“I believed that I did not deserve to live.”
Joey Kemmerling shared his painful story of facing the hallways of horror after coming out of the closet in eighth grade. He told CNN’s Anderson Cooper other students call him “school f**got” a dozen times a day. At one point, a kid had a knife and told Joey he was going to kill him.
“You feel so helpless, and day in and day out you’re being called something, and they’re telling you the same message: ‘Your life is worthless.’ And you start to believe it,” said the 16-year-old from Pennsylvania, whose Facebook page for bullying victims grew into a nonprofit called the Equality Project. He was interviewed for the recent weeklong CNN special, “Bullying: No Escape”.
One out of 4 youth are bullied, one out of 5 youth are the bully and 282,000 high school students are attacked each month across the country, according to BullyingCanada.ca, an anti-bullying advocacy website created by youth volunteers.
The problem with kids being cruel against kids has persisted for generations to the point some are calling it an epidemic today. Worse yet, in some cases it has led to “bullycides” when bullied victims commit suicide.
Half a dozen American teens recently took their lives apparently because of bullies. Most were gay youth who had been taunted, but little had reportedly been done to help them at schools. A few were as young as 13. One was a gifted violinist just starting life at Rutgers University. Tyler Clementi’s intimate private date with another man was secretly filmed and streamed live on the web allegedly by his roommate and another student. The distraught 18-year-old jumped off the George Washington Bridge.
Today’s college students show significantly less empathy than their peers from 30 years ago – and it’s gotten worse in the past 10 years, The L.A. Times blog reported. The University of Michigan study suggested that overexposure to media, the growth of social media and increasing focus on the self have possibly led to a more desensitized generation.
“People say ‘Bullying can’t be changed, it’s been around forever.’ But it really can,” Kemmerling told CNN. “And how many people, deep down inside, have empathy, have that consideration that if you can really get down into their soul, and make them understand the way that the words affect people, then they can change.”
Still, anti-bullying advocates say not enough is being done with no laws to specifically make bullying a crime in the U.S. and Canada. BullyingCanada.ca has teamed up with Conservative MP Mike Allen with a national petition that has gathered 15,000 names so far to push for a law against bullying in Canada. In the U.S., Kirk Smalley has become an outspoken advocate, organizing vigils at the Oklahoma state house and promising his deceased son Ty on Father’s Day that he would save other children from being bullied. Smalley’s 11-year-old son shot himself dead in May after being suspended when he fought back against his tormentor.
“I want to make bullying history,” said Smalley in a CNN interview. “Someone needs to be held accountable. Maybe not necessarily the children that are being the bullies, but the parents should be held accountable for their children’s behaviour.”
He encourages others to stand up for those who are being bullied. “Save their fragile self-esteem,” he said. “Save their lives.”
The high-profile “bullycides” have led to some recent action. Online video project “It Gets Better” was launched so others could share their story of hope for gay teens victimized by bullies.
Ellen DeGeneres, who has risen to talk show popularity after coming out, has put her star power support behind the cause, including the Trevor Project, a 24-hour support hotline (866-4U-TREVOR) and website for gay or questioning teens. Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History is a new documentary film and educational kit being distributed for free to schools in the U.S. by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project in the wake of the suicides.
“When these things happen, it feels like it’s a direct assault … They’re talking about me. I’m gay and I’ve been ostracized my whole life in this society,” DeGeneres told CNN. “I didn’t really start feeling comfortable in my own skin till the last 10 years and I get comfortable as I get older … I have been through it, I came out, I am successful, I am happy, I am in love … There is always hope.”
What can we do to stop and prevent bullying, especially during the fragile adolescent years? Are schools, parents and our communities doing enough to end bullying? Do you have a story or advice to share on how to cope and deal with bullies?