See Inside June 2005

Stopping the Bullies

School can be torture for children who are targeted by abusive students


The boys attack Basini almost every night, yanking him out of bed and pushing him up the stairs to the attic. No teacher will hear his screams there. They force him to undress, then whip his back. Naked and defenseless, the boy cowers while his tormentors force him to cry, "I'm a beast!" During the day other students surround him in the school yard and shove him around until he collapses, bloodied and soiled.

Robert Musil's The Confusions of Young Törless, a fictional study of puberty in a turn-of-the-century Austrian boarding school, was published in 1906. The impulses that seethed behind the walls of the Imperial and Royal Military Academy may sound like embarrassing relics of a bygone era, but they are not. Raw violence by a group against one individual, covered up by fellow students and avoided by teachers, still happens in schools today. And bullying in general--physical and psychological intimidation and humiliation, as well as the regular spreading of rumors--is more pervasive than communities, school officials or parents would like to believe.

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