to become allies.”

“If just one person had spoken up for me, maybe the bullying would have stopped,” said ADL Peer Trainer Nikki Allinson at a Congressional briefing in May. She had been tormented for being Jewish during her childhood in Connecticut. “Bully” director Lee Hirsch and ADL Washington Counsel Michael Lieberman also spoke at the briefing, which was hosted by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX)—a participant in an ADL “Bully” screening program in Houston.

 

Training Security and Legal Experts

Because first responders to bullying are often school police officers, ADL is training them as well. School security officers in Los Angeles are learning about the characteristics and impact of cyberbullying, and how to intervene and prevent it. In Chicago, ADL trained approximately 1,500 Chicago Public School security officers about the nature and danger of cyberbullying and key legal issues including freedom of speech and its limits, privacy, Illinois’ anti-bullying law and criminal law issues.

With so many legal ramifications, ADL is helping legal experts keep up to date on bullying and cyberbullying case law. Moreover, ADL has partnered with several state Attorneys General and U.S. Attorneys to train law enforcement officers, school administrators, social workers and others about legal issues raised by bullying and cyberbullying.

 

Creating Smart Laws

ADL is promoting state laws that mandate school bullying policies. “A law gives schools the power to do something about a bullying problem,” says ADL Civil Rights Director Deborah Lauter. “Without a law, schools may choose not to create anti-bullying policies, or may not actually enforce policies.”

In 2009, ADL created a model anti-bullying statute that outlines what an effective law should include, for example: a strong definition of bullying that includes cyberbullying; enumerated categories to explicitly address bullying motivated by personal characteristics; clear bullying reporting procedures; and required regular training for teachers and students about bullying and cyberbullying. Partly because of ADL’s advocacy, 49 states and the District of Columbia have anti-bullying laws on the books, and we are working to strengthen those that are not comprehensive.

ADL is also supporting two pieces of federal legislation, the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act of 2011 and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The first would require colleges and universities to recognize cyberbullying as a form of harassment and fund anti-harassment programs. The second would help schools develop and implement bullying prevention policies and programs, and would require states to gather and report information about bullying and harassment.

“The law is a blunt instrument when addressing bullying. It’s much better to prevent it in the first place,” says ADL Washington Counsel Michael Lieberman. “But these federal laws would provide an important frame to complement our education and training initiatives.”

 

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