Phoenix Coverley

Other than the perpetrator and the victim, the silent observers, the complicit, also play a role in bullying that can not be overlooked. While there is a sense of shame that cajoles the victim into keeping mum, and a sense of getting away with a known wrong that keeps the bully quiet, what keeps the onlookers from stepping up and doing or saying something? It seems we are all pre-programmed to participate in some kind of implicit contract.

Within my lifetime, the social perception of bullying has changed dramatically. I grew up in a time where a common response from an adult about being teased would have been either to stand up to the bully, or ignore them- but never to tattle. Interestingly, nearly all of the stories people wrote to me about being bullied ended with an authority figure finding out- either by a parent or child telling them.

This may partly be because the reaction, and the forms that it now takes have also changed. Now there is cyber bullying, making it so the taunting does not end at school, but follows the child home (the former safe house, where a kid could escape from their bully) and to their after school and weekend activities through social networking, a place where millions of people are privy to what you're doing, and still...the norm is to keep mum.

Here's a story a friend told me about his niece, "Omi was in the girls bathroom at school and was physically assaulted by the girl bully. Omi's hair was pulled and she was punched several times in her face and all over her body. Omi is scared to go to school now. Several days after the incident in the girls bathroom occurred, Omi had plans to go with her friend to the movie theater. Omi's friend posted on Facebook that it was going to be a fun day at that the movies. The bully responded to Omi' friend post and threatened to see them at the movie theater after the movie ended so she could beat up Omi some more. My aunt has urged Omi and and her friends not to post anything on FB so as to not let the bully know where Omi is so she won't get attacked. "

Of course, one could say well, just don’t let your kids go on facebook. While this may be effective, is it letting the bully win? Either way, if all the rest of the child’s friends are on the social network, the bully will continue to cyberstalk. Some say it is the responsibility of social networks to police against cyber bullies- but unless the bully's behavior is overt, as opposed to just tracking a child so they can bully them in person, what can the social network do?

Instead, if all the silent onlookers got up the nerve to say something, maybe this problem could be fixed once and for all.

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