WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah -- Victims of bullying face new arenas of abuse online and in social media, and in the face of a growing problem several organizations came together on Saturday to hold a conference aimed at educating people about bullying and ways it can be prevented.
The anti-bullying event was engineered by a non-profit group called Standing Together, which brought special speaker Nick Vujicic to Utah to speak at several schools. Vujicic does not have arms or legs, and he speaks about the power of attitude and ways to end bullying.
Saturday’s event began with a service project where volunteers helped remove graffiti and pick up trash throughout West Valley City, and an assembly at West Lake Junior High School followed.
The assembly featured West Valley City D.A.R.E. officer Loran Brumley, who taught about tools that can be used to recognize and handle bullying situations. The assembly also featured a panel of youth and adults, some of whom had been bullies and others who had been bullied.
Brumley said the signs of bullying can sometimes stay hidden, and that by spreading awareness and educating people they can help bring these dangers to light.
“Kids are really afraid to reach out and say: ‘I am being bullied; I need some help,’” Brumley said.
Brumley said social media and technology give bullies easier access to the means to intimidate and ridicule others.
“There is verbal, there's social, physical—but the new thing that’s come out since I was a kid is the cyber bullying,” Brumley said. “So it’s become more prevalent."
The anti-bullying conference was a cooperative effort between groups like West Valley City and their police force, The Utah Council for Crime Prevention, Life Church and others. Phyllis Hilleman, Love Without Limits event coordinator, said they are trying to teach kids to avoid bullying behavior.
“We are encouraging them and believing in them that they can be a kinder and more compassionate generation,” she said.
The event featured some stories from those who have been victimized by bullying. Shelsee Kirk has seen the effects bullying can have in a heart-breaking way. Her son Tanner is in a wheelchair after he attempted suicide.
“February 8 of 2010, my 16-year-old found Tanner hanging and started CPR, and he wasn’t supposed to make it,” she said.
Kirk said her son was a popular young man who snowboarded and played football. He was on the swim team and had several girlfriends. So he wasn’t a teen most might consider a target for bullying, which is part of why he speaks out on the issue.
Tanner is now an advocate for suicide prevention. He travels across the state speaking on bullying, which he said was a factor in his decision to attempt to end it all. He says he shares is pain for a reason: “To remove the stigma.”
Tanner wasn’t the only member of the family to face severe challenges. Earlier this year Kirk’s 10-year-old son committed suicide. Kirk said her son Ethan had displayed signs of depression in the past, and he had a hard time fitting in with his peers.
Tanner said bullying, and the often horrible consequences it brings, are a widespread problem, and he believes his voice may help others believe that help and hope is out there.
“Talk to someone,” he said. “If that doesn’t work talk to someone else and just be nice to everyone.”
The assembly also brought in former bullies, like Junior Finai, to talk about their experiences. Finai told those in attendance that bullying led him to a life of drugs, gang involvement and even a prison sentence. He said his bullying stemmed from his own personal issues and from a belief that bullying can be cool.
“It was a defense mechanism to deal with everything I was going through,” he said. “Personal issues, things that happened to me when I was younger—I saw it, I thought it was cool. And then the movies I watched only influenced me to become worse."
Brumley said parents should be involved with their children’s lives and have regular, open communication with them, which is key to spotting and solving bullying issues. He also told parents not to shy away from becoming privy to their children’s social media habits. He said there are a great number of resources out there for bullying victims, but the first step is finding those who need that help.
Paul Fairbanks, Utah Council for Crime Prevention, said parents and others must all work together to reduce bullying.
“It’s going to take a united front,” he said.