Christian Aaron True Stanfield, a high school sophomore from South Fayette, Pennsylvania, had been tormented by several of his classmates throughout the 2013-2014 school year, including but not limited to being shoved, tripped and attacked with a burning cigarette lighter. Come February, with even his mother unaware at the time how harshly he was being bullied, he made a clandestine seven-minute audio recording during his special education math class using his personal iPad, which had been approved by the school for him to use to get help with his schoolwork. Captured on audio was a group of students offering vulgar and emasculating insults to Stanfield, and the loud thud of a book being slammed down next to him by one of the antagonists pretending to hit him upside the head with it.
Stanfield played the recording for his mother and she, righteously shocked and outraged, presented her complaint to South Fayette High School Principal Scott Milburn. Even more shockingly, Milburn contacted local police Lieutenant Robert Kurta, and had the latter interrogate Stanfield while Associate Principal Aaron Skrbin and Dean of Students Joseph Silhanek were present. Stanfield was instructed to play the audio for the group, then delete it immediately afterward.
Shortly following that, with Lt. Kurta under the notion that Stanfield’s action “served no legitimate purpose,” the latter was charged with felony wiretapping and on March 19, 2014, was found guilty of disorderly conduct by District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet.
Fortunately, on April 16, 2014, all charges were dropped, with Mike Manko, spokesman for the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office issuing the statement that “We don’t believe [Stanfield’s] activity arises to a citation.” Understandably, both Stanfield and Love both were delighted with this development, despite and because of the fact that there was no real reason why Stanfield should have been brought before a judge. Nonetheless, this strange and terrible saga that has involved not only Stanfield but countless other children (and will inevitably involve countless more to come) is far from over. As of this writing, there is no report that disciplinary actions have been taken against Stanfield’s tormentors, but the attorney representing Christian Stanfield has stated that the boy’s family will pursue civil litigation against the school district, and at Change.org is a petition calling upon the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Governor, State House of Representative and State Senate to remove Principal Scott Milburn from his position.
In the larger picture, however, the situation surrounding Christian Aaron True Stanfield is only one ugly crest in a disturbing societal and institutional trend toward blaming victims. Just as the reports surfaced that Stanfield would not be prosecuted, the story broke about a pamphlet distributed by Lincoln, Nebraska’s public school system advising students faced with bullying to “Refuse to get mad,” “Do not verbally defend yourself,” “Do not be a sore loser” and “Do not tell on bullies,” among other things, recommendations which encourage both the victim and the tormentor to confuse kindness and weakness, thus setting the stage for bullying to escalate. Needless to say, the content of this flier outraged parents, prompting an apology from the school board. In March 2014, Grayson Bruce, a fifth grader in North Carolina who was tormented by his peers for liking the cartoon series My Little Pony, which is very strongly marketed toward girls, was barred from bringing his My Little Pony lunch bag to school, with school officials claiming that the object in question is “a trigger for bullying,” to which Noreen Bruce, Grayson’s mother, replied, “Saying a lunchbox is a trigger for bullying is like saying a short skirt is a trigger for rape. It’s flawed logic. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The more I think about all this, the more I am of the notion that incidents in which victims of bullying get neglected and/or blamed are far worse than just senseless or illogical — they can be dangerous. In 2008, Young-Shin Kim, M.D., an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine’s Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut and her colleague, Bennett Leventhal, M.D. analyzed numerous worldwide studies concluding that children who had been bullied were two to nine times more likely than other children to report suicidal thoughts. A little over a year after Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold committed their infamous massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, reports began to surface that bullying had been rampant at that school in the timeframe leading up to the shooting and that Harris and Klebold had been particular targets for torment by the popular crowd at Columbine, but that these incidents and others like them involving other students were generally ignored by school administration, particularly Principal Frank DeAngelis, who plans to retire at the end of the 2013-2014 academic year. In fact, according to StopBullying.gov, in twelve of the fifteen school shootings documented throughout the 1990s, the culprits had a history of having been bullied. Such a connection is not only not surprising in the least, it is depressingly inevitable. By no means do I condone the actions of Harris, Klebold and others like them, much less would I give them a pat on the back. However, everybody has a breaking point, and there is no telling what a person will do when he or she still feels cornered after having tried all the reasonable remedies to his or her predicament. In the case of Christian Aaron True Stanfield, he only made a recording because he did not feel safe, needed proof so that people mandated to help him would believe him, and unlike lesser young men, harmed and killed absolutely nobody, only to be institutionally vilified and humiliated, and in such a needless manner. Of course, not every victim of bullying would handle such a problem as resourcefully as Stanfield has, and taking that into consideration, it is unquestionably imperative that school officials treat occurrences of bullying in a more forthright, mindful and sensitive manner. Otherwise, chances are everyone’s f***ed.