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Fundraiser for Bullied Bus Monitor Reaches $700,000

On June 20th another appalling case of bullying surfaced in the media.  A witness released a YouTube video, featuring nine minutes of callous attacks against an elderly bus monitor named Karen Klein.  Within a day of its release, the post reached viral status, gaining recognition from renowned publications, newscasters, and bloggers alike.  When reporters revealed details of the victim’s profile and personal life, an outpouring of support ensued.  25 year-old Toronto resident Max Sidorov, set up a fundraiser with the initial intent to send her on vacation to offset her duress. He has since raised over $700,000 dollars.

What makes Karen’s story unique, and how did its events follow such a remarkable trajectory?   In order to understand the transformative effect Karen’s abuse had on the public, it is important to look back on previous incidents of bullying and how they were resolved.  Positive reactions to Karen’s story can also be attributed to the medium through which it was delivered: low-end video, shot at eye level, which proved an empathy-ready “you are there” point of view.

Collective hypersensitivity and awareness to issues of bullying have escalated with the advent of social networking and its boom.  The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” no longer holds significant weight among our pre-adolescent and adolescent teenagers.  It has become increasingly difficult to disregard hurtful comments because they can be perpetuated through a variety of different media—social networks, videos, blog posts, instant messages, texts, etc.

Remember the Phoebe Prince tragedy in 2010?  Prince had recently moved from Ireland with her two parents and twelve-year old sister.  She had engaged in a short-lived relationship with an upperclassman before becoming the target of a series of jokes and slandering remarks.  The relentless bullying she endured at school prompted her to hang herself in her stairwell of her South Hadley home, and not one student or teacher spoke up in her defense.

The passage of the Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Law in 2010, prompted other parents of bullied victims to take action against their children’s respective schools.  As reported in the New York Times, another South Hadley parent, Mitch Brouillard, brought justice for his daughter when one of the bullies from the Prince case was charged for bullying her as well. People seem more emboldened to speak out against a crime when it consumes the media in this way, due no doubt to the rise of public support for the victims.

Fast forward to June of 2012 when the world saw a window into ruthless bullying on a school bus.  Karen Klein was not a student of Greece Middle School in New York.  She worked part-time as an employee of the school hired to monitor activity on the school bus.  The 9 minute video spotlights a relentless group of Middle School boys verbally attacking the 68 year-old partially deaf mother of two children and grandmother of eight.

One of the students on board brought the bullying to our attention via a cell phone video, as Karen admittedly made no attempt to advocate for herself.  It is important to recognize the medium through which these crimes were conveyed to the public.  The power of the visual narrative is boundless.  As the viewer, we experienced Karen’s bullying, we sympathized her, and thousands of us reached out to her with our wallets. According to Indiegogo.com, within 2 days, the video had been viewed over 4 million times and over $500,000 dollars had been donated.  Max Sidorov has since raised over $700,000 dollars.

There has been a lot of discussion about Karen’s foundation and what she should do with this money.  She reportedly pledged to donate a certain amount toward a charity benefiting children with down syndrome, a campaign that dear to Karen, whose grandchild who was born with the chromosomal condition.  She made plans to retire and sought comfort in the mere apologies from the teenage boys who bullied her.

As the cycle of Karen’s charity came to an end, there are a few larger questions that also remain.  Why was a bus attendant employed by a school to monitor a group of middle school students apprehensive about reprimanding them? Was she properly trained?  Why didn’t anyone speak up until now on Karen’s behalf?  Did the bus driver witness any of these acts of bullying?  Finally, is it Karen’s responsibility now to use the limelight she has received to promote an anti-bullying campaign or a law mandating anti-bullying training at schools nation-wide?

I hope this story will empower victims and witnesses of bullying to use technology to bolster support for their cause.  YouTube and Facebook may offer new forums for bullying and harassment by posting unwanted images of victims as witnessed by the recent rape case of seventeen-year-old Savannah Dietrich in Kentucky, but they also make it easier to collect and archive examples of misconduct, and in some cases, as Savannah proved, use Twitter and Social media to out their aggressors and sometimes turn around unfair court outcomes. (See Jessica Valenti’s recent piece in The Nation, “How to Out a Rapist“.)

On July 20th, Karen’s fundraising campaign came to an end, and we learned that she intends to use the money to retire.  Will we continue to hear from Karen Klein, or does her story end here?




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