INDIANAPOLIS – Several Indianapolis community members and local leaders gathered on Tuesday night for a town hall on bullying in schools.
Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears attended the event held at Olivet Missionary Baptist Church. Mears and event organizers said Tuesday’s dialogue was just the first step to ending a growing issue.
All of those who gathered, including families and children, could agree the topic of discussion is often overlooked.
“It’s an issue that is swept under the rug,” said Rev. Wayne Moore, the Pastor at Olivet Missionary Baptist Church. “And I think we need to address it before it becomes something worse than it already is.
Moore said bullying is an issue he deeply cares about.
“I have kids in my church that have been bullied,” he said. “We do know it increases the depression level of a child and causes them to do a lot of things out of character and puts them in a place of trauma.”
Moore said organizing a discussion around the far too prevalent issue was an easy decision.
“We felt it was necessary to talk with the community and try to get them some help,” he said.
Samantha Franklin, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the IUPUI School of Education, spoke during the evening’s event.
Franklin said there is a disconnect on how big of an issue bullying is.
“If you go on the DOE website, it’s interesting that almost all the schools on the DOE website report almost zero instances of bullying,” she said. “However, the data shows that one in four students has been harassed or bullied at some point.”
Franklin said bullying has dire consequences.
“We’re losing our kids,” she said. “We’re losing them physically as they are succumbing to death by suicide. We’re losing them with character; they’re not learning what’s right from wrong.”
Prosecutor Mears said social media often plays a large role.
“We found that bullying is becoming more and more common,” he said. “And it’s kind of changed with this emerging technology where it’s not these face-to-face interactions, it’s being done on social media platforms.”
With the increase of cyberbullying nowadays, Mears said education is key.
“We want to make sure people know how to protect themselves when they use the internet and when they use these social media platforms,” he said. “We also want to make sure they use it in a responsible way that doesn’t hurt other people.”
Mears said he wants community members to understand their legal rights.
“People need to understand that bullying can be a crime,” he said. “We use kind of the traditional statutes of both harassment and intimidation. If the prosecutor’s office needs to become involved, if law enforcement needs to become involved, people need to understand there is a resource for that. I think A lot of time people just see it as words. But we understand the impact those words can have.”
Though Tuesday’s town hall was just one dialogue, Mears and others said there is much more to be done.
Event organizers registered visitors for a mailing list that will provide them with a list of local resources. Mears also said his office’s initiative, “Project Cyber Safe,” also aims to bring these same discussions directly to schools.