Opinion

Bullying isn't just a problem, it should be considered a national emergency based on the stunning statistics

With 47 per cent of Canadian parents saying they have a child who is a victim of bullying, it's a problem that should be considered a national emergency, writes Rob Benn-Frenette, who was bullied as a child and went on to found a national support organization.

47% of Canadian parents report having a child who is a victim of bullying

Mourners wore pink ribbons to the funeral of slain Hamilton teen Devan Bracci-Selvey on Oct. 12 as a statement against bullying. (Joana Draghici/CBC)

This story is part of School Violence, a CBC News series examining the impact of peer-on-peer violence on students and parents.

Fifteen years have passed since I first did what we are now doing as a country due to the recent death of 14-year-old Devan Bracci-Selvey – having a conversation about bullying and what can be done about it.

Please allow me to introduce myself, my name is Rob Benn-Frenette, O.N.B, and I was bullied my entire school career.

Now I'm the executive director and co-founder of BullyingCanada, a national anti-bullying charity that provides youth in every part of this country with access to resources, information and support about bullying by telephone, text, e-mail and live chat.

BullyingCanada was formed out of necessity, because I could not find the support I needed when I needed it. That led me to ask, could others?  Should I, at 15 years old and looking for someone to turn to for help, have to be asking myself that question?

I came forward out of necessity. I still have the physical scars from when two sisters burned the back of my neck while I was on the school bus one morning, for example.

And let's not even talk about the emotional scars that I will likely have forever.

They're why I skipped my 10-year high-school reunion. I went with my husband to his … he went to a different school, but I knew maybe five people at his reunion and almost had a panic attack. Could you imagine if we had gone to mine?

For anyone reading this who has bullied someone physically or emotionally, know that the effects stay with that person for a long, long time – possibly for the rest of their life.

The two sisters on the school bus were not held responsible for the attack because school board and provincial policy at the time was "a school bus was not school property." It was reported to police, but no action was taken. That was back in 2005.

It has been 5,475 days since I started my public conversation about bullying. What has changed over the years? Some things have gotten better – others not so much.

Society and schools have made efforts to stop bullying through rallies and initiatives like ribbon and T-shirt campaigns, but it's still happening with disturbing regularity. Kids are still being assaulted and physically injured.

I am the last person to blame the educators. They have 400 other things on their plate running schools and classrooms, along with ensuring that students who need extra help are getting it. Plus, it's not just happening in the schoolyard, and they'd need eyes on the back of their heads to make sure that kids are not bullying each other while they are teaching.

Yes, that does happen. Often.

According to recent statistics, 47 per cent of Canadian parents report having a child who is a victim of bullying.

Nearly half. Bullying isn't just a problem. With numbers like that it should be considered a national emergency.

Young students in British Columbia are seen wearing pink shirts in support of a popular anti-bullying campaign. (Peter So Photography)
 

This is where I will give you a "reader discretion is advised" warning … I feel that it's important for people to understand what bullying does to its victims. These calls for help that have come in to BullyingCanada are nightmarish, but they're examples of what I've grimly come to consider standard calls, albeit ones that require extra time and care.

  • How to get help any time of day or night: Call or text 877-352-4497 or email support@bullyingcanada.ca

One that comes to mind happened last year, from a youth in Ontario in middle school. She was in her bedroom closet. She had just slit both her wrists. Her "owners" (that is how she referred to her bullies, because to her they controlled her entire life), had told her to end her life. She was calling us so that we could deliver a final message to her parents when they got home, because she did not want a younger sibling to find her first.

Luckily in her case, we were able to get emergency personnel to her in time.

Another was from a boy who called us from New Brunswick because he saw our TV commercial. He was being pushed and shoved on the playground, and desperately wanted to talk to someone about how to escape the constant torment. He was just six years old.

I spent two hours talking to him, and we were able to get his matter addressed. After that call, he asked if he could meet me to say thank you. We normally do not meet our clients (we had 76,221 of them last year), but we made an exception in this case – and speaking to this six-year-old reminded me this is why I do what I do.

I will leave you with this: If you see bullying of any kind, report it. If you are a youth, tell your teacher, guidance counsellor or school administrators. And if you're being bullied, tell someone you trust or contact a help line where there are people who will listen and want to help – you're not alone.

Bullying isn't just "kids being kids." It's harmful, it's dangerous, and it's against the law.  We cannot afford to have another case like Devan Bracci-Selvey, or Rehtaeh Parsons, or all the others we have lost across Canada.

  • This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

Read more stories in CBC's school violence series:

If you have feedback or stories you'd like us to pursue as we continue to probe violence in schools in the coming months, please contact us at schoolviolence@cbc.ca.

About the Author

Rob Benn-Frenette, O.N.B., is the co-executive director and co-founder of BullyingCanada.

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