Bullying, crime go hand in hand

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- While bullying is not a crime in and of itself, there is evidence to suggest bullying can lead to a life of crime.

The role of a district attorney's office or a law enforcement agency with something like this is to advise school officials and youth groups on how to deal with bullying and what the outcomes often are.

Such is the case in Dougherty County.

"There is not a specific crime in bullying, but about 25 percent of cases we come across relate to bullying to some extent," said Dougherty District Attorney Greg Edwards.

From the experience of Andrea Ewings, who prosecutes juvenile cases for the Dougherty District Attorney's Office, the types of crime associated with bullying varies depending on the circumstances involved.

"It can be almost anything," she said. "It can be a simple battery to as serious as an aggravated assault. It may also be terroristic threats."

Bullying can come in various forms such as physical violence, extortion, put-downs, spreading rumors and through electronic media -- which is a newer method often referred to as cyber-bullying.

The most popular form of cyber-bullying, these days, is through social networking sites such as Facebook.

"A lot more folks are aware of it when using social networks," Ewings said.

The description of a typical bully, Edwards said, is someone who wants power, has a positive attitude about violence and embraces non-conformity.

And it starts a life-long trend.

"They start in juvenile court and graduate to more serious crimes," the district attorney said. "My observation is that, in general, many people that start off bullying become adult offenders."

Bullies also tend to get in trouble more often than other children, Ewings said.

Edwards' words of wisdom to parents and teachers on bullying incidents is to immediately intervene.

"When someone ignites against them, they back off," he said. "That seems to be effective.

"Parents and teachers need to help. Intervention is the most effective strategy."

There also appears to be trends concerning how children bully depending on gender.

"Girls do it socially; boys do it physically," Ewings said. "We are seeing a rise in physical incidents (among girls), but it's usually social and emotional bullying."

Another trend is connected to bullying when it comes to public safety -- and that is gang activity, which can sometimes start by bullying victims turning to peers for help instead of adults.

"There is a connection between bullying and gang involvement," said Dougherty County Sheriff Kevin Sproul. "When children or teenagers are being bullied they often seek a street gang as a safe haven. They will join the street gang seeking protection from the bullies and often end up being a bully themselves.

"There is the other side of the coin to where street gang members constantly harass and or bully an individual to the breaking point. This method forces the individual to join the gang to avoid future bullying or violent attacks."

It's a connection that is felt not only in Southwest Georgia, but on a national scale.

Cpl. Brian Covington of the Albany Police Department's gang unit has noticed that children in this community have been known to join gangs out of pressure from potential bullies.

"One boy reported to us that they (the potential bullies) threatened to beat him until joining their gang," he said. "They (usually) say, 'We will make everything bad for you.'"

Typically, this impacts children who are in middle school -- or at least those too young to be tried as an adult.

"The pressure is coming from folks in their school or high school," Covington said. "The rationale is that if a 17-year-old gang member gets caught (committing a crime), they are gonna go to jail. If they get caught at middle-school age, they are not necessarily gonna go to jail."

Gang activity generally leads to crimes such as entering autos, fighting, breaking into houses and even shootings.

And it typically all comes from the need to be popular.

"The baddest guy in school is the most popular," Covington said. "We are trying to tell kids that people will do anything for you as long as you help yourself.

"Bullying in any form will not be tolerated. It is something we are cracking down on. We want kids to believe in themselves. Do the right thing and good things will come to you."

In light of the impact bullying has, Dougherty's sheriff was not hesitant to propose a solution.

"Bullying is a growing epidemic in our country," he said. "I believe we need more stringent laws to accompany these heinous acts and I also believe educating our youth at a very early age is a must. Bullying courses or training need to be personal so one can see the physical, mental and psychological effects that bullying has on an individual."

On Wednesday, the fourth installment of The Albany Herald's bullying series will discuss how bullying impacts schools and school policies.