By now you’ve probably seen the video of bus monitor Karen Klein being taunted, harassed and bullied by a pack of middle school boys. The video has earned more than 8.2 million views on YouTube. Klein has appeared on the morning talk show circuit. And an Internet Good Samaritan has raised more than $680,000 toward a “vacation fund” for the 68-year-old.
The case put a face on sobering statistics from the U.S. Department of Education. Roughly 30 percent of middle and high school students are bullied, and 10 percent of the incidents happen on a bus. More than 50 percent of the nation’s bus drivers claim bullying is a problem. Yet the department estimates two-thirds of bullying cases go unreported.
Bullying takes many forms, and rarely is it physical. One California high school student told U.S. News & World Report, “It’s more about mental and emotional attacks.” The video of Klein and her tormentors makes this clear. The boys called her “fat,” “poor” and “ugly,” with a generous amount of profanity sprinkled in. Shocking as it is, the language is routine for bullies who often target low-income, immigrant, disabled or GLBT students. Anyone the bullies perceive as “different.”
Social media plays a role. It’s a modern way for bullies to broadcast the abuse, and compound the pain and embarrassment suffered by the victim. The four boys at the center of the Klein case first posted the video to Facebook. The video then spread to YouTube, where it went viral. (Thereby morphing into a kind of “social media justice” as people began raising money to help.)
Yet social media bullying isn’t always connected to real-world events. Several other high-profile digital bullying cases have made the national news this year, such as Alex Boston’s. Her family is suing her online tormentors who allegedly set up a fake Facebook profile in Boston’s name and used the account to harass other students. Boston found out when she got the cold shoulder from friends at school.
Whether the bullies are on buses, online, or both, their antics are gaining more and more media and legal attention. This poses a serious liability to school districts, employees and the parents of bullies. One Minnesota school district recently shelled out $500,000, plus another $270,000 from its insurance company, after a court found its policies didn’t adequately protect students. There are other examples, too, similar to the Alex Boston case, where parents have sought financial damages from the parents of their children’s bully.
Parents can protect themselves by making sure they’re covered under their homeowners insurance policy. For tips on how to educate your children about cyberbullying, visit Stop Cyberbullying and the National Bullying Prevention Center.
There are no winners with bullying. But what is clear is that the risks associated with it are growing. It may be a lawsuit and financial hit. Or it may be the victim’s public humiliation on a YouTube video.
For the four boys at the center of the Klein case, it was suspension. The district superintendent made the unusual move and publically announced their punishment. Even if these kinds of incidents don’t end up in the courtroom, cyberbullying hurts the victim and liability issues put parents, schools and others at risk.
Leave a Reply