It occurred to me last week that when calling the police: I've never before had a conversation with a police officer.
When I've called about traffic accidents, or the time I found a dead body in my yard, or the day I found an abandoned baby in the street in front of my house (I lived in rather questionable neighborhoods when I was in college/grad school), I've only been asked for "Just the facts ma'am": the who, where, what, and when and nothing more.
But recently, when I contacted the FBI and police about cyber-bullying, the officers wanted much more. They wanted to hear "my story," much like an old but somewhat intrusive friend might want to hear what I've been up to over the past five years—the exception is that I had never before met these friends and they each carried a notepad and a gun. The officer asked, "When did you meet this guy?"
Rather nervously and somewhat embarrassed, I began: I met British photographer Jez Coulson in New England, five years ago, on a warm, sunny November afternoon just before sunset. I was at a religion conference and had taken a break from a publishing panel and decided to check out the city's Skywalk ...
Prior to my contacting the authorities, I had read many stories and articles on bullying/cyber-bullying. I had seen numerous news reports on bullying/cyber-bullying. In fact recently on CNN there have been several stories of bullying victims who committed suicide. And I had a friend who was a victim of bullying and who committed suicide because of the bullying.
Not until now did I fully understand why someone might commit suicide as a result of being bullied.
Imagine getting daily message rants (some days more than one rant a day) for months and months that belittle and demean you in horrible and painful ways. Now imagine you can do nothing to stop it: no matter how hard you try.
Bullying is insidious, and it leaves you broken in ways that are incompressible to someone who has never experienced it.
In my case the messages were sent by a friend, Jez Coulson, on whom I had once written a feature article for a magazine, and someone I dearly loved and admired for many years. But I'm not sure if it ultimately makes a difference. I doubt it matters if the messages are from friends, acquaintances, or strangers. Their vicious content and the sheer volume of the messages—for over at least five months in my case—is what is particularly harmful.
The officer asked me, "Can you think of a certain day or incident that may have brought about this behavior from your friend?" (The officer was careful to clarify that he didn't want me to feel he was blaming me but rather he was trying to get information on "what kind of person we're dealing with here.")
I took a deep breath. I knew what I was about to say would sound crazy. I said, "Yes. Most recently my friend says I am deserving of his abuse because I used the word 'embodied' in a sentence as in 'Nelson Mandela embodied some of his Christian faith in his campaign for justice in South Africa.'"
(if you'd like a fuller version of the story please check out my previous blog post titled "Never Say Nelson Mandela is a Christian" at: http://enchanted4est.livejournal.com/55814.html
The FBI guy laughed. One of the other officers said, "You're kidding!" Another said, "Twilight Zone-ish sure, but not surprising. These guys always sound like they come from Crazy Town."
Although my blog is a mixture of a photography blog, a writing blog, and sometimes a movie review blog, periodically, over the next few months or perhaps the next year, I will be posting on Bullying, particularly Cyber-bullying. Maybe my story will help someone in some way. That is my hope. But since I am a writer (as well as a photographer), I have been encouraged by many to write about my experience as a way of dealing with it. So I will be doing that as well.
Bullying and Cyber-bullying, for many states in the USA, are new crimes (laws are on the books against it, even here in North Carolina, but the laws are new and still developing laws), and the authorities are still being trained in how to take the reports, navigate the statutes, and how to deal with the victims. Because of this, at least in my state, inquiring about reporting the crime or even actually reporting the crime takes time and patience. Victims should expect to have to be diligent in calling, patient in being transferred to different departments and officers, and willing to tell and re-tell their story to numerous officers (it is best to have as much information about the person who is bullying you as possible, including specific examples of the bullying — in my case this meant samples of the numerous electronic messages — as well as a written bullying timeline/flowchart).
Not sure if you're a victim of cyber-bullying? Here is the criteria:
Cyber-bullying is the use of the internet or other electronic means to harass an individual. "Harassment" must meet the criterion that a reasonable person, with the same information, would regard it as enough to cause another reasonable person distress.
If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing this, please contact the authorities or encourage them to contact the authorities.
It's awkward and strange and embarrassing and painful — yes — but well worth it because it is also very empowering. And bullying hinges upon the bully playing a power game with the victim.