Secondary school is the only place in the world where a bully can use means, motive and opportunity to commit a crime, and still get away with it. Before the age of 18, “law” and “crime”--at least as adults understand it--do not exist. In a bully's eyes, the worst case scenario is expulsion, but even that is temporary. As a last resort, the bully may get sent to juvenile detention, but his record will be wiped clean on his 18th birthday.
Would bullying cease to exist if we stopped calling it bullying, and started referring to it as legal assault?
The word “bully” is part of the problem. A “bully” refers to a young person who, without provocation, physically or emotionally harms another young person. Translation into real-world terms: aggravated assault. Imagine you are sitting in your office, reading a memo from your boss, and a co-worker walks up to you and physically punches you in the face. You tell your boss, who consequently “suspends” your co-worker, but he's back next week and guess who he's even more mad at? You. No lessons were “learned” from being sent home for a week. Suspension does not equal rehabilitation.
Law makers and state police rarely intervene when it comes to bullying because the act takes place on school property, but if you examine other crimes on school property, like drug possession or sexting, the “jurisdiction” changes from the school to the state. For example, if a young person is caught drinking alcohol or doing drugs, the state can legally enroll him in a drug awareness program, force him to do community service, and even make him take a regular sobriety test. If a young person gets a speeding ticket on the way to school, the state has full authority to send him to a defensive driving course, forfeit his future driving privileges and even force his parents to pay a higher insurance rate. If a student uses a cell phone to send a naked photo to another student, the state can charge him with distributing child pornography and label him as a sex offender.
We treat young people like adults when they are behind the wheel, getting high, or screwing around on their cell phone, but when a young person attacks another young person physically, the school is in charge, and the state looks the other way.
Maybe it's time that changed.
I'm not saying that the state should send bullies to juvenile detention. But a legally-enforced punishment—like anger-management coursework and community service—may work.
If we can make young people sit through hours of defensive driving courses (with all those awful, gruesome videos of accident scenes), they are old enough to sit through eight hours of real-life information on the effects of bullying, techniques to control rage, and group discussion on why bullies are prone to violence. As for the community service, everyone wins, including the bully. The school may think that suspending a bully is the way to go, but refusing a child an education—especially with our current test scores—is not helping anyone.
For the “Bully Law” to work, the state would need to legally enact and enforce a real law. But a decrease in bullied children would mean a rise in the graduation rate, a decrease in trips to the E.R., and most importantly, a lot more children staying alive.
Isn't that the same reason we send kids to defensive driving and drug awareness courses?