Westport teen says reaction to her anti-bullying video not all positive
The Westport middle school student, whose anti-bullying video went viral after she posted it on YouTube, told a forum at Fairfield University on Sunday that reaction in her hometown to her plea has been decidedly mixed.
"I've also gotten apologies at school," she said. "But one person said, `You should move away if you can't take it.' "
Pollack and several others addressed the topic at a "Bullying Prevention Rally" at the university's campus center, sponsored by the university's psychology club.
"Bullying can follow you and shape who you are," Pollack told nearly three dozen people, mainly students and faculty, at the event.
In her video called "Words are worse than sticks and stones," the teen holds up a series of hand-written signs with messages like "I am bullied" and "Not a day has gone by without one of these words," and she lists a number of words she's called, like "fat" and "ugly." One sign reads: "HELP." Another says: "Think before you say things. It might save lives."
She said the biggest issue today is cyberbullying. "Everyone has a cellphone and is on Facebook, and you can hide behind you computer and phone and say hurtful things," she said.
When Michael Cicirelli, a senior nursing student at Fairfield U., was attending high school in Ohio, he was the target of several bullies who routinely physically and verbally attacked him.
"They hit me in my kidneys, legs, spine, but never my face -- I never got a black eye," he said, adding they wanted the bruising to go unnoticed.
"They would kick and punch me when there was no one else around," he added. "I remember being scared and humiliated," Cicirelli, 23, said, but he was reluctant to turn in the trio.
That's because he is from a very a "highly conservative" section of Ohio where "it's a scandal to be gay," he said.
He said at the time he was being bullied, he still hadn't come out as gay, but "people were making guesses" and were "constantly talking and wondering if I was gay."
Cicirelli finally broke free when he retaliated and attacked his attackers. "I went red," he said, adding he was able to throw the three "against a wall" after which they ran away. After that, he said, they left him alone.
"I had to go to a very dark place protect myself," he said, adding that even now he has flashbacks and nightmares because of the bullying.
He added that the best way to deal with bullying is by speaking out. "Bullying exists because people stay quiet," he said. "I was fearful -- they stole my voice."
Cicirelli said it's important to start a dialogue. "You have to be a trailblazer," he said.
"Facebook and texting have taken bullying to a whole new level," she said. She said years ago, bullying was more or less left on the school grounds.
"You went home and left it there," she said. "Today someone can say something hurtful and humiliating about you in a text message and it's on its way to 500 people."
Butun spoke about the effects of bullying. "There's loss of self-esteem and lack of self-motivation that can lead to mental health issues," she said.
People who are bullied are usually depressed and this depression can lead to suicide, she said.
"Our culture needs to be overhauled," she said. "We need to foster inclusion and teach social skills," she said. Parents also need to learn better parenting skills, like how to manage their children's misbehavior, she said.
She said violence on TV and in video games needs to be addressed. "The violence tends to desensitize us," she said. "It's like `I saw a leg get blown off on TV. I think I'll get a pizza now,' " she said.
A bill that would beef up the state's anti-bullying laws was voted out of the General Assembly's education committee last month and moved to the Senate floor.
Although Connecticut already has an anti-bullying law, many believe it doesn't go far enough. For example, it doesn't require school districts to include bullying via websites and other technologies (commonly known as "cyberbullying") in their anti-bullying policies. If the bill goes into effect, cyberbullying would be added to the list of prohibited behaviors.
"We believe strongly that bullying kills figuratively and literally and that it inhibits personal growth; it can be very suppressing," said Joe Calvaruso, 22, a psychology major and event organizer.
"We wanted to show ways to prevent it and ways to cope with it," said Calvaruso, psychology club president.
Delicia Alarcon, 19, a freshman majoring in psychology, said she learned a lot from the speakers. "I learned some of the causes of bullying, how violence in the media and on video games adds to it, and that some children are born more prone to being aggressive," she said.
Hannah Horvath, 18, said the program put the issue into terms that were more understandable. "This wasn't just about statistics and theories," said Horvath, a freshman psychology student, "It addressed real life situations."
According to a 2009 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, almost 20 percent of students in grades nine through 12 reported they had been bullied within the past year. The prevalence was higher among females (21.2 percent) than males (18.7 percent).