Two from the (Chicago) Tribune!

Causes and Effects

Why it's so tough to "outgrow"
bullying that starts in childhood
the awful truth about muckracking.

The Bully Hangover-

Effects of harassment follow the victims and the perpetrators into adulthood shadowed by insecurity and sadness

by Kimberlee Roth (partial article)

It's not hard to see why Meridith Dixon, 39, didn't like school. Beginning in junior high school, other students regularly threw her to the ground, pounded her head into the bricks and concrete, punched and kicked her until vertigo set in.

They held her against the cafeteria's food heating elements, spilt her milk and, in the locker room before gym, held her down, jabbed and cut her with a compass point.

For six years until graduation from her urban Virginia school district, Dixon, who lives in West Virginia, suffered numerous concussions, a broken arm and internal bleeding from a particularly vicious beating. She thinks the perpetraitors wielded lacrosse sticks.

Though teachers witness some of the attacks, Dixon believes that they did not want to bother with the paperwork that would be involved if they were to report them, "particularly since they didn't think the administration would do anything anyway."

Some probably would have liked to help, but did not want to anger bosses or colleagues. Administrators did not help either, despite Dixon's reporting of most incidents, "if only so I could spent a few minutes in the relative safety of the office."

She tried not to distract her mother, a busy teacher herself and a single parent, with repeated complaints. When Dixon's arm was broken in the eight grade, her mother wrote a strong letter to school administrators without telling her daughter, who found a carbon copy of the note upon her mother's death in 1995. "So I didn't know to tell her if the violence continued.

For Dixon and others bullied as kids, even though the school days end, the effects linger. Today, Dixon runs Raven Days, a web site ( for bullied students and adults with haunting memories like her own. She launched the site in May 1999, after the Columbine shooting reminded her that she had promised herself that "when I grow up and people would listen to me that I'd tell the world what schools are really like."

She collated a list of resources, wrote her story and posted the site. Traffic now averages 1,200 visitors each month during the school year. 800 in the summer. A study by the National Institute of Health and Human Development published in the April 25, 2001 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 30 percent of respondants experienced moderate or frequent bullying, as a bully, victim or both. Students in grades 6 through 10 were surveyed; the prevalence was deemed "substantial" by the authors. Other studies have returned figures as high as 77 percent. A report from The Commission of the Prevention of Youth Violence found that 8 percent of students in urban junior high schools and senior high schools miss at least one day of school each month due to fear.

We're talking more than just child's play here.

Experts pretty consistently agree on what constitutes bullying: behavior that's intended to harm or disturb; it occurs repeatedly over time; and there's a power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim. It can be verbal (name calling), physical (hitting) or psychological (starting rumors or shunning). Sadly it has taken several school shootings to nudge public attention. Anti-bullying initiatives are now undertaken with more frequency in the United States (the United Kingdom and Australia now seem to have outpaced us), but studies of long-terms effects other than the one by Dan Olweus in Norway (1993) are few and far between.

Olweus found that those who were bullied were more depressed, had lower self-esteem and felt more isolated than peers who hadn't been. Being bullied was actually predictive of low self-esteem ten years later.

According to Dr. Jerry Wiener, past president of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and emeritus professor in residence of psychiatry at George Washington University Medical School, "The person bullied develops a sense that they don't have anybody to turn to."

"They come to feel weak and ashamed, and there can be long-term effects on mood--chronic depression--and decreased self esteem. Those are prominent and they can branch out in a number of different ways," he said. Suicide may be one. The suicide rate among gay teens, who are targets of bullying to a higher degree, is three times that of heterosexual adolescents. Physical ailments are another. Weiner said somatic symptoms--headaches, stomach aches, intestinal problems--similar to the complaints children use to dodge school--can become a way of dealing with the painful emotions later. Bullying is a form of physical abuse, and when parents don't provide support at home, there is an added component of emotional abuse. Weiner said, Post-traumatic stress disorder and "serious effects on personality development" can ensue.

A link to Chronic Fatigue:

When asked about a comment posted online relating to chronic fatigue syndrome to long-term bullying and harassment, Weiner said, "CFS to me is almost without exception a somatic representation of depression. I would not be surprised." It may be hard for clinicians to make correlations to symptoms. Weiner said, "Like so many things in medicine, you have to have an index of suspicion."

Dixon points to other effects: "Even today I think of myself as a 'weird person' and half expect to be disliked by ordinary people." Her relationship with her late mother was "irretrievably ruined" by her not taking more assertive measures to stop her daughter's abuse. It has been a challenge, she said, despite a happy marriage of twelve years, to learn that touch is not always painful. And she still flinches at sudden movements.

"I seriously expected to die at my classmates' hands sooner or later," Dixon said. To endure, she would imagine herself "a great hero of legend in the hands of my enemies," a resistance fighter captured by the Nazis, a POW in Vietnam, Frodo in Mordor.

To protect herself physically, she would keep one hand on the hallway wall to cushion herself, round her shoulders and hope to get to class without incident. In college, she learned to walk father from walls but kept her head down and shoulders hunched protectively for years afterward.

Author and radio personality Garrison Keillor writes about bullying by the Magendanz twins in his newest novel, "Lake Wobegon Summer 1956." Keilor changed names to protect the not-so-innocent and said the real life version started somewhere around 1st or 2nd grade. (early: research finds bullying commonly begins in middle school).

"They got a kick out of fighting. And they could really smell fear. They enjoyed the chase. All the little rabbits running pell-mell from their awful presence; they got amusement from that. Keillor didn't.

Watching and Worrying

"It certainly was a damper on my childhood, being wary of the Magendanzes, worrying about what heinous things they might attempt." (Keillor) doesn't hold a grudge. "I hear they've done poorly, bumped along through periods of unemployment and wrecked marriages, struggling with alcohol, and I am genuinely sorry about that."

Other targets are less forgiving. Wiener says bullying victims can "grow up with a kinds of anger, a feeling of wanting to get even." and resentment when others don't play by the rules. He cited road rage as an example of how these feelings can play out. Dixon finds solace not in anger but in helping others through various online communities and in knowing she'll never be forced into a similar situation again.

"It helps to know that as an adult, you'll be able to sue the living daylights out of anyone who does anything remotely similar to you...that other adults will take it seriously enough and consider it a crime."

Crime indeed. Brooke Whitted, partner in a Northbrook law firm, often represents victims of bullying, including a boy who broke his arm while frantically trying to climb a fence to escape tormentors. Another client, "a sweet-faced, studious kid," was beaten so badly, he needed corrective facial surgery." Through criminal classifications vary by state law, "it's battery," Whitted said. "Or Aggrivated battery, depending on the circumstances." If it were adults doing the battering, they would likely go to jail. Whitted himself was bullied as a child growing up in Evanston. "I was a skinny little geeky kid, not very athletic, and I learned to talk my way out of situations or find a body guard."

Like Dixon, Whitted considered himself lucky.

"I could have gone in a bad direction. A lot of these kids are permanently scarred; they've deteriorated into a major depression, become psychiatric impatients, developed character and personality disorders.

Does he see this often, or are these exceptions? "All the time," he said.

What saved Whitted was the support of a "very strong family. I had lots of people around to talk to."

Support is key, said, Mark Reinecke, cheif of psychology and associate professor at Northwestern University Medical School who cites research by Ken Rigby: "There is something of a culture of silence surrounding victimization.



Muckraker says things you don't want to hear

The Chicago Tribune
Published April 4, 2002

by Eric Zorn

Take my advice, dear readers, and spare yourself a couple of days like I've just had--days of anxiety, frustration and even a bit of despair.

If you see the new Pluto Press title on your bookseller's shelves, "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy," by former Chicagoan Greg Palast, don't pick it up.

If someone directs you to to watch the BBC-TV "Newsnight" report in which the director of the Florida Department of Elections rips off his lapel microphone and scurries away from an on-camera interview with Palast, don't touch that mouse.

If a friend asks you to go hear Palast speak Friday at 7 p.m. at the C. G. Jung Institute in Evanston, or to attend one of his appearances at bookstores in Chicago and Oak Brook Friday and Saturday, beg off. Invent an illness or something.

The book, which was No. 21 on Amazon's best-sellers' list Wednesday afternoon, is very disturbing and may cause excessive teeth-clenching. The subtitle promises "the truth about globalization, corporate cons and high finance fraudsters," and it goes on in great, if somewhat scattershot, detail about an international litany of outrages.

What are those radicals carrying on about when they riot at meetings of international trade and banking groups? Palast, whose 1976 MBA from the University of Chicago gives him a sharp understanding of the issues as well as the ability to go undercover as a "fellow free-market fruitcake," as he says, offers evidence of the damage such organizations do to citizens in struggling countries.

He details, among many other scandals, the troubling history of bovine-growth hormone's approval, of energy deregulation and of the safety and regulatory violations that led to the Exxon Valdez disaster (Palast's only Tribune byline is a 1994 op-ed on that subject). And trust me, you can do without the sick feeling that the average citizen is being played for worse than a fool by those in business and government with their fists wrapped around the levers of power.

Palast, who now reports for the Guardian and Observer in London, as well as the BBC, distinguishes himself from many other advocacy journalists both left and right with his near obsession with documentary evidence--memos, correspondence, e-mail, briefing reports and raw data, much of it stamped confidential--and his painstaking research methods.

Author and liberal commentator Jim Hightower calls Palast "a cross between Sam Spade and Sherlock Holmes" in a quote on the back of that book I made the mistake of buying earlier this week. He refined his gumshoe technique by working as an "investigative economist" first here for labor and progressive activist organizations and then in New York for a broader, international range of clients. He was, he writes, an "anti-corporate scourge with his head buried in bureaucratic file cabinets."

Only in the mid-1990s did he join the Fourth Estate full-time. His first sensational story was "Lobbygate," an undercover investigation into a payola scandal in Prime Minster Tony Blair's cabinet. Read about that, if you must. It's at the end of "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" and won't make you mad unless you're British.

But avoid, by all means, Palast's most recent splash, his expose on how Florida purged its voting rolls before the 2000 election in a way that almost certainly gave the White House to George W. Bush.

We've mentioned the story in our pages. The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Salon, the Nation and other publications have also outlined how a sloppy and arguably cynical effort to purge ex-felons from lists of eligible voters cost Vice President Al Gore thousands of votes--roughly 22,000, Palast figures--in a race he officially lost by 537 votes.

It's not about chads or overvotes or butterfly ballots. It's about citizens denied their right to vote in a process that seemed designed to target mostly Democrats.

And it was Palast's first-hand research, detailed in the very aggravating 37-page opening chapter, that everyone, even the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, followed.

But you've moved on, am I right? This country is fighting a war against terrorism, the Middle East is looking apocalyptic. Fussing about whether your president was legitimately elected just elevates your blood pressure and makes you question our nation's commitment to democracy.

Well don't make the same mistake I did. Avoid Greg Palast.

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