Summerland teacher’s battle against bullies gains national audience
An online bully-reporting system created in the wake of a schoolyard fight in Summerland has now received support in the highest echelon of power in Ottawa.
Summerland teacher Trevor Knowlton created www.stopabully.ca three years ago to help students, parents and teachers at member schools anonymously report bullies. As of last month, 44 schools across Canada had joined and 146 reports had been forwarded to school principals for action.
Stop A Bully has been so successful, in fact, that it attracted the attention of Canada’s Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights, which invited Knowlton and another volunteer to Ottawa in April to speak on it.
“It was great to validate the work we’ve been doing,” Knowlton said.
Committee members expressed a willingness to help the program, and Senator Nancy Greene Raine followed through with a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that asked his company for support.
Knowlton created Stop A Bully in April 2009 after every staff member at Summerland Secondary School received an email about a video of a schoolyard fight that had been posted on Facebook. Knowlton thought it should be easier for people to anonymously report bullying and his website was born.
In addition to stopping bullies, the site has also generated some interesting statistical insights, such as the growing prevalence of cyberbullying, which the Senate committee is studying.
As opposed to traditional forms of bullying, like physical assaults, cyberbullies use the Internet to spread embarrassing pictures and rumours, or even create fake, defamatory Facebook pages.
According to Stop A Bully statistics, 68 per cent of cyberbullies are females.
Danielle Law, a cyberbullying expert and former associate professor at UBC, said Stop A Bully’s numbers seem to match existing research.
“Females are more likely to spread rumours or gossip, and it’s easier to do these types of things on Facebook, for example, or (by) texting,” Law said.
“Some of it has to do with the social hierarchy, especially when it comes to high school and junior high, where females are trying to demonstrate power,” she explained. “So rather than overtly kicking someone or pushing someone, they’re more likely to do so verbally or through social exclusion, just to maintain that social hierarchy.”
Stopping bullies hasn’t been cheap.
Knowlton said he has spent thousands of his own dollars to make the site a reality. But the financial burden should be lifted when the program switches from non-profit to national charity status later this year, a shift that will allow it to issue tax receipts to corporate donors. Proper funding will also mean a bigger time commitment and paid staff.
“There is some stuff lining up,” Knowlton said, “so it’s getting to the point where some major decisions will have to be made.”
So far, just three schools in each of Summerland and Penticton have signed up as members, which costs a minimum of $50 to cover some costs, although Knowlton thinks more will join as word gets out.