Orput, others put microscope on bullying
Back in 2007, two Canadian students wanted to help out a fellow freshman who was constantly teased for wearing pink.
They used email to their advantage and encouraged others to show up to school donning pink clothes in support of the male student.
The next thing they knew, hundreds of kids came dressed in pink, which gained attention all across North America as anti-bullying efforts continued to garner support everywhere.
But students in most schools don't speak up like the two in the province up north did.
About 64 percent of children who were bullied do not report it, according to data gathered in 2010 by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center.
"If it's not reported to an adult, it will not stop," said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.
Backstrom was among several law enforcement officials from the east metro who gathered last week to begin a call for action against bullying, cyber bullying and sexting - the act of sending a sexually explicit text message.
They filled a room at the Washington County Historic Courthouse in Stillwater, where numerous educators and bullying experts spoke about the issues and how to kick off a community dialogue.
With the increasing technology and use of social media, it's becoming easier for students to spread information, whether it's harmful or without bad intentions, officials say. And it's getting harder to monitor and keep track of what's happening.
"That pain, that hurt gets inflicted and is there for quite some time," Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said, adding that the first step is to raise awareness.
Secondly: combine resources.
Backstrom, Orput and Ramsey County Attorney John Choi lead the East Metro Crime Prevention Coalition, along with sheriffs from all three counties to unify educational resources, prevention strategies and law enforcement response to address the problems that may potentially lead to criminal charges.
Citing sexting and harassment incidents, Backstrom said cyber bullying "can become a crime."
But he said the coalition's intention is not to prosecute those kids who are just being flirtatious or spreading messages online or over texts out of peer pressure.
However, law enforcement officials say the connection between bullies and crime is a clear one, according to several studies.
"The most serious bullies are seven times more likely to carry a weapon to school," Backstrom said. "Almost 60 percent of boys who were bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by age 24.
"Even more alarming is that 40 percent of bullies have three or more criminal convictions by age 24."
That's why the panel concluded it's important to look for other restorative justice solutions, communicate with parents and others in the community and teach students about the consequences of their actions.
"Bullying prevention is crime prevention," Choi said. "It is our hope that a unified and integrated approach will make a real dent, not only in the crime rates in our communities, but also in the hopelessness that bullying and cyber bullying breeds."
The coalition will continue to share information throughout the year as the group gathers resources and best practices.
"The bottom line is, study after study shows those who do the bullying are in many regards highly likely to have many difficulties in their adult life," Orput said. "Dealing with it up front is a lot cheaper and a lot smarter than doing nothing."