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Posts Tagged ‘Violence and Abuse’

New Jersey Bullies To Face U.S.’s Toughest Laws — About Time!

In behavior, children, Crime, education, news, parenting, politics on August 31, 2011 at 1:32 pm
Bullying on IRFE in March 5, 2007, the first c...

It doesn't have to be physical! Emotional abuse is invisible and leaves scars just as deep. Image via Wikipedia

A few cases of bullying in the U.S. have — thankfully — received national attention in the past two years.

In New Jersey, two students at Rutgers, a local college, taped their gay room-mate in order to mock and bully him. He was so terrified of exposure and derision that he, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide. Only one of the students has been criminally charged.

In Massachusetts, a 15-year-old Irish girl, Phoebe Prince, made the fatal error of dating the wrong guy, and was soon targeted by girls in her school as a slut, mercilessly hounded. She hanged herself at home.

After her suicide, I spoke out against bullying in this USA Today essay, describing my own experience in a middle-class Toronto high school in the mid-1970′s:

I was 14, and also new to public school, having attended a private single-sex school in grades four to nine, with a year at a private co-ed school in grades seven and 10. Boys were an alien species. I had no idea how to dress fashionably, having just spent the past six years wearing a school uniform. I had pimples. I was socially awkward.

I quickly became the brunt of merciless, relentless public bullying by a small group of boys. They nicknamed me “Doglin” — a “dog” being the most vile name, then, one could bestow on a young girl. They barked and howled at me whenever I walked through the hallways, their taunts echoing off the metal lockers and terrazzo floors. One brought in a dog biscuit and put it on my desk in class.

I was terrified and traumatized. Like many bullying victims I and my worried parents felt helpless to stop it. I was lucky enough to make a few good female friends and to excel intellectually, appearing on a regional high school quiz show and helping our school reach its quarter-finals for the first time in years.

But the daily, visible, audible torture continued. In desperation, at 16, I started seeing a therapist, who recommended I take medication — I refused — to handle my anxiety.

Our teachers saw and heard it every day for years and did nothing.

I knew that I was taking a risk by speaking out in a national publication with more than a million readers. Americans, especially, pride themselves on mental toughness and self-sufficiency. Wimp! Wuss! Whiner! I knew these comments were possible.

Which was my whole point. Being bullied leaves you scarred for a long, long time. I have spoken twice as a keynote at two conferences, appeared on television a few times and routinely speak publicly — all to promote my new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

But for a long, long time I was deeply uneasy when people, boys especially, would look at me, fearing the next volley of vitriol. I’ve also been bullied several times in New York jobs, with one trade publication manager who shouted curses at everyone and stood subway-close when she threatened me. Another had a red-faced shouting fit in my very small office. Maybe it’s journalism, or New York, but some of the most toxic people I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter work in my field in this city I chose.

Maybe everyone who’s been bullied emits some sort of magnetic force field attracting even more of it!

Only by speaking out, ideally as someone who had had some professional success and had, in some measure “made it” could I make clear that one can, as so many people do, survive bullying, but not everyone has the self-confidence or resources to handle it.

The thoughtless, knee-jerk response to bullying is always the same: just put up with it. Sort it out among yourselves. Suck it up.

Kids will be kids.

And cruel fools come in all shapes and sizes.

Tacitly allowing bullying to continue creates a whole pile o’ hells for the bullied:

we lose faith and trust in adults whose authority is to care for us and protect us

we lose faith in others, who stand by idly and do nothing

we lose faith in ourselves as we find ourselves powerless to stop such abuse

we withdraw from social, athletic and professional arenas requiring exposure, competition and confidence, feeling unloved, even despised

The New York Times ran a front-page piece today raising questions about the new responsibilities recent New Jersey laws, passed post-Clementi, will impose on teachers and school administrators:

But while many parents and educators welcome the efforts to curb bullying both on campus and online, some superintendents and school board members across New Jersey say the new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, reaches much too far, and complain that they have been given no additional resources to meet its mandates.

The law, known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, is considered the toughest legislation against bullying in the nation. Propelled by public outcry over the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, nearly a year ago, it demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes.

Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.

Of course, some educators are annoyed and say it’s too much for them to handle.

Try being bullied.

France Makes Verbally Abusing A Woman A Crime

In Crime, women, world on July 1, 2010 at 9:46 am
Nadine Morano, French politician

Nadine Morano -- Merci! Image via Wikipedia

It’s no longer enough to hit a woman, but threatening her with violence is now a crime in France. From The New York Times:

The French Parliament gave final and unanimous approval on Tuesday to a law that makes “psychological violence” a criminal offense as part of a law intended to help victims of physical violence and abuse, especially in the home.

The law is thought to be too vague by some judges and the police, and whether they choose to investigate and prosecute such offenses will define the success of the new legislation.

Nadine Morano, the secretary of state for the family, told the National Assembly that “we have introduced an important measure here, which recognizes psychological violence, because it isn’t just blows, but also words.”

Ms. Morano said the primary abuse help line for French women got 90,000 calls a year, with 84 percent concerning psychological violence.

The legislation, introduced by Danielle Bousquet, a Socialist, and Guy Geoffroy, a member of the ruling center-right Union for a Popular Movement, quickly found bipartisan support and backing from the government. In November, Prime Minister François Fillon called the draft law “a national cause” and said it would allow the authorities to deal with “the most insidious situations, which don’t leave a mark to the naked eye but can mutilate the victim’s inner self.”

Those found guilty face up to three years in jail and a fine of 75,000 euros, or about $90,000.

This is an important step — 2.2 French women are killed in domestic violence every day, slightly lower than the three a day in the U.S.

Women who live with threatening and abusive partners live in a kind of hell few of us can imagine. A man’s verbal abuse can do just as much damage to a woman’s psyche and confidence — her ability to work or have friends or see her family or care for her kids — as a punch to the face. You can call the cops if he hits you; physical assault is a crime and provable while threatening words become a game of he-said, she-said, the damage deep but invisible.

I spent a lot of time around women who had been abused, beaten and repeatedly threatened, sometimes for years or decades, for my 2004 book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”. Just listening to their stories left my own soul bruised and darkened, like the elegant blond who spoke to me in a Texas library bathroom and told me her husband kept a shotgun under his side of the bed and threatened regularly to aim it at her. Her own family of origin said — suck it up.

I’ve also spent time around men who were extremely verbally abusive, when they weren’t utterly charming.

Untangling one’s psyche from these men isn’t nearly as simple as it can appear.

When Your Child Needs A 'Rough Stone': Coping With Bullying, Sadness And Loss

In behavior, education on May 1, 2010 at 8:52 am
Image taken by me on March 5, 2007.

Image via Wikipedia

Fellow True/Slanter Bob Cook has been writing on school-based cruelty as well and something he said hit me hard — that comments on this (not here at T/S, interestingly) tend to sneer at anyone who finds bullying unacceptable. They insist it’s natural, normal, that “kids will be kids.”

Well, barracudas and piranhas will also shred your flesh, but that’s in their nature. It is the specific task of parents, teachers and other adult role models to ensure that the nastiest of children do not remain feral, vicious animals by not being told their behavior is wrong.

Those who shirk that duty, certainly while collecting pay and healthy pensions funded by our taxes, need to understand their responsibilities. If not, and a suicide is the result of such bullying, they must be criminally liable. Turning a blind eye, remaining passive, is not an option.

I am constantly shocked that bullying, (aka cruelty, abuse, unkindness), is so often described as simply a part of growing up, something we should all just “suck up” as part of becoming a Teflon-skinned adolescent or functioning adult. Great! Now we can all be cruel/wounded adults. There’s a terrific lesson.

There is no justification for deliberate acts of cruelty. Most important — and overlooked — there is no acceptable way to calibrate what is truly hurtful to someone else. This is the height of arrogance. Just because you or your kids could handle it (really?), doesn’t mean someone else has the emotional resources, or other sources of kindness and comfort or the powerful, necessary defense mechanisms to reframe their tormentors as pathetic scum.

Even the tiniest children can arrive at school — whether the bully or his/her victims — from a home already filled with toxicity: rage, alcoholism, drug abuse, incest, chronic poverty, terminal illness, madness. Kids are taught to keep their feelings private, to “be a man”, not to open up.

One of my favorite writers in the world, Susie Boyt, a columnist for the Financial Times, recently wrote a beautiful column suggesting a simple, elegant solution. Yet it is one that relies on a deep trust in others’ empathy. Is that possible?

A friend who counsels bereaved children told me recently about what she calls “rough stone” work. A child who has experienced a loss is given a rough stone and a smooth stone, and every day puts one of the stones on her teacher’s desk at school. The smooth stone means she is feeling all right; the rough stone means she is feeling bad, and is a sign that she may need a bit of extra attention, one-to-one time, cuddles, a place to cry quietly, or just general special treatment.

The child then learns, through being required to clock in emotionally, that her state of mind is of utmost concern to her teachers and her school. She can seek attention without feeling attention-seeking. There is a strong net of care that is discreet. No child wants to feel outlandish and unusual.

It makes me happy to know this system is in place in some of our schools because it was not always so. I have friends who lost a parent in early childhood and are amazed at the treatment they received. “No one ever, ever referred to the fact my father had died,” one friend still laments to this day. “They thought by mentioning it they would set me off, but I was left thinking I was the only person in the world who had noticed.”

Being Bullied Scars You For Life: My Op-Ed In USA Today

In behavior, education, women on April 7, 2010 at 5:10 pm
Cave troll as corporate bully

Yup, it feels like that. Image by kevindooley via Flickr

From USA Today:

I was the perfect target.

Like Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old Irish teen who recently committed suicide after being bullied by her new classmates in South Hadley, Mass., I arrived as a nervous outsider. Mine was a middle-class Toronto high school; like hers, most of my new classmates had attended grade school and middle school together.

I was 14, and also new to public school, having attended a private single-sex school in grades four to nine, with a year at a private co-ed school in grades seven and 10. Boys were an alien species. I had no idea how to dress fashionably, having just spent the past six years wearing a school uniform. I had pimples. I was socially awkward.

I quickly became the brunt of merciless, relentless public bullying by a small group of boys. They nicknamed me “Doglin” — a “dog” being the most vile name, then, one could bestow on a young girl. They barked and howled at me whenever I walked through the hallways, their taunts echoing off the metal lockers and terrazzo floors. One brought in a dog biscuit and put it on my desk in class.

I was terrified and traumatized.

The rest at USA Today.

Patrick Stewart's Childhood Lessons — In Domestic Violence

In Crime, entertainment, women on November 27, 2009 at 8:32 am
Patrick Stewart and his motherPatrick Stewart as a baby with his mother Gladys. Photograph: Collect

Domestic violence, as the recent Rihanna drama made clear(er), can quite literally hit even the most celebrated. In a new series run by the British aid agency Refuge, designed to raise broader awareness of DV and its caustic effects on its witnesses, actor Patrick Stewart speaks out about his brutal childhood:

My father was, in many ways, a man of discipline, organisation and charisma – a regimental sergeant major no less. One of the very last men to be evacuated from Dunkirk, his third stripe was chalked on to his uniform by an officer when no more senior NCOs were left alive. Parachuted into Crete and Italy, both times under fire, he fought at Monte Casino and was twice mentioned in dispatches. A fellow soldier once told me, “When your father marches on to the parade ground, the birds in the trees stop singing.”

In civilian life it was a different story. He was an angry, unhappy and frustrated man who was not able to control his emotions or his hands. As a child I witnessed his repeated violence against my mother, and the terror and misery he caused was such that, if I felt I could have succeeded, I would have killed him. If my mother had attempted it, I would have held him down. For those who struggle to comprehend these feelings in a child, imagine living in an environment of emotional unpredictability, danger and humiliation week after week, year after year, from the age of seven. My childish instinct was to protect my mother, but the man hurting her was my father, whom I respected, admired and feared.

From Monday morning to Friday tea time he worked as a semi-skilled labourer, and was diligent and sober. Often funny and charming, he was always rich in the personal stories of warfare and adventure that thrilled me. But come Friday night, after the pubs closed, we awaited his return with trepidation. I would be in bed but not asleep. I could never sleep until he did; while he was awake we were all at risk. Instead, I would listen for his voice, singing, as he walked home. Certain songs were reassuring: I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen; I’ll Walk Beside You . . . But army songs were not a good sign. And worst of all was silence. When I could only hear footsteps it was the signal to be super-alert.

Our house was small, and when you grow up with domestic violence in a confined space you learn to gauge, very precisely, the temperature of situations. I knew exactly when the shouting was done and a hand was about to be raised – I also knew exactly when to insert a small body between the fist and her face, a skill no child should ever have to learn. Curiously, I never felt fear for myself and he never struck me, an odd moral imposition that would not allow him to strike a child. The situation was barely tolerable: I witnessed terrible things, which I knew were wrong, but there was nowhere to go for help. Worse, there were those who condoned the abuse. I heard police or ambulancemen, standing in our house, say, “She must have provoked him,” or, “Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight.” They had no idea. The truth is my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, violence is an unacceptable way of dealing with conflict. Violence is a choice a man makes and he alone is responsible for it.

No one came to help. No adult stepped in and took charge. I needed someone else to take over and tell me everything was going to be all right and that it wasn’t my fault. I wanted the anger to go away and, while it stayed, I felt responsible. The sense of guilt and loneliness provoked by domestic violence is tainting – and lasting. No one came, but everyone knew. Our small houses were close together. Every Monday morning I walked to school with my head down, praying that I would not encounter a neighbour or school friend who had heard the weekend’s rows. I felt ashamed.

Very occasionally one person would come to our aid – Mrs Dixon, our next-door neighbour, the only person who would stand up to my father. She would throw open the door and stand before him, bosom bursting and her mighty weaver’s forearm raised in his face. “Come on, Alf Stewart,” she would say, “have a go at me.” He never did. He calmed down and went to bed. Now I wish I could take Lizzie Dixon’s big hand in mine and thank her.

Such experiences are destructive. In my adult life I have struggled to overcome the bad lessons of my father’s behaviour, this corrosive example of male irresponsibility. But the most oppressive aspect of these experiences was the loneliness. Very recently, during a falling-out with my girlfriend, I felt again as though I were shut out and alone, not heard or understood. I was neither, but it was such a familiar isolation that it was almost a comfort and consolation.

I managed to find my own refuge in acting. The stage was a far safer place for me than anything I had to live through at home – it offered escape. I could be someone else, in another place, in another time. However, whenever the role called for anger, fury, or the expression of murderous impulses, I was always afraid of what I might unleash if I surrendered myself to those feelings.

Domestic Violence A 'Pre-Existing Condition'? Nice.

In women on November 8, 2009 at 8:10 pm
National Organization for Women

Image via Wikipedia

Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, in the Washington Post:

Women have far different interactions with the health-care system than men. Profit-driven insurance companies are allowed to charge women higher premiums than men because women’s reproductive health-care needs are more costly. Even women who never experience pregnancy or childbirth may pay higher premiums.

She adds:

In a half-dozen or so states, insurance companies are allowed to call domestic violence a pre-existing condition and refuse to provide any health coverage to women who are or have been abused.

Words fail me.

Vive la France! They're Tackling Domestic Violence

In politics, women on July 14, 2009 at 8:11 am
Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Image by heraldpost via Flickr

According to a recent story in the Paris daily Liberation, 1.3 million French women are the victims of domestic violence. In the U.S. three women a day are killed by their intimates, usually their current or ex-husband or boyfriend; in France, reports Delphine Legoute, the rate is a little lower, while nonetheless horrifying — every 2.5 days a woman is killed, also typically at the hands of her male (ex) intimate.

Over the past six months, a series of 30 hearings in France have gathered testimony from 100 doctors, judges, legislators and prosecutors, with the goal of finding new solutions to this age-old problem. Thirty-six deputies, of all political parties, worked together on the issue and presented their findings to the head of the National Assembly, Bernard Accoy, who says they will be studied and addressed in early fall.

Two of their twelve propositions: make the right to “human dignity” as much a part of the Constitution as the right to economic, civil and social rights, and train schoolteachers to address the issue of preventing violence against women, in its many forms, in the classroom.

The story in Libe, a leftist daily, prompted 82 comments, much of it heated debate.

Will the French take the lead on this crucial issue? Someone has to!

Let's Call It What It is — Intimate Terrorism

In Uncategorized, women, politics on July 1, 2009 at 7:47 pm
Illustration from Norwegian picture book Sinna...

Image via Wikipedia

If you’ve never been the victim of domestic violence — an anodyne phrase that in no way conveys the horror and trauma involved — you’re fortunate.

While traveling the U.S. to research my book, Blown Away: American Women and Guns (Pocket Books), http://www.blownawaythebook.com, I met many women who had been viciously abused by the men who loved them, or said they did. For one Texas wife, that meant sleeping beside a husband who kept a loaded shotgun on his side of the bed. Others had seen their pets or children attacked, even killed. At a conference I attended, hoping to better understand this complex problem — like many women with little knowledge of the issue, I had often wondered “Why don’t they just leave?” — I listened to experts explain, using pie charts, the many ways men try to control women. Their fists are only small slice of that pie: restricting access to money,  credit cards, a vehicle, to children or family members are all methods used to punish, terrorize and humiliate women.

As this recession exacts its ongoing toll of unemployment and economic distress, domestic violence shelters are seeing an increase in the number of women seeking their assistance and protection.

Read the rest of this entry »

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