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Jane Buckingham Headshot

So Am I a Bully Too?

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My friend Gail Arbanel recently shared the story of a bright young freshman woman here in LA who went happily off to a fraternity dinner. It was a coveted invitation. What wasn't desired was the drug in her drink. She sat down next to a boy who gestured to her to come sit by him. They chatted. They laughed. He seemed nice. That was the last thing she remembered. The next morning she awoke in this boy's room. She was naked, badly bruised, and clearly sexually abused.

It's a typical story from victims who come to LA's Rape Treatment Center and Stuart House. If you're not familiar with either, I hope you will become so voluntarily, not by need. Both were started by Gail, an unbelievably impressive, committed and heroic woman. The Rape Treatment Center is a unique place which allows people who have been sexually abused to be cared for in a calm quiet environment by experts in the field, rather than wait endlessly in an emergency room to be treated by any doctor or resident who may or may not know the best protocol to capture an attacker. If you ever know anyone in LA who is raped, send them to the Rape Treatment Center. Immediately. It will be the only good thing in a horrifying event. Stuart House is equally amazing. Stuart House is an innovative facility established by the RTC for children. The house (which really is warm and inviting) brings together -- in one location -- police, prosecutors, and child protection personnel from various agencies who work together as a team in a special environment designed for children. It's a model program and one of the most comprehensive facilities of its kind in the country.

While this woman has managed to triumph over her attacker and this terrible event, with the help of the RTC and Stuart House, what came out in the story was not just the horrific actions of the boy who drugged and raped her, but of all the people who watched a girl who was beyond her senses being taken upstairs when she clearly shouldn't have been. She was falling down. She was incomprehensible. Yet none of the boys or the girls stopped and said it was not okay. No one had intervened. I couldn't help thinking about this woman's horrific story apart from all the bullying issues and awareness in the news right now.

I realized, suddenly, as I listened, that my 9 year old was guilty of similar actions. Had he acted like the bystanders in the frat house? And had I? How, you might ask, was a boy who was hardly walking at the time this happened involved? Well, I have to give you a little background. He has a group of friends outside of school and they have been friends for a while. But recently one of his friends has been bullying another friend within the group. The bullying is consistent. It is mostly verbal, and occasionally physical. I have discussed (constantly) that it is wrong to bully. I've explained why kids bully. I've made sure that my son is not a bully and taken solace in the fact that I am confident he wouldn't be. He's quite a good kid. Because the boys are young, and nothing "serious" has happened, I have left it at that.

But what he hadn't done, though we had discussed it, was stand up to his friend. He hadn't said "Hey, we're not going to play with you if you treat our - your - friend like this." Perhaps I hadn't encouraged it because I didn't really want to get involved. And if I'm honest, I was glad my kid wasn't on either end. We have our own issues/problems/dramas every day to deal with.
Now I can't help thinking: Was that the same feeling the bystanders had that night at the fraternity house. No one wanted to be involved? No one stood up?

My 9-year-old son and I speak often about bullying, about this recent incident with his friends and how he could help. He did gain the courage to stand up to his friend. He didn't get punched or hurt or teased. He felt stronger. And perhaps that strength will give him more courage the next time it happens. But I know it's not over. Not the bullying, not my son's journey, not abuse of all kinds. But I've come to realize we need to help, on so many levels. In big organizations, and in small ones. With our time, with our dollars, and perhaps most powerfully with our own behaviors and what we can control the most.

I volunteer with the Rape Treatment Center and Stuart House because I know that there I can do something to compassionately help women who have been victims of abuse and of horrific crimes. This experience with victims of rape has made me even more passionate as a mother of a young son. I hope my son, and I hope many in this generation, will be one step closer to perhaps some day, somewhere, stopping a girl from being taken upstairs when they know she shouldn't be.

I recently posted this article to http://www.ivolunteer.org, an important site highlighting ways to get involved locally in volunteer efforts. Stacy Twilley and Lisa Ling, the sites founders, are also frequent contributors to Huffington Post.