How’s that hatey, reloady, crosshairsy thing working out for ya’?
Frank Conniff (personal communication, January 8, 2011)
On January 9, 2011, I was in a hotel room in Brooklyn, packing for the next leg of a site visit marathon, and watching Sunday Morning on CBS. The lead story was about the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that had killed six people, wounded 12 others (including U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), and stunned the nation. The second story was on bullying (“Life lessons,” 2011). The reporter for this story focused on a middle school student who had clearly been identified as a bully. She admitted to losing a friend (he gave up on her when she yelled at him in the middle of English class, “you’re gay, you’re gay, you’re gay”) and to terrorizing many of her classmates. Despite being in a special program to change bullying behaviors, she said that she did not see anything wrong with her actions.
I was stunned by the juxtaposition of these reports – to go from a story on shooting 18 people to one on middle school bullying – how telling is that? Two stories. Two examples of violence. Two examples of hate and fear and support for violent acting out. Because – despite people saying that violence is wrong and that we are sorry when people get hurt – there is no clear support to make things like this stop happening. In fact, it is easy for people who perpetrate violence to perceive appreciation and even approval for their actions.
For instance, the young bully on the television was featured because she attended a school where bullying was an acknowledged problem and where a program had been developed to curb aggressive actions by identified students. Despite some successes, the school’s principal admitted that it didn’t seem to be working for the girl in the focus of the story. The most telling moment for me was when the girl’s mother was interviewed. The mother didn’t think the girl deserved the label of “bully.” Her explanation was that her daughter’s actions were the result of her being a “sassy, sassy smartass little girl” (“Life lessons,” 2011, para. 52). I was amazed when the mother told the interviewer that she was proud of her daughter for standing up for herself. So that was the story of one young bully.
The story of the mass killings was another matter – or was it? Gabrielle Giffords knew she had been targeted – another word for being bullied. She issued this now-famous-in-hindsight statement on March 25, 2010,
… we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is that the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun-sight over our district, and when people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action. (Daily Rundown on MSNBC, 2010, para. 4)
Unfortunately, the consequences for Representative Gifford and 17 other people in Tucson that day were that they became the victims. The consequences for the classmates of a young bully are that they become the victims. Bullying in all its forms – verbal, physical, emotional, sexual – leaves wounds. And those wounds can, and do, lead to more overt violence – by the perpetrator, by the victim, or even by a by-stander who just gets caught in the crosshairs.
I certainly do not know why the shootings happened. I also don’t have a clear understanding of why some people feel that they have to act as bullies. What I do know is that these kinds of behaviors are unconscionable. And, more importantly for the JANAC readers, violence has a clear association with HIV infection.
Violence has been shown to contribute to the risk of infection for women who have sex with men (Sareen, Pagura, & Grant, 2009) as well as for men who have sex with men (Stall et al., 2003). Being the recipient of bullying has been shown to increase drug use and risky sexual behaviors that put lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals at increased risk for HIV infection (Rivers, 2004). Intimate partner violence has been shown to contribute to risky sexual intercourse, including forced sex and sex without protection (Melendez & Heintz, 2006); and, to make things worse, HIV infection has brought new or exacerbated violence against individuals who are already trying to cope with the physical and emotional traumas related to being infected (Zierler et al., 2000).
I can hear the naysayers as I write this. They will say, “How did you get here from where this editorial started? Sure, there is a connection between HIV and violence, but between the Tucson shootings and a middle school bully? Really?” For me, however, the bottom line and my strong conviction, is that violence in every form is an impediment to civil discourse and to the physical and mental health of communities. As such we should call it what it is: bullying. And we should have a no tolerance policy where bullying is concerned.
Melendez, R. M., &Heintz, A. J. (2006). Intimate partner violence
and HIV/STD risk among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21,
Rivers, I. (2004). Recollections of bullying
at school and their long-term implications for lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. Crisis: The Journal of Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention, 25,
Sareen, J., Pagura, J., & Grant, B. (2009). Is intimate partner violence
associated with HIV infection
among women in the United States? General Hospital Psychiatry, 31,
Stall, R., Mills, T. C., Williamson, J., Hart, T., Greenwood, G., Paul, J., … Catania, J. A. (2003). Association of co-occurring psychosocial health problems and increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS among urban men who have sex with men. American Journal of Public Health, 93,
Zierler, S., Cunningham, W. E., Andersen, R., Shapiro, M. F., Nakazono, T., Morton, S.,… Bozzette, S. A. (2000). Violence
victimization after HIV infection
in a U.S. probability sample of adult patients in primary care. American Journal of Public Health, 90,