Bullying–A Community Issue
Last week, it was sadly reported that a 13-year-old girl, Nicole Lovell, was found murdered just outside of her home in the town of Blacksburg, Virginia. The Blacksburg area has been no stranger to traumatic, violent events, as it is the home of Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech), the site of the 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre.
In a disturbing twist of irony, two Virginia Tech students were arrested for the crime against Lovell. Evidence and interviews with people who knew Lovell suggest that the motive for the murder was based on an inappropriate relationship with the young girl and one of the college students. As Lovell began to tell friends and neighbors of her involvement with the college student, the Virginia Tech student determined that she needed to be killed in order to protect himself.
This is a story that is as disturbing as it gets. I have not even touched on the sick indifference and arrogance that the suspects have shown during their arraignments and interviews. Such evil is difficult to conceptualize, and even more disturbing to think of when it involves our youth.
But I do want to focus on little Nicole. According to reports, Nicole had a difficult time in her few years. During the police conference, Nicole’s mother gave a tearful testimony to her daughter’s struggles with life. Nicole had been the recipient of a liver transplant when she was only 10 months old, and was required to take medication twice a day just to stay alive. She was not popular in school, and her mother had confessed that Nicole had been the victim of bullying throughout her life.
Like I have mentioned in previous writings, I maintain that it is important to remain sensitive to the grieving families who are dealing with this terrible ordeal, but that it is also important to learn from this tragedy so we can prevent it happening in the future.
Our schools, business environments and community have made great strides with understanding the lasting effects of bullying on a person, and working to prevent it. Many schools today promote programs like the Olweus Bullying Prevention program, and even in adult environments, belittling and ribbing are not tolerated. And yet, we are still seeing people succumb to ridicule, isolation and torment at the hands of their peers.
Make no mistake, the long term effects of bullying can lead to a violent response. Sometimes that response is self-inflicted and results in suicide attempts; sometimes, the victim lashes out at others, as has been the case in some active shooter violence cases; Some have been like Nicole Lovell, where the victim is so ostracized from her own peer group that she takes to the internet to find comfort. It was here that she met the college students who would sadistically take her life.
We are a society that is cognizant of the dangers of bullying, but we are delusional to think that the programs we have implemented are successful. We need to do more. A school program with a PDF questionnaire on its website for parents to ask their children about bullying is not enough to stop the act from occurring day-to-day with our youth. As children learn to accept that they can treat people (or be treated) in such a way, they take that behavior into the work force.
The best approach to stop bullying is a zero-tolerance policy at the community level. Parents need to teach their children that if the child sees it happening, they need to intervene immediately. Bullying needs to become a symbol of social deviance, not recognized an action that popular people show as an example of their authority and strength.
A person who is walking down the street and kicks a defenseless puppy is a bully, and would be public criticized for such actions. People who belittle and demean others should be held in the same light. When bullying becomes taboo in our society, people like Nicole Lovell will not be a victim to it.
Jason Wells is the President and Founder of the National Advancements for Proactive Safety, an educational non-profit organization committed to providing a safe community through intervention processes. He is a former Special Agent with the United States Secret Service, and holds a Masters of Science with highest honors in Strategic Security and Protection Management. Mr. Wells is currently pursuing his doctorate in Strategic Security with a focus on proactive interventions to stop threat-related behavior. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.