Punishing the victim

When three girls beat up another girl in a New York City school, the victim is transferred, complains Ms. Rubin. The bullies “get to stay and continue terrorizing weaker kids.”

. . . the girl who got jumped has been in our school since kindergarten and has never been a problem. The three bullies have all transferred to our school in the past couple years, and have all been suspended multiple times for bullying and fighting.

New York City is into small schools: Why not create specialty schools where bullies can pick on each other?

About Joanne


  1. tim-10-ber says:

    i agree!

  2. Margo/Mom says:

    Yes–similar thinking and policies exist here. Happens I was just this AM reading Wrightslaw’s info on bullying and what to do about it. So much depends on a supportive staff and prevention. In my experience there is a lot of denial about what exactly goes on.

  3. Cranberry says:

    Once it starts, it’s hard to stop. Having a child who was bullied in middle school–social, “mean girls” stuff, mentally, not physically harmed–I agree with the policy. After it starts, that child is seen as a victim by the entire school community. Even if the aggressors are moved, that child will be a target for others. Someone else will step into that role. The bullies may have friends who would blame her, and try to hurt her, to avenge their transferred friends.

    Her trust in the administration and teachers has also been damaged. This situation did not start overnight. The school should now look at its own policies and procedures, and try to change the school’s culture. Hoping that the parents turn to the media will not solve the larger problem.

  4. Michael E. Lopez says:

    It may work differently for girls… I don’t know. I wasn’t a girl in school.

    But I always considered it a great miscarriage of justice when things like this happened when I was in school. Even back then, there were the first faint stirrings of “Punish them both” in cases of fights.

    That’s outrageous.

    If what Cranberry says is true, then the proper response (in addition to perhaps necessary systemic changes) is to KEEP KICKING KIDS OUT. If other students step into the bully role, transfer them out, too. Keep going until the only student left is the “victim” if that’s what it takes.

    But under no circumstances should the victim be forced to undergo the problems and logistics of having to switch schools just because it happens to be “easier” for the administration.

  5. “Why not create specialty schools where bullies can pick on each other?”

    We have a program for male students in this category. It’s called “football”.

    Compulsory attendance statutes created this problem. Vouchers would ameliorate it. Compulsory attendance statutes mean nothing unless, for each student rejected everywhere else, there exists some school which must admit that student. Couple a competitive market in education services with compulsory attendance statutes and subsidized tuition (school vouchers). The State (government, generally) would have to create some agent to accept those students who have failed to gain admission to other schools. Call these default-option schools “the public school system”. Put the contract to operate these schools out to bid every five years or so. Likely, they would cost considerably more to operate than the voucher-receiving independent schools (teaching is fun if the students want to be there). Competition between schools in a competitive market would generate a variety of methods and curricula. This would reduce violence and drug abuse. Your alienated population would fall.

  6. Margo/Mom says:

    “After it starts, that child is seen as a victim by the entire school community. Even if the aggressors are moved, that child will be a target for others. Someone else will step into that role. The bullies may have friends who would blame her, and try to hurt her, to avenge their transferred friends.”

    While I agree with your focus on prevention, I don’t necessarily see the situation as hopeless. Within the context of a residential camping community, we frequently called for a sit-down meeting of peers (not friends, mind you)–generally the cabin group, but a homeroom might work as well. There is a certain amount of “levelling of feelings” (particularly with girls) that works as an introduction–but the goal in the end is to end up with a group solution. Frequently this amounts to either some social assistance (helping some social misfit understand ways that they aggravate the situation, for instance), or systemic buddying with a kid who really alone and friendless. I have seen kids come up with rotating systems of friendship, or conscious inclusion, or even working on hygiene and fashion sense. But–it does seem to take an adult who sets a parameter that whatever was going on previously is unacceptable, beneath the capabilities of the kids doing it, not a good solution, not to be tolerated, or some combination of the above, and guides a decision-making process. Also requires some follow-up. It doesn’t make Suzy Miscue into the prom queen–but it does tend to interrupt the behavior, and does so without engendering retribution. Over time, repetitions of this kind of problem-solving impact the overall culture and expectations.

  7. Of course it offends an adult’s sense of fairness, to transfer the victim. In New York, though, there are any number of schools at which the victim can make a fresh start. If the bullies are waiting for court dates, that goes beyond taunts or bookbag-dumping. It is likely that it is safer for the victim to change schools.

    I don’t buy the “social miscue” theory of bullying. To me, that’s another type of “blame the victim.” It’s all about power and status, just like rape. The “mean girls” bullies all know how to behave well. They are well able to regulate their behavior when adults are around. Unfortunately, adults aren’t around 24/7.

    If you google “Phoebe Prince” and “South Hadley,” you will find press reports of a recent high school student who killed herself due to round-the-clock, internet-enabled bullying. After her death, the bullies also attacked the facebook memorial page. Newspaper reports claim that the bullies were heard boasting of their success in driving her to her death. In the public hearings about the death in her town, many parents publicly protested that their concerns about the culture of bullying had not been addressed, for years.

  8. Cranberry–I don’t want to overemphasize the “social miscue” angle. Kids who bully pretty much find who is most susceptible and go for them. But–I have certainly seen over-reactors exploited as easy and “rewarding” targets. Olweus looks to the majority of kids–the bystanders–as being instrumental in being able to change a bullying situation/culture. And–I have also experienced, sadly, many adults who either reinforce, or actually “teach” a bullying mentality/culture. These are not only the adults who turn a blind eye–but also those who go to great lengths to ensure that there is a social structure that places their kid at the top of the heap.

    As a parent, I don’t want my kid abused or taken advantage of–and I want this to be taken seriously whenever it occurs. But–as someone who has worked with kids, and as a sometime substitute teacher, I am aware that not only is it not possible to always know what has happened, but that it is also sometimes very difficult to sort out and assign blame (the who started it kind of thing). When the focus is on who to move–it is necessary to pick one or the other. When the focus is on arriving at and supporting a new behavioral understanding, the behavioral change can include not only the bully and victim, but also everyone who happens to be there.