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Part IV: Bullying, Harassment, Teasing & Hazing

Lawrence J. Fennelly CPOI, CSSM and Marianna Perry, CPP, CPOI

TASA ID: 10544

ARTICLE: Boston Globe, November 23, 2019, page one:  Two former seminarians alleged in social media posts that their religious studies had been tarnished by an atmosphere of heavy drinking, sexual harassment and bullying.  They have hired an attorney.

Defining the Problem

"Barbara Coloroso (2003), on page 13 in her book, The Bully, The Bullied and the Bystander, defines bullying as:

 "a conscious, willful, and deliberate hostile activity intended to harm, induce fear through the threat of further aggression, and create terror."  

Coloroso contends that four elements characterize all bullies, no matter what sex, age or job title: 

(1) an imbalance of power, in which the bully is bigger, stronger or more favorably situated than the victim; 

(2) the bully has an intent to harm, knowing he or she will inflict emotional or physical pain, and revels in the fact;  

(3) a threat of further aggression exists, in which the bully and victim both know that this act of aggression will not be the last; and 

(4) terror persists-the extreme, continuing agitation of the victim. 

The essence of bullying, according to Coloroso, is not anger but contempt. The bully sees the bullied as not worth respect or empathy.  The bully is consummately arrogant."   

Introduction

This topic can be upsetting to even think about because of the cruelty and harassment that takes place in our schools.   We feel deeply for the victims and the injustices that they are subjected to.  The mistreatment in many cases just doesn’t stop until it’s too late.  Entire books are written on the topic of bullying, but we will attempt to address this issue in several pages.

It is easy to say that zero tolerance programs must include bullying, but for parents who are trying to stop the bullying of their child, this is very difficult situation to deal with.  It’s time to stop the bullying and for schools to take control of this growing problem in our schools.

Who is doing the bullying - teenage boys and girls, teachers, bus drivers, coaches, and staff.  It is not confined to one group, but instead each situation may have its own unique set of bullies, that are certainly not the “traditional” bully we all envision when we hear the word, bully.

The effects of bullying on a victim may include suicide, bedwetting, crying, depression, weight loss, stress, drugs and alcohol, headaches, stomach aches, stuttering, frequent absence from school, etc.  
A high school in California came up with a solution by monitoring all social media accounts, for specific “Keywords” that may signal a bullying issue.

Our advice to parents of bullying victims is to document everything.  Be a good listener and be alert for changes in your child’s behavior or personality.  When you send letters to the school superintendent, principal or teachers, send a copy to the local press and your attorney.  Confront everyone who is involved. Demand confidentiality in your letters. Copy everyone up and down the ladder, so everyone is aware of the bullying problem that your child is experiencing.  Check to ensure that teachers are trained in recognizing and dealing with this problem.  Consider enrolling your child in martial arts, not just for confidence and building self-esteem, but also for self-defense.  Make sure your school has a zero-tolerance policy and that it is enforced.  Talk to your children about the problem of bullying.  Be aware that bullying may escalate into physical violence against your child.  Call other parents at your child’s school and organize them too so the group can approach the school officials in a united front.  Obtain legal advice and file a civil suit against the school, the bully, the bully’s parents and anyone who knew the bullying was taking place and failed to take action.  Consider contacting the local media for help, but ensure that it won’t make the situation worse for your child.  Ask your attorney to attend PTA Meetings for better results from the school.  Above all, know your rights!  Don’t you, as a parent also become the bullying victim of the school or the bully’s parents?  Bullying must never be tolerated and the action taken must be swift and consistent in every case.

Call the Police Immediately.  Security professionals are “solutions individuals,” so do what you can to solve the problem as quickly as possible.  This response is stated in numerous publications on bullying.  Your child’s safety is at stake, so contact the police and school officials for an immediate response.  We need to be protecting our children in a far more effective way than we are currently doing!

In August of 2013, there was a news report that a lawsuit for several million dollars had been filed against a school district for bullying because a parent stated that her daughter had been bullied for over two years and the school officials did nothing.  Both the parents and the school officials will be tied up in litigation for years and it will generate negative publicity for the school and the school district.  Ultimately, there will be a settlement, but what is the overall cost?  Schools need to BE PROACTIVE, get in front of the issues, document every incident and document exactly what action has been taken by the school. 

Newspaper Article:

The following accounts which reflect the classic case of bullying, appeared in the local newspaper on March 15, 2014. Permission was obtained to reproduce.

Parent:  

My son is 14 and going into the eighth grade.  He has faced a lot of bullying issues this year.  Although the school has a no-tolerance policy, we found that the school does not stick to its own policies and rules.  When my son reported mistreatment, the incident was minimized.  He was told, “They didn’t mean it or they were just fooling around. You all are all friends.”  I called the Department of Education, which said that if the school was not following its own rules, I could file a complaint.   However, I found that when I called the school, I was told, “Another boy bumped into your son.  He did not hit him.  Middle school is a difficult time.”  We finally told the school that we would go to the police and file charges if the bullying did not stop.  I don’t understand this.  It’s a very stressful environment for my son to learn in.  Yes, he does go to a psychologist and also to an advocate for his learning disabilities.  My son says the students know who “snitches.”  They chant to him, “Snitches are bitches, and bitches get stitches.”  He said students will do and say anything in classes or in the hallways and teachers won’t do anything about it. How is this acceptable?  What can he do, and what would you suggest for the next year?

Sylvia Rimm, Ph.D. noted child psychologist replied:  

Bullying is at its worst during the middle school years, but for a school that has a no-tolerance policy, it’s important to communicate about your son’s victimization, and that shouldn’t be considered “snitching.  In light of the real violence that has taken place in schools by students who have been bullied, schools recognize the damage that bullying creates.  Schools that have anti-bullying programs are successful in reducing, but not eradicating bullying. There are two ways to approach your son’s problem.  Both should take place simultaneously.  One is by identifying the leader of the bullying, if there is one.  Counseling with that leader may be able to help your son and others.  The other approach is to teach you son appropriate responses; when to ignore, when to give back a smart response, and how to find friends so he can feel supported.  It’s possible from your description that your son is overreacting and reporting minor teasing, but I doubt that.   Your role as a parent is to remind him that he is a good person and bullies often have problems of their own and sometimes end up in jail.  You need to keep him busy with extracurricular and family activities.

Definition of Bullying

Bullying has two key components: repeated harmful acts and an imbalance of power. It involves repeated physical, verbal or psychological attacks or intimidation directed against a victim who cannot properly defend him or herself because of size or strength, or because the victim is outnumbered or less psychologically resilient. 

Bullying includes assault, tripping, intimidation, rumor-spreading and isolation, demands for money, destruction of property, theft of valued possessions, destruction of another’s work, and name-calling. In the United States, several other school behaviors (some of which are illegal) are recognized as forms of bullying, such as:

Sexual harassment (e.g., repeated exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual propositioning, and sexual abuse involving unwanted physical contact)

Ostracism based on perceived sexual orientation 

Hazing (e.g., upper-level high school athletes’ imposing painfully embarrassing initiation rituals on their new freshmen teammates) 

Not all taunting, teasing and fighting among school children constitutes bullying. “Two persons of approximately the same strength (physical or psychological) . . . fighting or quarreling” is not bullying.  Rather, bullying entails repeated acts by someone perceived as physically or psychologically more powerful.

Bullying prevention and intervention

One school spells out their program:  Bullying prevention and intervention in the students’ rights and responsibilities section of the student handbook is defined as, "any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma. Bullying includes cyber bullying. Bullying does not include ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict."


Table 1. Troublemakers
Carry
Weapons 
TardinessBullies Gang
Members
Drugs

 

Troublemakers


According to Professor James Q. Wilson, “*Five to Six percent of the teenagers and young boys commit half or more of all serious crimes, so the troublemakers should be watched.”  The table above represents what to look for with troublemakers in your school.

When bullying is reported, school administrators are directed to take immediate action to investigate and respond.  Parents and/or guardians are contacted and the principal may assign a consequence ranging from a conference to recommendation for expulsion.  Incidents involving substantial threats or assault will also be reported to the police. When a student with a disability is involved in a bullying incident, a referral to the individualized education program (IEP) team to consider additional interventions may also be made.  In addition to the disciplinary consequence for the specific behavior, school administrators, counselors, psychologists, or social workers will work with all involved students and intervene with the student who engaged in the bullying behavior, with the target of that behavior, and with the by-standers who witnessed the behavior.  The primary goals of these interventions are:

1. To ensure that the student who bullied will understand that such behaviors are unacceptable and understand the potential harm and impact of the behaviors.

2. The safety of the target will be ensured, and the target will feel safe, supported and learn some positive approaches to dealing with this type of behavior.

3.The bystanders will learn that they have a responsibility to report such behavior to adults, and will learn effective strategies for intervening when they see bullying behavior in the future. 

In some cases, the administrator may invite students and parents and/or guardians to participate in a restorative justice conference in an attempt to give the students a deeper understanding of the impact of their behavior, to develop empathy, and to provide an opportunity for the student to take responsibility for the harm caused and work on a way to restore the damaged relationship.  Parents and/or guardians and students meet first with a trained facilitator to gain an understanding of the process, and are given an opportunity to decide whether or not to participate.  Participation is always voluntary.  With support and trained facilitation, the target of the bullying (and the student's parents and/or guardians) is given an opportunity to explain the impact of the bullying in a safe environment. In this way, the underlying issues can be resolved and are much less likely to resurface again for the students. 

*This percentage was consistent across all school types may exceed 100%     

Michigan Tech Policy on Hazing1 

Michigan Technological University in Houghton, MI has a Hazing Policy in place which we have copied below that illustrates the policies that are in place at the University:

This policy is also in our Student Code of Community Conduct. The Code of Community Conduct spells out the judicial process for just about anything a student could find themselves involved in.  We have a Sexual/Relationship Misconduct Policy which incorporates harassment.  This too is more defined within the Code of Community Conduct.  A synopsis of this policy is below. 

Students can encounter harassment in various areas while attending a university, with fellow students, intimate relationships, working, with faculty, with staff, etc.   Sexual Harassment is strictly prohibited and taken very seriously at Michigan Tech.

Like anything, the best way to stop bad behavior, such as bullying, hazing and harassment is by knowledge.  Prior to coming to school, first-year students are expected to take an online interactive course, which addresses, stalking, harassment, alcohol, drugs and by-stander intervention.  The first-year students also attend "Staying Safe at Tech" during orientation week.  

Sometimes people do not know they are a bully.  It’s the same with harassment.  The person may not realize the behavior is harassment.  The issue must be addressed by intervention.

  
Hazing Policy

All forms of hazing by any student and/or student organization, group team, etc. are strictly forbidden at all times on and off the campus of Michigan Technological University. Hazing is defined as any action taken or situation created intentionally, knowingly, and/or recklessly to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, ridicule, or possibly cause mental or physical harm or injury, regardless of the harmed party’s willingness to participate.

Hazing activities can be categorized as subtle, harassing or violent. Subtle hazing typically includes a power differential between new and senior members of the organization or team. Behaviors are viewed to be "harmless;" however, they clearly violate mutual respect and serve to embarrass or humiliate those targeted. Harassing hazing causes an emotional and physical discomfort on the victim. Violent hazing actually causes physical, emotional and/or psychological harm.

If hazing occurs within a student organization/ group/team, it will be presumed the officers have knowledge of, and condone, such activity(s). Disciplinary action may be taken against the leadership of the student organization/group/team, as well as against the student organization/group/team itself.

Students and/or student organizations/groups/teams charged and found responsible with a violation of the Hazing Policy can receive a sanction ranging from disciplinary probation to expulsion. Criminal prosecution may also be pursued. 

Hazing is a Criminal Act

Hazing is unlawful; civil and criminal liability; duty of school, etc., officials. 

It shall be unlawful to haze so as to cause bodily injury to any student at any school, college or university.  Any person found guilty thereof shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor in most states. 

Any person receiving bodily injury by hazing shall have a right to sue, civilly, the person or persons guilty thereof, whether adults or infants. 

The president or other presiding official of any school, college or university receiving appropriations from the state treasury shall, upon satisfactory proof of the guilt of any student hazing another student, sanction and discipline such student in accordance with the institution's policies and procedures. The institution's policies and procedures shall provide for expulsions or other appropriate discipline based on the facts and circumstances of each case. The president or other presiding official of any school, college or university receiving appropriations from the state treasury shall report hazing which causes bodily injury to the attorney for the Commonwealth of the county or city in which such school, college or university is, who shall take such action as he deems appropriate. 

For the purposes of this section, "hazing" means to recklessly or intentionally endanger the health or safety of a student or students or to inflict bodily injury on a student or students in connection with or for the purpose of initiation, admission into or affiliation with or as a condition for continued membership in a club, organization, association, fraternity, sorority, or student body regardless of whether the student or students so endangered or injured participated voluntarily in the relevant activity. 

Interim Sexual and/or Relationship Misconduct Policy

Guiding Principles

Sexual and/or relationship misconduct have been identified as national problems that significantly impact college and university students. Federal and state laws place requirements upon colleges and universities to address issues of sexual and/or relationship misconduct. The University is committed to educating students, faculty and staff about this topic; to improving responses; and to working with the surrounding communities to offer as great a variety of services as possible. The University’s Student Code of Community Conduct expressly prohibits sexual and relationship misconduct. Sexual and relationship misconduct includes sexual harassment; sexual assault; sexual exploitation; domestic violence; dating violence and stalking. 

This policy is supported by the Interim Procedure for Addressing Sexual and/or Relationship Misconduct Allegations Against Students.

Harassment

Every state has a law on their books which addresses Harassment and Hazing.  We select Massachusetts law as a means of making our point.  

Criminal Harassment MGL 265s.43A 

Elements: The suspect willfully and maliciously engaged; in a pattern of conduct or series of acts (at least 3 incidents); which were directed as a specific person and constituted harassment (because a reasonable person would suffer substantial emotional distress).

Hazing

Hazing MGL 269s 17 

It is illegal to conduct an initiation into a student organization that willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health or a person. This includes activities, such as "forced calisthenics, consumption of food or alcohol, or any other brutal treatment."


Hazing Facts2  

Hazing is a plague in our society. Incidents are on the rise – particularly among younger and younger kids committing increasingly more violent acts. Take a look at some statistics: 

(Data cited from the national study Hazing in View: Students at Risk conducted by Elizabeth Allan, Ph.D. and Mary Madden, Ph.D. from the University of Maine.  The full report of both the pilot and complete national study are available.)   

1.5 million high school students are hazed each year; 47% of students came to college already having experienced hazing.

55% of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing.

Alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep-deprivation, and sexual acts are hazing practices common across all types of student groups.

40% of athletes who reported being involved in hazing behaviors report that a coach or advisor was aware of the activity; 22% report that the coach was involved.

2 in 5 students say they are aware of hazing taking place on their campus. More than 1 in 5 report that they witnessed hazing personally.

In 95% of cases where students identified their experience as hazing, they did not report the events to campus officials.

Nine out of ten students who have experienced hazing behavior in college do not consider themselves to have been hazed.

36% of students say they would not report hazing primarily because "there's no one to tell," and 27% feel that adults can't handle it right.

As of February 12, 2010, the number of recorded hazing/pledging/rushing-related deaths in fraternities and sororities stands at 96 – 90 males and 6 females.

82% of deaths from hazing involve alcohol. 

 

Zero Tolerance v. Guidelines for Criminal Behavior

While industry professionals, as well as federal officials have steered away from “zero tolerance” policies for a variety of reasons, we strongly urge school administrators to establish well promulgated policies and disciplinary guidelines that include potential consequences of infractions and further outline the adjudication process to be followed when infractions are reported.  Understanding that there is no “one size fits all solution” moving away from “zero tolerance” allows for each infraction to be evaluated based on the totality of circumstances and merits of the evidence presented. 

These policies, procedures and processes should not only be well promulgated to staff and students, but also to parents and guardians.  Having an informed parental community and educating others why certain policies and/or consequences exist not only demonstrates transparency, but also provides a forum to receive constructive feedback and gives constituents a sense of ownership in the process.  This can increase the likelihood of community support, accountability and compliance.

 One way schools often foster such an environment of safety and compliance is by providing staff, students, parents and others with the ability to report infractions or concerning behavior to school administrators anonymously.  Incident reporting and surveys can be very effective tools to allay what we often hear are fears or concerns of retribution, making things worse or “tattling.”  There are many ways to facilitate feedback dedicated telephone contact numbers, websites, email or “text" messaging, mobile phone apps, etc.  School administrators should review and investigate each complaint as outlined by OCR Dear Colleague Letters, internal policy and seek the advice of Counsel when necessary. 

At a minimum, schools should establish policies that prohibit, limit or determine unacceptable behaviors and consequences of the following;
 
Weapons Possession/Use
Drug Possession/Use
Alcohol/Tobacco Possession/Use
Bullying/Harassment
Hazing
Cyber bullying/Harassment/Stalking
Sexual Assault/Misconduct/Harassment
Bias Crimes
Use of cell phone and personal computing devices
Social Media Standards
Any Criminal Acts

 It is critical that school administrators understand that even though we stress the value of policies and administrative guidelines as essential, they alone do not address the multi-faceted and often unique disciplinary challenges facing our schools and administrators.  They are, in fact, critical ingredients of a larger recipe for developing a culture or awareness, civility and compliance in our schools.
 
One of the difficulties schools have for dealing with bullying and related issues really centers on the process used to define bullying and to identify when an incident has occurred (teasing between friends versus harassment).  The other issue has to do with the process used to investigate complaints and issue sanctions.  Zero Tolerance suggests that there is little or no process.  You violated the policy, guilty, there is only one sanction, suspension/dismissal. 

Conclusion

This paper asks for a process (procedural due process) or examples from security professionals from school districts that have gravitated from zero tolerance policies and incorporate that information into their guidelines as well as for places of employment.

1 Hazing Policy.  Retrieved on 11-12-19 from:  https://www.mtu.edu/conduct/policies-procedures/student-conduct/hazing/

2 Hazing in View: College Students at Risk.  Retrieved on 11-20-19 from:  https://www.stophazing.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/hazing_in_view_web1.pdf

Copyrighted 2019 by Lawrence J. Fennelly CPOI, CSSM & Marianna Perry CPP, CPOI 

TASA Article Disclaimer

This article discusses issues of general interest and does not give any specific legal or business advice pertaining to any specific circumstances.  Before acting upon any of its information, you should obtain appropriate advice from a lawyer or other qualified professional.

This article may not be duplicated, altered, distributed, saved, incorporated into another document or website, or otherwise modified without the permission of TASA and the author (TASA Id#: 10544). Contact marketing@tasanet.com for any questions. 

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