When you think about a child being bullied, often you think of that big kid in school who trips people in the hallway and steals lunch money from the small kids. However, bullying can also be a combined effort of several kids to isolate one child, harass and intimidate them, ensuring that the child suffers daily. This group stalking takes place in the hallways, in the locker room, in the classroom, and outside of school. But what makes it worse is that today’s technology allows these groups to reach a child in their own home, through texts on the phone, with emails, and on the social media sites. Often times, a child feels like there is nowhere they can go to avoid these bullies. More and more frequently, these cases are ending sadly in suicide.
Today’s news show the increase in cases of teenage suicide where incidents of group stalking were reported, yet nothing was done to stop the bullying. When the story of a teenager’s suicide is reported, often times the tale includes reports of months of bullying, group stalking, and harassment that lead up to the suicide. In some cases the police, schools, parents, and others have been involved, yet nothing was stopped. The occurrence of group stalking is an issue that needs serious attention.
What is Group Stalking?
While the term stalking usually pertains to a single person acting towards another person, the term group stalking pertains to a group of individuals pursuing a single individual. This pursuit can include physical actions, degrading remarks, electronic attacks, gossip, and other forms of bullying that make a child feel isolated. Often times these groups consist of a unified group, such as a social clique at school, or a sports team. However, in many instances, once the bullying reaches a certain level, others will join in with the behaviour, escalating the situation. The behaviour is usually longer term, lasting months, and even years.
Who Are the Victims?
As with any bullying, there are no clear cut determining factors for who will become a victim of group stalking. However, there are some characteristics that may trigger the group action, such as lower social status, differences in appearance, behaviour, or background. Group stalking can also be revenge based, caused by some real or imagined action by the victim, such as the break-up of a relationship, higher grades, romantic interest in another person, or other challenge to social status. Often times the victim is unaware of what they have done to provoke the treatment.
Who Are the Stalkers?
In most cases of group stalking, there is initially a single perpetrator, or group leader, who instigates the isolation of the victim. Often times, this person is one of a higher social ranking, using their position of power to create a group effort against the victim. The leader may select the victim due to some threat to their social status, revenge against the victim, or jealousy. There are also times when the action is discriminatory, based on the victims race, gender, sexual preference, appearance, or ethnic background. Once the leader has initiated the bullying, members of the group will join in with the behaviour. The members of the group may act out to avoid losing social status, may be in agreement with the leader, or fear retaliation if they do not comply with the rest of the group.
However, the circle of bullying often widens as it continues, much like ripples on water. Once the bullying of the victim begins, others outside the original group may join in, often as a way to increase their own social status, to avoid being included in the bullying, or to gain acceptance both within the group, or in other social circles. Depending on the form of bullying, such as on social media sites, strangers may join in as well. The circle may continue to grow over time.
What Are the Effects?
As the victim is subjected to continued harassment, it is not uncommon for them to suffer from many effects. Often times, parents may not notice the effects, or simply dismiss the symptoms as normal, especially with parents of teenagers. However, being aware of the symptoms may help a parent identify a problem.
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in eating habits
- Loss of interest in activities they use to enjoy
- Frequent health issues
- Resistance to attending school
- Skipping school
- Decrease in grades or GPA
Another issue that can arise from these situations are an escalation that includes self-harm, suicide, and homicide. Cases such as the case of fifteen-year-old Phoebe Prince, who committed suicide after three months of being harassed. Nine students have been arrested in connection with the case, however, several more were involved, as well as adults who were aware of the situation. Two of the students involved were charged with stalking. Stories very much like Amanda Todd’s or Steven Urry are being seen around the world. Cases where cyber bullying, group stalking, and long term abuse is taking place in children’s lives with increasing regularity.
For some victims, instead of hurting themselves, they turn their pain outward. According to stoptheshootings.org there have 387 school shootings since 1992, and of those shootings, more than 70% of them were related to bullying and group stalking. Situations such as the Columbine shootings have taken not only the bullies, but often the victims, and innocent bystanders as well.
But even the kids who survive through the bullying and escape it aren’t always free from it. According to the government site stopbullying.gov, there are also long term effects to victims of group stalking. Adults who were victims in their childhood and teen years suffer from the effects well into their adult years. An article in the New York Times outlines a study that followed both bullies and victims that was published in the JAMA Psychiatry Journal. The findings stated that the victims of bullying in childhood were 4.3 times more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders. They were 14.5 times more likely to have panic disorders, and 4.8 times more likely to suffer from depression.
What’s Being Done?
While there are no federal laws in place specifically dealing with group stalking, there are state laws that attempt to deal with the issue, as well as most schools have an anti-bullying program in place, which includes not only student support, but staff training as well. As awareness of the issues rises, so do the programs that work with schools, parents, and state officials to find programs and methods that work. The Federal government is also looking into passing legislation dealing with the country-wide issue. While most schools have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying of any type, many schools have difficulty with enforcing their policies. Some of the issues being faced by schools can include:
- Kids afraid to report incidents
- Staff who don’t act when witnessing issues
- Parents of bullies resisting punishment
- Disagreement on definition of bullying
- Lack of legal support for programs
- Lack of funding for programs
While every school attempts to deal with the issues, there are many challenges to bringing a halt to the growing problems. One of the biggest issues is a disagreement of definition of what bullying is, as well as the issue of how best to prevent it. Many organizations have been formed to work in conjunction with schools, law makers, parents, and students to not only deal with current issues, but prevention as well.
What Can You Do?
Being an active parent in your child’s life can often help identify issues before they become extreme. Although many victims feel isolated, ashamed, and afraid. They hesitate to share with adults what is going on, or fail to share the extent of the problem. But being active can help you be more aware. There are many ways you can be involved.
- Chaperoning events
- Coaching teams
- Joining the PTA at school
- Hosting events for your child and classmates
- Practice role-playing with your child
- Set a good example
- Talk to the school about their policies
- Monitor your child’s computer time