With the abuse of school children making headlines, it’s easy to forget that another kind of abuse – bullying– is also prevalent.
But in California, one young girl's battle with bullying has helped turn the tide by introducing a new law that helps fight this kind of abuse.
Tabitha Bowles, 15, was once suicidal and for nearly four years she was the victim of bullying at school. Today she is an inspiration for the anti-bullying bill that Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed into law.
It all started in sixth grade, when Tabitha was 10 years old. Her mom, Isela, noticed the warning signs just in time.
Still, Tabitha said she finds it difficult to erase the past.
"I was in total shock, like, what really just happened? I turned around and I saw the girls that were standing there next to the boy who threw the rock at me and they were standing there laughing," she said.
Tabitha’s ordeal inspired another bullying victim — Assembly Member Mike Eng of San Gabriel Valley — to take action.
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Growing up in an immigrant family, Eng was subject of constant bullying in school so severe that he still finds it surprising that he even graduated from high school.
"I never thought I would even pass sixth grade," he said. "In my juvenile mind, I thought someone has to come and save me from all of this, but there was no one."
According to Eng, a counselor finally noticed the signs and intervened.
Inspired by Tabitha’s experiences, he sponsored this bill to save other victims.
Eng said different schools in California already have programs that address bullying issues, but this law would create a uniform approach that promotes a zero tolerance approach to bullying.
"I would like to see programs that involve students to articulate what it is to look for," Eng said. "Young people will tell you that bullying starts off by very subtle ways by which the perpetrators are careful of not leaving any marks."
The new law does three things: it defines bullying as an abuse; it provides training for teachers, parents, and students to recognize the symptoms of bullying; and it allows the victims to be transferred to another school.
"Because too often the perpetrator is transferred out or suspended, but his or her buddies and gang members are left behind and will punish the poor victim even worse," Eng said.
For a long time, Tabitha’s parents tried to get her transferred to a safer school environment. But it took the passage of this bill to finally accomplish that.
"There were so many people who could have helped us, but refused to," Isela said. "It was beyond my comprehension, because after all we were talking about a child."
One out of three American children is at risk of being bullied even before they’ve reached the seventh grade, Eng said, adding that this issue has much larger social affects.
"This is a child who can be the next president, the next scientist who discovers the cure for cancer, the child who becomes the next governor or legislator," Eng said. "But none of these are possible, because the only thing the child is thinking about is to stay alive for that day."
Tabitha, with the help of her older sister Tiffany, has started a foundation to help support bullying victims. Both sisters recently won an award that recognized their work as young leaders.