We've Got to do Better

When I share with people that I was bullied growing up as a kid, they didn’t understand why. They would say things like, “You’re too pretty to get bullied” or “They were just jealous”. While the first statement does good for the ego despite being quite irrelevant, the second is a phrase I believe myself, and other victims of bullying, male or female, hear too much to actually believe this is a real explanation.

The misconception that all victims of bullying are ugly, wear glasses, are “nerdy” or promiscuous is bullshit. And don’t pardon my French. The culture of bullying and mentally traumatizing innocent young girls and boys has to stop.

When we hear tragedies ranging from the time of Reena Virk, up until the recent suicide of Amanda Todd, it illustrates that bullying is still an issue that pushes people to the brink of death. Despite not being familiar with the story of Reena Virk when it was first talked about in a journalism lecture, I did my research and found out what I could.

In 1997, the partially clothed and brutally beaten dead body of Reena Virk was found under a bridge in Saanich, British Columbia. The girl, of Indian descent, was bullied by her peers who she desperately sought acceptance from and was teased relentlessly. They said she was “too hairy”, and “too dark”, and they felt that was enough reason to swarm her one day and beat her to death.

Then last year, more than ten years after the brutal death of Reena Virk, came the suicide of Amanda Todd. The grade ten student who, like Reena, was from British Columbia, had been tormented after a topless image of her circulated the internet. Despite moving homes, switching schools, and receiving counselling, the teen began cutting herself as a means of dealing with the inescapable bullying. She was teased in school for a learning disability, and beaten up by a group of girls who punched and kicked her relentlessly into the ground. After this incident, she attempted suicide by drinking bleach.

In September of 2012, Amanda uploaded a video of herself on YouTube with flashcards detailing how truly alone she felt, and how desperate she was for someone, anyone, to be there for her. Despite posting the video, the bullying continued. On October 10, 2012, the teen was found dead in her home, and the cause of death is reported to have been suicide by hanging.

So where do we go from here? How do we eradicate these types of cases from our society? Perhaps the better question to ask is what they’re doing here in the first place.

Reena Virk’s case illustrated both a racial and gender-specific issue. This was not just a case of “catty girls” looking to duke it out over some guy like in the movies. This was a group of sick, manipulative, and ridiculously powerful girls who looked to bring torment to Reena, for no reason at all, other than the fact she was different from them.

The case of Amanda Todd illustrated the role of social media on people’s lives and emotions; and that sticks and stones don’t hurt nearly as much as words do. Why do you think it is common for people to cut themselves like she did when they find themselves in the face of such adversity? The physical pain is no competition for the emotional deterioration this kind of bullying brings.

International Women’s Week, like everyday, is an opportunity to honour the innocent victims of crimes like these. It is an opportunity for us all to stand up and be the voices for these unspoken and unheard victims. The sad thing is, Todd and Virk are far from being the only ones. There are the tragic stories of Jessica Laney, Felicia Garcia, Marianne Shanks…

And the list goes on, and on, and on, and on.

When someone shares with you that they have been bullied, save the “You’re too pretty,” or “They were just jealous” for another time. Ask them instead if they are okay. Ask them if they have seen someone, and let them know that you’re there. The few times these gestures were made to me I laughed it off, not recognizing that I was a lucky one, and that there are boys and girls dying, literally, for this kind of support.

Let the stories of these young and beautiful girls be a cautionary tale to you. Keep an eye out for signs of bullying, signs of depression, and always be on the lookout for people who you feel may be a danger to themselves. And never, ever underestimate the effect that simply being there for someone can have.

After all, this would have been the one thing that would’ve prevented Reena’s death according to her mother, who said “If she just had one friend, one true friend there that night, Reena would have lived. I would not have had to bury my daughter.”

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