October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Every year, organizations raise awareness about bullying, hold parades and empowerment sessions, and lobby for harsher punishments for bullies. Every year, it doesn’t seem to matter, as bullying claims more victims’ lives.
The most recent victim — that we know of — was 16-year-old Channing Smith, who committed suicide after his classmates outed then bullied him for being gay. He is one of the dozens of children who have killed themselves due to bullying, especially cyberbullying, which has a way of following them home from school.
Over the past 15 years, with every high-profile case of bullying, new laws have been enacted, and existing laws strengthened, to address what increasingly seems to be an epidemic. The names of the victims have been attached to both legislative bills (such as the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act and Phoebe’s Law) and awareness foundations (such as the Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover Foundation). With each so-called “bullycide,” more people organize to stop this deadly menace that’s inextricably tied to school life.
Most people agree that bullying is bad and can be deadly, and over the past few years, anti-bullying efforts have ramped up.
Why, then, can’t we stop it?
Background on Bullying
The Columbine Effect
The national conversation about bullying was invigorated by the revelation that the perpetrators of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting had been victims of bullying and were purportedly seeking revenge on their tormentors. Programs such as the Empower Project in D.C. and Operation Respect in New York, and awareness events such as National Bullying Prevention Week and No-Name-Calling Week, developed after extensive news coverage of the shooting. Georgia also enacted the nation’s first anti-bullying law.
Bullying as a Crime
For a long time, the specific elements of bullying, such as repeated harassment, power imbalances, and social manipulations, were technically not illegal. Bullying was considered synonymous with physical abuse — and even then, it was considered “boys being boys” rather than something worthy of involving law…