Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Letter to "The Vancouver Sun" in Response to the Suicide Death of Amanda Todd, a Victim of Bullying

In many ways, I’ve waited nearly forty years to write this letter.

From about grade four to twelve, I was bullied relentlessly.  I was called names, physically abused in PE class, kicked, punched, tripped, my street clothes were soaked in the PE change room shower, I was shoved into my locker, sent chasing my school books down the hallway while everyone laughed at me–the list goes on and on.  Even as I walked down the runway at my high school graduation ceremony in 1977, diploma in hand, all of my classmates seated below on both sides, someone yelled out “Faggot” at me.  So I know a thing or two about bullying.

You are right.  It’s time to shame the bullies–to publicly identify who they are and make them accountable for what they do.

In the same way we have a national public registry for sex offenders, we need a national public registry for bullies.  Too severe?  Not when countless lives are ruined, and even lost, because of bullying.  A violation of privacy?  The right to privacy should be forfeited when you cross the line and become a bully.

On the registry (available online for the everyone to see), the bully’s full name would appear, as well as his school picture.  If necessary, because his parents are part of the problem and not the solution, their names would also appear, as would their pictures (taken from the DMV).

When the bully transferred to a different school, the principal would check the registry and decide if he wanted to admit that student (and under what conditions).  When the bully applied to a college or university, the institution would refer to the registry and decide if it wanted that young adult on campus.  When the bully applied for a job, the employer would consult the registry and decide if he wanted that person on the payroll.

Do you think these consequences would get the attention of a bully in-the-making?  I believe so, especially if the bully knew his reputation and future could be affected.       

Could you get off the registry and clear your name?  Sure, but not before you meet face-to-face with the one you bullied and offer a sincere verbal and written apology.  Not before you attend mandatory sensitivity training classes.  Not before you speak in schools about the evils of bullying and the negative impact it’s had on the life of the one you bullied, and your own.  Not before you complete other community work intended to take your focus off you and give you the bigger picture, such as helping out at support groups for those who are bullied, working at crisis centres, and so on.

As part of any zero-tolerance policy for bullying, bullies must not remain anonymous.  As strange as this may sound, I’m tired of the bullied getting all the attention; it’s time to draw the bullies out of the dark and shine spotlights on them and what they do.  Bullies must know up front what the consequences for their behavior are, and the consequences must be severe enough to be a deterrent.  In extreme cases, bullies should be incarcerated for their unacceptable actions.

As a civilized society, we must send the clear message to all bullies that we’ve lost our patience with them.  The time for action is right now.    


For more information about Amanda Todd's senseless death, please click here.   

Postscript (October 29, 2012):

So by way of update, The Vancouver Sun opted not to publish the above letter.  You think it might have had anything to do with my extreme views about what should happen to bullies? No matter.  I knew my position was extreme as I wrote the letter, but there was good reason for that.    

Since then, I've had time to think about bullies, and, although I still have little sympathy for them (given what they put me through in grade school), I recognize there are reasons why bullies bully.  And if we're serious about tackling the issue of bullying, clearly, we need to address it at that level.

The only problem is, I don't believe it's possible.  How can anyone, government or otherwise, mandate how bullies are raised at home so they don't feel the compulsion to lash out at the weakest of those who walk down school hallways, just wanting to be left alone?  If anyone has an answer, I'd love to hear it.     


  1. Sadly, we live in a culture that values the abuser rather than the abused. It's sad, and horrible. The penalty for taking someone's physical life by one's hand is more severe than causing permanent, lifelong scars and traumas that some people never ever get over, and even those of us who have gotten over most, we never fully do, because it's part of our soul. I'd rather have my soul robbed than beaten, scarred and broken. The lifelong pain is too much for some to handle. Not all can tolerate it.

    Particularly when your bully is twice your age, or more. Bullying starts in childhood, but never stops. Mature people, wise enough to know better, still bully.

    A registry is necessary, but it's still not enough. There needs to be real punishments, not a shame on you, look what you did. You can't replace the soul that took their life. You can't replace the part of one's soul that was robbed of its innocence and purity. They never come back. But the abuser gets to live their life. Free and clear. No fuss, no muss.

    That, is more pathetic than anything else.

  2. Wonderful to hear from you again, Heather.

    I don't know if we value the abuser so much as become fixated on him. I think that's part of the compulsion we have…to focus on the train wreck. We're horrified by it, but we can't help ourselves.

    What you've said about the damage to the soul is spot on. I know for a fact, despite all the work I've done to improve my self-esteem and to love myself over the decades, I will always bear the scars of the bullying I endured at school. As I've written here before, you can think you've finally risen above them, then, BANG, something happens, you're that wounded child all over again, and the pain hurts as much as it did before. Thankfully, as adults, we have better ways of coping with it (hopefully).

    There are so many bullying situations, which I didn't address in my letter. For example, I've witnessed bullying circumstances in the work place, between peers, and, worse, between the boss and an employee. These are dreadful situations too, because one's livelihood could be affected. You can't fool around with this sort of thing. Hopefully, there are avenues for bullied employees to go down, wherever they might work.

    Until we treat bullying as a felony, punishments will always be inadequate. That said, not all forms of bullying could be classified as felonies or require severe consequences–there's a considerable difference, for example, between a comment here and there and physical violence.

    Each level of bullying must be addressed accordingly, but I believe the registry is a great start. At the same time we bring public shame to those who bully, we also create records of everything, providing lots of information on the severity of bullying, how frequently it happens, and what it looks like. With that database, we might just have a better way to address it.

    I'm all for punishing the bully, but, at the same time, let's be sure that the punishment fits the crime.

    Thanks so much for your interest in what I have to say. You know I appreciate it.