These days, if a high school girl is the least bit unique she’s going to get bullied, said Christina Kuntz, 15.
Kuntz and two other Whitehorse teens, Charlotte Robert, 16, and Mel Anderson, 16, are pushing a new anti-bullying campaign aimed at high school females.
About two years ago, the girls participated in a bullying focus group established through the Yukon Family Services Association and Kaushee’s Place.
There, more than 40 young women discussed female-to-female bullying in their schools.
After that, the girls decided to take matters into their own hands and develop posters and pamphlets about “She Bullies” and what young women can do to stop them.
Wednesday, they are distributing the posters and pamphlets in Whitehorse high schools.
The pamphlets focus on victims and followers.
Followers are students who stand by and let bullying happen.
“We really targeted in on followers because what we know about followers, or people who are standing by watching, is that they are sometimes afraid of becoming bullied themselves — becoming a target — and so that prevents them from speaking out,” said Yukon Family Services youth counsellor Nancy McInnis.
When bystanders speak out, “the bully loses power and then the person who is being victimized doesn’t feel so isolated,” she said.
The pamphlets and posters will help schoolgirls recognize bullying when it happens.
That’s the first step to ending it, said Anderson.
“It’s pretty low key; you have to watch,” she said.
“Even a look can say so much.
“If somebody gives you a look you just feel it.”
Each of the girls said they have all been bullied or bullied other girls at school.
“Even making fun of one person, saying something mean, you don’t think that you are being a bully, but you are,” said Kuntz.
The girls developed the concept for the posters and pamphlets, which feature victim help-line numbers, and the design was done by local graffiti artist Ian Parker.
A $1,500 territorial Youth Investment Fund and in-kind work by Aasman Design Inc. made the project possible.
The focus groups showed how prevalent bullying was in the Yukon, said McInnis.
“With girls, it’s more emotional and psychological and it can lead to a lot of things: isolation, feeling as if everyone’s against them, making school so uncomfortable that they no longer even want to attend school or get engaged in social activities.”
More serious, some girls hurt themselves or become suicidal because of bullying, she added.
“As a counsellor I often see people who are experiencing trauma related to being bullied.”
There is a new wave of bullying called techno-bullying beginning to show up in schools, said McInnis.
That’s where girls use cellphones equipped with cameras and video recorders to capture each other being humiliated.
Girls will also humiliate each other through e-mail and My Space.
“Girls are becoming more physically violent as well … it starts with rumour mills and backstabbing comments and what we know is that there have been cases where over cellphones people have communicated there will be a fight at a certain time or they have actually filmed a girl being humiliated through the internet or over the phone,” said McInnis.
“So humiliating images of girls being embarrassed could be taken at any time with the cellphones.”
We can all reflect back and think of times when we were bullied, said McInnis.
“I think we’ve all had the common experience of it; if not experiencing it directly, we’ve witnessed bullying and the guilt that we feel sometimes when we don’t do anything about it,” she said.
“What we’re encouraging with this campaign is that you do something about it.
“Your silence and not doing something about the bullying is encouraging the bully and giving the bully power.”
Girls are fast catching up to the violent crime rate that has been seen among young boys for decades, wrote Dr. Marlene Moretti, a psychology professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, in a short paper on female bullying.
“According to the US Surgeon General’s report, studies of self-reported engagement in serious aggression show the gap between adolescent girls and boys has shrunk by approximately 50 per cent,” wrote Moretti.
“These trends signal the need to fast track research on aggression in girls and develop appropriate interventions.”
Moretti also makes the distinction between physical aggression and social aggression.
Young girls are more likely to be victims of social aggression than boys.
“This type of victimization is associated with high rates of depression, loneliness and low self-esteem,” wrote Moretti.
“For girls in high-risk contexts, social aggression often co-occurs with physical aggression and may play an important role in shaping the contexts in which violence occurs.
“In our research, we found a high correlation between social and physical acts of aggression among high-risk girls.
“Anecdotally, these girls reported that they often became involved (as both perpetrators and victims) in highly socially aggressive peer groups, marked by rumours of sexual impropriety and fast-changing loyalties, eventually escalating to acts of physical aggression.
“Girls differed in how well they fared in these complex social interactions.
“Some emerged at the top of the social ladder and were admired yet feared by their peers.
“Others found themselves more frequently in the victim role.”