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Column - Punish bullies or horrors will continue

Once again, the subject of bullying has taken front and center in the news media.

As in all previous times, the issue will burn hot for a few days, then our attention spans will fade and disappear.

The latest incident, which sparked the media attention, is Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University who committed suicide by jumping from a bridge. His desperate last act was caused by a roommate who web-cammed Clementi kissing a male in his dorm room. The roommate and his female friend then shared the scene for all to see via their computer network. Their action was beyond bullying; it was a purposeful, vicious, criminal act that should not go unpunished.

Once again, people are wringing their hands, wondering what to do about the problem. Experts are called forth, only to repeat exactly what they've been saying - and warning about - for years. Bullying, they warn, will continue, and more children will commit suicide. To see the faces of these young victims, some as young as 10, is enough to break one's heart. Hearing their parents' tearful grieving is almost too much to bear.

The only way to stop bullying is to put the full force of blame where it belongs - squarely on the bullies. Of course, there should be conferences with teachers, parents and staff. And, yes, there must be ongoing anti-bullying programs - respect-building programs - in every school. But through all of those processes we should not lose sight of the fact the bullies themselves must be punished, and they must be made to understand they - and other potential bullies - are not going to get away with it.

We can get confused by all kinds of social complexities and split-hair definitions when trying to grapple with the bullying issue. Yes, it's true that cruel comments and behavior have seeped into the very bones of our so-called "culture," infecting nearly everyone. To understand that, just consider all the trash star behavior, including the distribution of videos of "stars" having sex. A certain civility has been lost, not just among adults but among children too. Yes, it's true those factors complicate finding solutions to bullying.

What, for instance, is the difference between teasing and bullying? Teasing, too, can be hurtful, but repeated teasing, which can escalate in its malicious intent, is definitely bullying. When victims of bullying start skipping school or cringing in classrooms and hallways because of bullying, it's time to punish the bullies, even if it means expelling them from school. Some children are so intimidated they are afraid to tell what's happening. That is why parents and teachers must be keenly tuned into any behavior changes.

Currently, almost all states have anti-bullying laws, but it's mainly a patchwork quilt of ineffective "good intentions." We need a national anti-bullying law with some real teeth in it.

All schools should re-examine their polices regarding bullying, especially in light of the increase of cyberspace harassments. No school is immune.

Soon, we will all retreat into our denial cocoons. And then in a month or two, we will all be horrified once again by another sad, sad suicide.

Until we start punishing the bully, not the victim, these heartbreaking and needless deaths will continue.

Dennis Dalman, a former reporter for the Echo Press, is a regular contributing columnist to the Opinion page. He is currently the editor of the St. Joseph Newsleader. He can be reached via e-mail at