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Editorial on Bullying from Police Commissioner Novelle E. Francis, Jr.

October 27, 2010

Novelle E. Francis, Jr. This is Police Commissioner, Novelle E. Francis, Jr.

I have joined forces with Governor John P. de Jongh, Jr. and the Department of Education in the fight against youth bullying. Bullying is a serious offence that includes physical contact, through hitting, or punching, verbal abuse, name calling or teasing, starting false rumors against someone or excluding someone from games, social groups or clubs.

Bullying was once dismissed as an ordinary part of growing up and hundreds of our local students are daily victims of this “growing pain.” Today bullying cannot be dismissed as it was in the past. Today bullying has a different nature, it is crueler, it can follow you anywhere in the form of cyber bullying and it can be more violent. Today’s bullying sometimes ends in the most tragic of situations, where a parent, sibling or friend discovers the lifeless body of a young person that just could not live with the constant mental and physical harassment.

Teachers and administrators frequently underestimate the extent and effect of bullying and, as a result, fail to prevent or stop it. In part, this is fueled by the prior belief that bullying is a part of growing up. Additionally, adolescents are masterful at shielding their social-and antisocial-lives from adults. Although students know bullying hurts the victims, they often are not clear that bullying is wrong or preventable, so bullies do not stop, and the bystanders don’t report it. When children and adults fail to take a stand against bullying this implies that the behavior is acceptable. This further enables the behavior and condemns the victims and bystanders to feel abandoned by the system.

Stateside there are many instances of how unreported and unnoticed bullying can have serious consequences. The most notorious was the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, CO and, closer to home there was the senseless suicide of 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera who relocated with his family to Georgia from the Virgin Islands.

Typically, bullies and their victims share the same characteristic – low self-esteem. Additionally, negative situations and events in the child’s life can trigger low self-esteem. The main goal of bullies is to get their victims to experience fear, anger, or sadness. Although the Virgin Islands have been spared the grief of child suicide, it is imperative we be proactive now so the islands do not follow in this trend.

Parents are the first defense against bullying. Parents must be diligent about reporting any form of bullying to the school administration as soon as they are aware of the situation. Most bullying can be prevented if parents partner with the school and are vigilant in their defense of the bullied child and in the aid of the aggressive child. This is the time where parents must take an honest look at their child’s behavior and begin to create an environment at home and school that will foster tolerance instead of violence and intimidation.

Students come in a close second in the prevention of bullying. I encourage our youth to defend those who have difficulty defending themselves. Our children are confused about the thin line between “ratting out” a fellow classmate and being proactive in this fight. As adults we must teach our children to be protectors of each other, especially those who are being victimized. We must embrace the “community of caring” that is our heritage as Virgin Islanders. It is our responsibility to encourage our youth to understand that they too have a responsibility to defend the principals of right and wrong and to not be afraid to speak up about any incident of bullying they have witnessed.

To the teachers and administration, I implore you to be more visible in the hallways and common areas of the school where most of the bullying occurs; to not allow “play fighting” of any kind; to foster a community where students can report incidents in confidence; and to keep a closer eye on the students who are repeated targets of bullies within your school communities as well as repeat offenders.

Students need to know without a doubt that bullying will not be tolerated and will be diffused swiftly. Students also need to know that reporting of bullying will come with protection from retaliation. They also need to know that bullies will be counseled to uncover the root of the issue which is causing the bullying behavior.

We must eradicate the social consequences that arise when bullying is allowed to grow unchecked in our society. Both the bullies and the victims can suffer from a variety of psychological as well as somatic symptoms, some of which may persist into adulthood.

As adults and as the protectors of our children, it is up to us to be vigilant against all forms of bullying. We must educate our children on the dangers of bullying and institute real solutions for those who are being bullied.

Let’s join together for “Bullying Prevention Month” and every month to stop this violence in school and out of school.

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