One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

Gender Nonconforming Behavior in Kids and Teens March 6, 2012

Filed under: Allies,bullying,child abuse,gender norms — Women's Studies Intern @ 10:00 am
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Last week CNN published an article entitled “Kids Who Veer from Gender Norms at Higher Risk for Abuse.”  The article highlights a study that was recently published by Pediatrics, the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The study shows that children who do not conform to gender roles are more likely to be abused.  This abuse increases the probability that these children will experience post-traumatic stress disorder by the time they reach their 20s.  Surprisingly, the abuse that children who are gender nonconforming endure is more likely to come from parents and other older adults as opposed to bullying at school.

“Children and Adolescents With Gender Identity Disorder Referred to a Pediatric Medical Center” reports that gender nonconforming behavior occurs in one out of ten children.  Some children later self-identify as LGBTQ, and the majority of the kids’ nonconforming behavior lessens as they age.

It is important to recognize that if a child is gender nonconforming that does not mean that he or she is transgender.  In fact, Dr. Walter Meyer III, University of Texas Medical Branch, states that “a lot of children seem to be experimenting with cross-gender behavior, but very few are following through to request gender change as they mature.”  The study printed in Pediatrics also notes that in rare cases, children whose behavior does not conform to gender norms may experience gender dysphoria, which is a gender identity disorder experienced during adolescence.  The disorder involves a divide between a patient’s anatomical sex and their gender identity or gender performance.  A study on psychiatric treatment notes that psychiatric symptoms, including depression, self-mulilation, and suicide attempts, are found in approximately 44% of teens who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Cory, who identifies as gender fluid, meaning not completely female or male, comments on the hardships that he experienced due to his gender expression: “I went through various stages of depression.  The only reason why I’m here right now is because of all the support my family gave me.”  Life as an individual who does not conform to gender norms can be hard.  Society and the media can often impose strict gender norms onto children and teens by attempting to determine what clothes, toys, games, and lifestyles are appropriate for their biological sex.

The research surrounding children and teenagers who do not conform to gender norms shows that these individuals are teased, scorned, and misunderstood by both adults and peers.   As we tell our students during Start Strong programs, it is important to reach out and become an ally to a friend or classmate who may be bullied or experiencing a tough time.  This caring behavior should hopefully continue throughout our lives and be applied to all of our relationships.  The most important thing to do is simply to listen and be there for a person who may be in need of support.  Believe the person, do not minimize what he or she is experiencing, and offer your help in any way that you can.  Even just one ally can help alleviate some of the pain or isolation that gender nonconforming kids and teens may be facing.  Reach out and be that one!


Sexual and gender-based taunts: the new wave of bullying December 7, 2011

Filed under: abusive language,bullying,community education,gender norms — Women's Studies Intern @ 12:15 pm

Sexual double standards are alive and thriving, and now starting even younger than we would care to think. On November 11, Ashlynn Connor, a young girl from Illinois, committed suicide.  According to her mother Ashlynn was bullied for the previous two years. One of the preferred taunts by bullies was to call Ashlynn, age 10, a slut.

According to an article on LiveScience “slutbashing” has become a popular form of bullying for teens and tweens. Maureen McHugh a psychologist who spoke to LiveScience, defined slutbashing as labeling others as promiscuous or dirty. In the article, McHugh discusses how sexuality can be a sensitive and vulnerable subject for this age group as they are coming to terms with their sexuality. Labeling one another with terms such as “slut” and “whore” show the infiltration of sexual double standards into a younger audience. This double standard is the same which glorifies guys who have sex and shames girls who do. It is a tight rope without strict definitions; a girl must be sexual, but not too sexual. Faltering from this fine line often leads to being bullied and harassed.

While bullying is not done solely with sexual and gender-based insults, it is common. Teens that are homosexual are bullied three times as much as heterosexual students. Research into the topic shows that it is not so much the identity that kids have problems with, but the transgression of gender roles. During this time of development, tweens/teens are heavily policing one another in terms of gender and sexual identity. But the bullying is not kept to only nonconforming students. In a national study of 2,000 7-12 grade students, 48% reported they had been sexually harassed in the 2010-2011 school year.

Using sexual taunts and identity based insults as tools for bullying has potentially dangerous consequences. In the same national study, of the people who reported sexual harassment, 87% said it negatively affected them and between 25-37% said it made them not want to go to school.  Bullying is not a personal issue felt by the person being bullied. It is systemic and dangerous. And not only because of the risk of suicide. Kids who are bullied are less likely to perform to their highest ability in school and can have physical and emotional difficulties.

Ashlynn Connor is only the most recent in a string of teen suicides caused by bullying. In FVPC’s primary prevention program, Start Strong, volunteers go into middle school classrooms to discuss the topics of bullying and relationships. In the discussion of bullying, identity-based insults are covered specifically. An identity based insult is when a person takes a piece of someone’s identity to use as a put down. Volunteers discuss specifically how calling someone/thing “gay” and how calling someone a girl is problematic. Anytime someone attacks a fundamental part of you, which you cannot change, it creates tension and shame – two things one should never feel about being yourself.

Kids imitate what they see performed for them. When watching television, or talking with a tween/teen, make sure you are promoting healthy and positive examples. If there is bullying on a show you are watching, take a minute to talk about it. If you are prone to using gendered or identity based insults (like “gay” “retarded” or “queer”), think about how someone you care for might be hurt by their use.  If you hear someone else using them, talk to them about it. Bullying, like domestic violence, is a learned behavior, which means that the kids who are bullying today first saw someone else do it and get away with it.  Break the cycle.


Identity-based Slurs No Longer Acceptable in Sports May 29, 2011

Filed under: abusive language,bullying — Hotline Volunteer @ 11:24 am
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Recently, there have been several incidents of high-profile sports stars using identity-based slurs to attack fans and referees, primarily using anti-gay language. However, one of the reasons that this behavior is making the news lately is because the professional organization in charge of these sports are no longer allowing this language to go unpunished. Many professional sports organizations are making sure that it is clear that they will no longer allow and condone this sort of language from anyone associated with their sport.

One of the NBA’s most high profile stars, Kobe Bryant is a recent example of sports stars using gay slurs. During a game in April, Bryant was caught on camera calling the referee a “f**king faggot” after receiving a technical foul. Following the incident, Bryant issued an apology, but was still fined $100,000 for his words. Clearly Bryant’s experience was not a strong enough deterrent, because only this past week, fellow NBA player Joakim Noah was also filmed yelling the same slur at one of the fans seated behind him during the game and was later fined $50,000. Basketball is not the only sport that has seen recent attacks on gay people- Atlanta Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell was recently suspended for two weeks following an incident where he yelled homophobic slurs and made sexually suggestive motions toward fans who he thought were gay.

These types of identity-based slurs and attacks are completely unacceptable, especially because these sports stars are supposed to be role models. By using this type of language, it tells all the young men and women who look up to them that using identity-based slurs is acceptable. This is especially true with the case of Kobe Bryant, who is ranked as the 14th most powerful celebrity by Forbes Magazine and is one of the most recognizable names in sports. Mr. Bryant, who already has a very checkered history with a notorious rape case, issued an insincere apology following the incident, stating “What I said last night should not be taken literally. My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do NOT reflect my feelings toward the gay and lesbian communities…” Essentially, Bryant believes that because his words were said during the heat of the game, they should not be taken as an offense. Because that is how the world usually works, right? If you are in a heated moment and someone calls you a faggot, a slut, a whore or some other identity-based insult, it’s not offensive. Oh wait, no, that’s not how it works at all. Anyone who has been at the receiving end of an angry outburst where they are called names or insulted for who they are can tell you that those insults are extremely painful to hear, even if you “know” that the other person “doesn’t really mean it”.

The NBA and the MLBA are doing the right thing by fining these players and officials and sending a strong message that players are accountable for their words, even if they are said during a heated moment. However, these men have a responsibility to their fans and to the young people who look up to them to set an example of acceptable behavior, which identity-based slurs are clearly not.

FVPC discusses this in our Start Strong programming.  Start Strong is primary prevention education for middle schoolers about violence prevention and bullying. One of the things that we try to teach is that insulting someone based on identity, such as using a sexist, homophobic or racial slur is not just insulting to that person, but to the entire minority group. Insulting someone based on their identity or perceived identity is bullying.  To have role models setting an example to the young people that look up to them that this is okay in a high pressure situation is an unacceptable lesson to be teaching. Hopefully, the examples of Bryant and Noah will be a deterrent for future sports stars to chose their words carefully and refrain from using vicious insults during high pressure moments.


“With (Facebook Friends Like These…”: Benson Teens Indicted for Cyberbullying Allegations) February 9, 2011

Cyberbullying takes many forms, including text, video, and audio. But regardless of the format, no one deserves to be harassed

Last Monday, Johnston County Sheriff’s deputies charged two Benson, NC teenagers with with one count each of cyberbullying, after allegedly setting up a Facebook page devoted exclusively to bullying a fellow student.

According to arrest warrants, the two set up a Facebook page and posted comments to intimidate and torment a 15-year-old classmate at South Johnston High School, allegedly going so far as to threaten to bring a gun to school to hunt down the teen, and to run him over with a car.  Investigators went on to say that the Facebook page, which was discovered and reported by the victim’s father, was allegedly created back in September of 2010.  Johnston County school officials declined to comment on the case Wednesday, but school system policy prohibits all types of bullying and harassment, including online, and warns of student discipline that could include expulsion.  If proven true, these cases would be only the most recent instance of an ongoing saga that continues to play out in schools around the country, and server as a stark reminder of the reality of cyberbullying, and the impact it has even here in NC.

According to the National Crime Prevention Council, cyberbullying affects nearly half of all teens in the United States. And indeed, here in NC, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper says that cyberbullying is a growing problem in our communities that needs to be taken seriously, “It can lead to violence,” he said. “It can lead to depression in the victim, and it can also even lead to suicide.”

The biggest challenge in discovering instances with cyberbullying specifically is that unlike traditional forms of bullying and harassment, instances of cyberbullying can often go undetected, undiscovered, and unchecked for years, if not longer, unless victims feel comfortable and confident enough to speak out and ask for help.

In this instance, the online abuse was discovered by the victim’s father, who subsequently reported the incident to police and school authorities.  However, unless victims feel like they will be heard and believed, this is not often the case.  Typically, the abuse goes on, unabated, until the victim cannot abide by it anymore, or until the abuse goes a step too far.  In the best case scenario, this means that victims reach out to their support structure, or parents and administrators discover the abuse and take action accordingly.

The announcement of the charges out of Benson come in the wake of several recent tragedies elsewhere in the US, brought on in large part by instances of cyberbullying and online harassment.  The issue was last brought to the forefront after a NY college student committed suicide, after his roommate allegedly posted an online video outing him as being gay.

In the hopes of averting another tragedy down the road, Attorney General Cooper issued a call to action: “…we need to encourage parents to pay attention to what’s happening with their children and then encourage the parents and kids – that vast majority in the middle who are neither bullies or victims – to stand up and say they’re not going to tolerate this kind of thing.”

For this reason, FVPC sends community educators into area schools as part of Start Strong, primary prevention programming to discuss issues related to cyberbullying with teens, to help kids not only understand the reality and consequences of their behavior online, but also to help teach possible victims of online abuse to reach out if they need help.  The goal of these community education programs is to help kids learn responsible online behavior, in addition to teaching them to report or help stop abuse whenever they encounter it–be they victims, bystanders, or perpetrators.

To learn more about cyberbullying, and how you can become involved to help stop digital and online abuse, visit our website at


“…not about a show of force but a show of presence” December 14, 2010

The recent increase in attention to cyberbullying has left many parents confused and frustrated. The New York Times recently published an article, “As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch Up,” that offers us some understanding of how parents may address the issues of safe uses of technology as well as cyberbullying.  Perhaps one of the strongest points the  article makes is that because cyberbullying is an evolving practice that takes so many forms and affects children in so many ways, it is important that parents know their children. Some tips to keep in mind

  • Pay attention to your child’s moods and their willingness to talk openly about friends and school. Changes in behavior may hint at a deeper issue.   Also, knowing your child will allow you to handle a case of cyberbullying more effectively, whether your child is the victim or the bully.
  • Along with knowing your child, know what you’re giving them. If you plan on giving them a cell phone familiarize yourself with the phone and its applications. Phones are no longer just phones but “mini computers” as the article puts it.  Consider laying down some ground rules for the technology you supply your child with i.e. handing the phone over to you at 10:00 pm or making sure it is off when the child is doing their homework.

The article also attempts to guide parents to address the issue as it arises.  For e4xample, parents often mistakenly assume that the awareness of and punishment for cyberbullying falls into the hands of their children’s schools. Schools, however, already dealing with limited resources, are more often than not shrugging the “off-campus” matter back to the parents.   Parents may find the following model script from the article helpful if their child has been bullied: “I need to show you what your son typed to my daughter online. He may have meant it as a joke. But my daughter was really devastated. A lot of kids type things online that they would never dream of saying in person. And it can all be easily misinterpreted.”

A Nashville man’s daughter was a victim of online bullying until he intervened.

What is most important in this model is its tone. Rather than coming off as accusatory or angry, the language here explains the problem calmly without making a judgment about the bully or his/her parents. This is crucial because it allows the parent to be a model for his/her child instead of perpetuating the cycle of violence and showing the child that violence, physical or verbal, is the way to handle conflict.  Parents undoubtedly have the largest potential to be an advocate for their children when it comes to cyberbullying.

But what if it is your kid who’s the bully? The article also offers a wonderful example of a mother explaining what is wrong with bullying by bringing it to her daughter’s level. In the specific case mentioned, the mother asks her daughter if she would want someone to harass her puppy but a similar approach could be used by asking the same question about a favorite doll, toy or even friend. Using this method, parents are not only expanding their own child’s understanding of bullying as a problem but also creating the possibility for their child to stand up against bullying amongst his/her peers. Like all violence, cyberbullying should be taken seriously. It’s not just “kid stuff.” It is hurtful and its effects can be long lasting.

If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying, you are not alone. We are here to help. Call our 24-hour hotline at 919-929-7122. We will be happy to listen and work with you to find helpful resources within our community. For parents of middle aged children participating in the Start Strong program, education does not have to end with our program. Ask your child what they learned, if they know anybody who had been affected, or any question to open the door for future dialogue. If this topic is of particular interest to you we encourage you to volunteer as a community educator at FVPC.  Our next training session begins in January.


Proxy Settings: How Cyberbullying Effects Bystanders As Well As Victims December 9, 2010

Filed under: bullying,cyber-bullying,Uncategorized — Johnson Intern @ 1:53 am

In the wake of the Twitter exchange, Danny DePuy, assistant director of UNC's LGBTQ Center, spoke to "The Daily Tarheel," calling for more education on cyber-bullying, and its effects

When UNC Alumnus Joe Mundell logged into his Twitter account, the last thing he wanted to see was a two-hour “flame war” between two UNC alumni, targeting an unnamed UNC student with homophobic epithets and slurs.  Mundell, who identifies as gay, admits that while none were directed at him, they were posted on a public forum for him–and everyone else– to see.

According to Mundell, the Tweeters were relentless in their assault, posting messages that attacked the student’s sexuality, inviting him to hook up with a choir director, audition for a musical and get an AIDS test.

They also threatened violence.

After this September’s tragedy at Rutgers University, in which student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate allegedly posted a video of him having sex with another man, the issue of cyberbullying has come to before the American public consciousness.  The issue has become of particular interest to college and school administrators, who along with state and federal lawmakers are beginning to regard the trend with increasing alarm.

The problem, says Valerie Huttle, a NJ state representative, is not that cyberbullying is a new or suddenly-urgent phenomenon, but the fact that unlike traditional bullying, cyber-bullying offers little hope of refuge and respite, “bullying has been around through the ages on the school ground, but you go home and you feel safe,” she pointed out. “[but] cyberbullying is in a world beyond school grounds,” where it is able to reach hundreds of people, even in the relative safety of their homes and dorm rooms.

But the effects of cyber-bullying have far-reaching implications, affecting even those not directly targeted by verbal assaults. “I was having issues reading those,” said Mundell. “His Tweets are not private and they’re there for the whole world to see.”  Mundell went on to explain that the incident triggered painful memories of his own experiences after coming out his sophomore year of high school.  The difference, he said, was that this was before social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter had become widespread.

Previously, simple off-color humor or poorly-thought-out comments were fleeting, and restricted to person-to-person dialogue.  With social media, however, tasteless comments and hateful diatribes are immediately posted publicly, where they remain on the web for the long term. Furthermore, widespread social media now allows bullies and abusers to make pervasive and public ridicule, and coercive threats thereof, with both impunity and convenience.

That’s why Rep. Huttle and other New Jersey lawmakers helped pass the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, a state bill designed to address cyberbullying in the K-12 system.  Federal lawmakers have quickly followed suit, and days later introduced a similar bill, the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harrassment Act of 2010” to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  As inspiring as the federal and state initiatives are, however, even the bills’ sponsors admit their efforts are not aimed at eliminating bullying completely.  “No one believes you’re going to stop bullying — you can’t outlaw hate and teasing,” said Michael Lieberman, the Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, one of the several groups supporting the Tyler Clementi bill, “what you can say is that there are standards and there is accountability once you go outside these standards.”

The rise in bullying is one reason that FVPC community education volunteers facilitate Start Strong in the middle schools in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  One goal is to teach young people to be conscious about how their online comments can be perceived, and the real-life consequences of things said and done in the virtual world.  To learn more about cyber-bullying and how you can help, visit our website at


Anti-Bullying Measures Legislated December 2, 2010

Filed under: bullying — Women's Studies Intern @ 2:04 pm
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The State of New Jersey Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly passed the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” today — a bi-partisan piece of legislation supporters say would make up for an inadequate anti-bullying law that’s existed since 2002.  New Jersey’s first anti bullying legislative measures were taken then but encouraged anti-bullying awareness, rather than mandating it as the new bill does.   The bill passed 71-1 with 5 abstentions. The new bill requires training for all public school employees to recognize bullying, form “school safety teams” to review complaints, reporting of all incidents whether inside or outside of schools, and administrators who do not investigate incidences of bullying could be disciplined, while bullies themselves may be suspended or expelled.

Legislative actions have tremendous implications for making schools and communities safer for kids.  While this is an important first step in addressing the seriousness of bullying, we must focus on a multifaceted approach to ending bullying.  We need to create a comprehensive, community driven approach to teach children about self esteem.   Here are some ways that we think this could happen:

  • Teachers and school administrators from elementary to high school can start teaching children early about positive ways to gain self esteem that don’t come at the expense of putting others down.  Schools that implement zero tolerance, anti-bullying policies demonstrate that they are taking the issue seriously.  It isn’t enough to say that putting down others is bad.
  • Outside agencies like ours can lend their expertise with primary prevention program like our Start Strong program.  SS encourages kids to stand up to bullies and to act as active bystanders and allies to kids who are being bullied.  Teaching kids non-violent tools to solve conflict will have long-lasting positive results for their development.
  • While the bill above gained momentum after the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a college student at Rutgers University, it only has one provision for upper level education which includes a bullying policy in codes of conduct.  Ideally, to see instances of bullying decrease, colleges should mandate both anti-bullying education.  Prevention education coupled with severe consequences for both those caught bullying others and administrators, faculty who ignore complaints of bullying would not only increase awareness but also decrease episodes overall.  At Carolina, we have the ONE ACT program designed to teach students how to be active bystanders when witnessing incidents of violence on campus.  The safety committees of student governments on university campus’s could also create tasks forces focused on preventing bullying and providing students with resources about what to do if they are a victim or witness to bullying.
  • As informed adults we can also take steps to make sure our own actions and language line up with what we are teaching children.  Parents can make sure that they don’t tease or put down others around their kids and that they solve conflict through respectful dialogue and open communication.  This new NJ bill functions as an excellent example of adults following through on their promises to take bullying seriously and be allies for bullying victims.

What can you do?  By an active bystander! If you see someone getting bullied or picked on step in (whether you are an adult or a kid) and say something.  Encourage others not to use racist, sexist or homophobic slurs! Sign up for our community education volunteer training here to teach kids about bullying prevention.