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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Leaving Liberty They Shoved Her. They Taunted Her. When It Looked Like There Was No Way Out, She Escaped.

Heidi Thomsen Eastern Washington University

I was a victim of harassment.

My best friend Jennifer and I were shoved, hit and verbally abused last year at Liberty High School. We never knew exactly why; it just started one day in October.

We felt like losers; no one would talk to us and most of the people we thought were good friends were turning away. We were called obscene names and when we walked down the hallway, somebody was always waiting to throw a book at us or give us the finger.

One day, Jennifer was approached from behind and had a iceball rammed down her blouse by a senior athlete. It went unpunished, just like everything else.

It took a lot of courage to finally tell our parents what was going on. In fact, we suffered in silence for about four months.

When we finally went to our principal, he was very sincere and he took in everything we said with a serious look about his face. He said he would handle the situation when both of our parents went to his office and confronted him directly. However, he could not stop the harassment that happened between classes, while we were in the hallway.

Different people would belittle us so no one person would be caught. It would get better for a while, then worse. The sophomore brother of the athlete began to verbally abuse us and got his friends to join in.

I remember how hard it was for me to concentrate in an environment filled with ridicule. The boys would stare at me with daggers in their eyes when I asked for help in class. After awhile, I felt self-conscious. I stopped participating in class.

I concluded that anyone, after enough verbal abuse and degradation, will start to believe what everyone says, even if that person is strong. I began to think my life was destined to be controlled by the heavy hand and harsh mannerisms of conformity.

It was thoroughly depressing. High school is supposed to be the best time of your life, yet Jennifer and I were miserable. We would write journals just to vent our anger. We never confronted the boys. We just wanted it to end.

It was about this time when I made a new friend, Mike, who started an underground newspaper for the students at my school who wanted to vent their anger about several issues through the press. I was one of the contributors, and so were my friends.

It was our way of rebelling against an unjust school system. We were forced to go to assemblies and applaud awards being given out to the abusers by their coaches. Jennifer and I, and some of the other writers for the underground paper, felt the need to get the word out that these people were not as great as they seemed.

Mike published two issues, then he was called in by the principal and asked to stop distributing it. Our voice was silenced.

The only solution I saw for myself was to get out of that school.

I decided to go to Running Start, even if that meant leaving my friends and my senior year behind. I’m now earning college credits at Eastern Washington University; Jennifer also left Liberty and is in Running Start.

While I love attending Eastern, I still wish I could enjoy my last year of being a kid with my friends. I will never forget what those boys did to my friend and me, but now I realize that life is just too short to dwell on the past.

Eastern is so much better than high school. I’m comfortable raising my hand to ask questions; no one makes fun of you. I’m able to express my opinions and have them taken seriously.

I’m speaking out now because harassment at all levels must be stopped. Students should go to adults if they have a problem; the adults should then take the appropriate steps to solve the problem. We found out later the superintendent had never been notified about what was going on.

In my case, the harassers flatly denied everything, from calling Jennifer and me lesbians to slamming me into a locker, and put the blame on us by saying we called them names like “snowboarders.”

Harassment happens at all schools, but it can be worse at small schools like Liberty. Because of the school and community emphasis on sports, any complaints against a jock is greeted skeptically. For Jennifer and me, it became a sort of “gang humiliation” aimed at people dubbed unpopular by the so-called “socially-elite” group.

Hasn’t society taught us to stop abuse early in life? It should not matter if a person is a class officer, football captain, Honor Society member or has played a solo for a concert. If that person has harassed someone else, HE OR SHE SHOULD BE PUNISHED. What kind of message will a school be sending to its students if they treat harassment lightly?

School officials and board members, please take the time to ask yourself one question: What if it was your child who was being abused? Wouldn’t you want it to be stopped?

School officials must realize what it is like to be a victim, to feel hated and depressed. How would you like to go to your job every day knowing no matter what you did, you were going to be ridiculed? Would you like to be shunned, leaving you with no one to talk to, no one to trust?

Above all, we all must remember that harassment is a crime. People should be taught to have respect for each other, regardless of differences. Please hold harassers accountable for their behavior. No one should be made to suffer at the hand of someone else.

MEMO: See related story under the headline: Enforcement of policies often ignores daily teasing

This sidebar appeared with the story: PLAYING FAIR What should school administrators do about persistent harassment? Here’s one suggestion from a student who’s been there. “Encourage students to speak out and administrators to take an unbiased stand. Offer counselors - both male and female - who students can reach out and talk to, ensuring that students can speak freely without bringing further intimidation. “A good way to settle a dispute is to have the perpetrator and the victim sit in a room with the counselor and three other student “witnesses.” The three students then can hear both sides and determine a punishment. In some cases, however, students might feel pressured by a certain group, making it hard for them to make a fair decision. In those cases, it would be in the school’s best interest to invite three students from another school, or even students studying law in a near-by college, so a fair verdict can be reached.

See related story under the headline: Enforcement of policies often ignores daily teasing

This sidebar appeared with the story: PLAYING FAIR What should school administrators do about persistent harassment? Here’s one suggestion from a student who’s been there. “Encourage students to speak out and administrators to take an unbiased stand. Offer counselors - both male and female - who students can reach out and talk to, ensuring that students can speak freely without bringing further intimidation. “A good way to settle a dispute is to have the perpetrator and the victim sit in a room with the counselor and three other student “witnesses.” The three students then can hear both sides and determine a punishment. In some cases, however, students might feel pressured by a certain group, making it hard for them to make a fair decision. In those cases, it would be in the school’s best interest to invite three students from another school, or even students studying law in a near-by college, so a fair verdict can be reached.

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