Excellent editorial follows from the Hutchison News newspaper (Kansas):
What might be perceived as bullying by some could be perceived as youthful horseplay by others. But what matters is how the subject of the activity feels and whether the attention is unwanted.
Bullying is getting much attention now because of some high-profile cases around the country that led to teen suicides. Though long an issue for youngsters, bullying finally is becoming a serious matter, as it should be.
That is why no one should try to make light of the alleged bullying incident at Hutchinson High School last week. Four students are accused of tying up a 14-year-old co-student with a jump rope during in a locker room during a weightlifting class. The four students have been given an undisclosed disciplinary punishment but moreover might be subject to criminal charges.
The students are being investigated for misdemeanor battery and criminal restraint, and the case has been turned over to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office because the victim’s father is a law enforcement officer and thus known to Reno County District Attorney Keith Schroeder, who normally would determine whether charges are merited.
All this makes this alleged bullying incident sound like a serious matter. And it might be. But comments about the story on HutchNews.com suggest that many people — apparently other students — think it is much ado about nothing, that this was just a bunch of boys horsing around. And the accused students aren’t known to be the bully types by nature.
So, which is it?
That is for none of us on the outside to decide. Instead it starts with the victim. How did he feel about it?
While tying someone up might seem harmless if done as a practical joke among friends, restraint nonetheless can elicit terrifying emotions for the person subjected to it. And he might even laugh and appear to enjoy it as a self-defense mechanism. But the bottom line is, did the subject feel threatened, intimidated or harassed?
A good analogy to bullying may be sexual harassment. There was a time when sexually suggestive banter, body language and touching in the workplace were dismissed as good-natured office fun. Then society realized that wasn’t for the perpetrators of this behavior nor for anyone else but the victim to judge. If someone felt harassed, they were harassed.
Not only do we need to take bullying more seriously, we need to start judging it in a similar fashion.
The trick is in determining punishment, and that is when intent and the character of those involved may be taken into consideration.
By John D. Montgomery/Hutchinson News editorial board