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Former victim of bullying offers hope for others

10/14/2013

TOPEKA (AP) -- As a middle school student in Topeka, Wes Gately was often bullied at school, an experience that left him feeling alone.

TOPEKA (AP) -- As a middle school student in Topeka, Wes Gately was often bullied at school, an experience that left him feeling alone.

Now a college student, Gately shared his experiences recently as part of Anti-Bullying Awareness Week to inform others about what happens when some students make life rough for others.

He recalled a time in 2006 when he was a student at Jardine Middle School in Topeka when he was surrounded and confronted by several other students.

"I felt like a caged animal," Gately said. "I had that 'not again' kind of feeling."

Gately, now 18 and a student at Washburn University, told the Topeka Capital-Journal (http://bit.ly/17opyae ) that he was pushed into a locker and was about to be punched in the face when he shoved the bully and walked away. The two were ultimately given in-school suspensions. That year, he said, was the worst year he was bullied, including grade school.

"The school really didn't do much. There were no programs. The teachers didn't say anything," Gately said.

State laws have changed since those days, and school districts are required to have policies prohibiting bullying at school, in school vehicles or at school-sponsored activities. Districts also must have plans in place to deal with bullying.

Roseanne Haberman, guidance and counseling coordinator for Topeka schools, said Jardine was one of the last middle schools in the district to implement bullying programs.

The district scheduled several activities tied to the awareness week.

"Everyone is working on bullying prevention because it is such a part of our culture," Haberman said.

According to Stopbullying.gov, the website for a program sponsored by several federal agencies, 28 percent of students in grades six through 12 have been bullied, ranging from verbal and social attacks to physical confrontations.

"I think what is hard now is the stuff going on with social media," Haberman said. "It is really insidious. They (students) don't see a face when they push the send button. It is a lot easier to hurt people."

Bystanders can help defuse a bullying situation, with most instances stopping within 10 seconds when someone intervenes, according to Stopbullying.gov. But Haberman said bystanders often are reluctant to step up for fear they will be next.

Randy Wiler, director of the Kansas Bullying Prevention Program, said schools are complying with the law but can do more.

"You have to make it simple and easy to report," he said.

Wiler said the Shawnee Mission school district has put a link on its websites where bullying can be reported anonymously.

Wiler said victims of bullying need adults in their lives with whom they can talk about their experiences. Parents should watch for signs of bullying and talk with their children openly, even writing down dates of when bullying takes place.

Gately said schools are taking steps, though posters in hallways aren't enough.

"I don't want anyone to go through what I had to go through," Gately said, adding that there was a delicate balance between being overprotective and letting bullying take place.

"It's hard to try to find where that line is," Gately said. "I don't know where it is. I think everyone needs to face adversity. You need to suck it up. But there comes a time when you can't suck it up any more. I bottled it up. I would break down once a month."

He advises students who are bullied to find "two or three good friends" and try to get through it by not giving the bullies what they are looking for -- a reaction.