Star athletes enjoyed special privileges in 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. A wrestler could park his $100,000 Hummer all day in a fifteen-minute space. A football player on probation for burglary was crowned Homecoming King. The yearbook staff printed sports pages in color, but pages about debate team and other clubs were in black and white. When a girl filed a formal complaint about an athlete's sexual harassment, she was allowed to graduate several weeks early, but the athlete was not punished.
Athletes bullied Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold by calling them "the lipstick twins" and other names. Once their tormentors squirted ketchup packages all over them and called them faggots, while teachers watched in silence. The boys had to wear stained clothes all day at school.
It was within this context that on April 20, 1999, Harris and Klebold killed 13 students and wounded 21 others before they turned their guns on themselves. Casualties might have been in the hundreds had the three bombs the boys planted in and near the school detonated.
Since Columbine and other school shootings, there has been an abundance of new research about bullying and its consequences. Police now recognize a new category of crime called "bullycide."
The world's foremost expert on bullying, Professor Dan Olweus of the University of Bergen in Norway estimates that at any given time 15% of students are involved in bullying, with 7% being victims. Many are bullied more than once a week. About one-third of all children in special education are victims of bullies. Similar surveys in Canada and the United States reveal about the same numbers.
In the United States, the National Education Association estimates that every seven minutes of every school day, a child is a victim of bullying, and 85% of the time there is no intervention by other students or adults. Some 8% of students miss one day of class per month to avoid bullies. Over 280,000 students are physically attacked each month at high schools. One third of all students say they've heard another student threaten to kill someone. One in five reports they know someone who bought a gun to school. Teachers and social administrators tend to underestimate the problem, which peaks in the junior high school years.
Bullying often takes place over a long period of time, because most victims are ashamed or afraid to report it. There is always a threat of violence or harm to the victim, who will give into demands rather than get hurt. One fifth-grader stole over $10,000 from his parents before he told them what was going on in his life.
Female bullies are less likely to use physical means against their victims than males, although some evidence indicates violence is becoming equal among both sexes. A female bully can rule a playground and torment certain girls through exclusion, gossip and verbal taunting, as shown in the recent movie "Mean Girls." One little girl came up with the wonderful phrase "the princess bullies."
Parents' pleas to the school often go ignored. In one extreme case a 15 year old girl was harassed for over a year at Duluth Central High School in Minnesota after someone covered a wall in the boy's bathroom with pornographic references to her. When her parents demanded that the school remove the graffiti and even offered to clean it off themselves, school authorities refused. Her parents filed suit and eventually won a settlement.
Victims of bullies often kill themselves. Miranda Whittaker of Holyoke, Colorado, was twelve years old when she claimed a popular sixteen-year-old athlete raped her. Although she had a restraining order to keep him away from her, a basketball coach took the boy's side and made the two stand together every day in class. Called "slut" and "whore" and otherwise shunned for two years, Miranda shot herself in January 2001.
In Manchester, England, Vijay Singh was only thirteen years old when he hanged himself with a silk scarf from a banister in his home. The last entry in his diary tells everything about his suffering and all anyone ever needs to know about the effects of bullying.
I shall remember forever and will never forget
Monday: my money taken
Tuesday: names called
Wednesday: my uniform torn
Thursday: my body pouring with blood
Friday: it's ended