Although an arrest has been made in connection with a widely publicized Norman High School rape and bullying case, it doesn’t mean that the overall issue of harassment in our schools here and elsewhere has even begun to be resolved.
I won’t rehash the arrest details, which you can find here.
What I wonder the most is why it has taken so long for charges to be filed, and, more to the point, did it take the public outcry by the local organization #YesALLDaughters to make it happen? Rape is a crime. It shouldn’t take public protest to remind police and prosecutors of that fact.
We also know there have been allegations of other potential victims and that these victims have allegedly faced bullying at Norman High School when their claims went public. Note the word “allegations” and “allegedly.” This is how bullying works. The bullies are always the ones who get the benefit of the doubt, never the victims.
As someone who has faced years of bullying acts in the workplace, let me suggest a simple narrative: The bully after choosing his victims methodically and often aided by friends, commits his abusive acts. Once those victims stand up, the bully’s friends and the entrenched power structure-supervisors at schools or colleges, for example, or legal personnel-do everything in their power to protect the rights of the bully. The bully’s victims are systematically ignored and isolated. Thus, they are bullied again. Meanwhile, the bullying continues. The bully laughs behind the backs of his victims after they report him. He lurks, ready to pounce again, and he does over and over.
Here’s some of the language the bully’s victims face:
Why are you making such a big deal of this? He was just teasing.
He’s my friend, and I don’t believe you.
Sure, you can make a formal complaint. Let’s have a meeting in the next two weeks or so. You will need to fill out a long report, gather together your witnesses and be ready for intensive interrogation. Or, maybe, just maybe, we could just talk to the person and get him to stop. (Of course, the bully will never stop unless he faces real punishment.)
It’s hard to believe he would do something like that. Are you sure?
Maybe you’re just being too sensitive.
Why did you go to that party? Why did you dress like that? Why did you talk to him? Why did you believe him?
I believe you, but the [insert institutional rules here] just don’t allow us do anything about it.
I might also suggest two other points in relation to bullying: (1) More bullying cases are getting reported because there is more advocacy for victims these days. That’s a good thing. It’s a tremendous problem at schools and even universities, maybe even the worst problem these institutions face. Yet there is systemic apathy among leaders to address the issue. (2) Perhaps, in bygone eras, more bullies were stopped in informal ways. I’m thinking here, just for an obvious example, of the playground bully who finally gets what’s coming to him under the swing set. Consequently, he stops because he faced real punishment.
Getting back to the Norman controversy, I want to note that this case is far from over. There are other allegations that have not been resolved. I urge #YesALLDaughter not to take these charges as too much of a victory. The accused hasn’t gone to trial. The charges could get dropped any day now. The accuser will be relentlessly interrogated and perhaps even demeaned by opposing attorneys. I could go on and on.
Bullying is a major problem that manifests itself in nefarious but sometimes complicated ways. People who don’t want to do anything about it should NOT be allowed in positions of power at our schools and colleges.