Many federal offenders started as bullies in their younger days, according to William Killian, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
Types and prevalence of bullying behavior, crimes that stem from bullying such as domestic assault, and the legal penalties were the focus for Killian’s speech to a group of community leaders Friday.
Local officials and partners of the Bradley County Juvenile Court were invited to the event. County commissioners, City Councilmen, attorneys and county employees were among those who attended, according to juvenile Court director Terry Gallaher.
County commissioner Bill Winters said the information was timely because it addressed issues facing those who work with children today.
“As a former principal and now as a commissioner I really see the importance of it (bullying) and how it has expanded into cyber-bullying. I’m glad (KiIllian) was there to explain it to all of us who work with young people,” Winters said.
City manager Janice Casteel said much of the information presented was new for her. She said the information is important to address potential crime in the area.
“I look forward to working with Judge (Daniel) Swafford and Terry Gallaher. We are going to continue where the TCCR (Tennessee Targeted Community Crime Reduction) grant left off,” Casteel said. “This was very informational to me.”
Killian defined bullying as a “behavior that portrays the real or perceived imbalance of power.”
“Bullies can not succeed unless there are people who do not turn them in. Bullies can not succeed unless someone is laughing at what the bully is doing rather than saying, you’re doing something wrong,” Killian said
There are three common myths surrounding bullying: that one should not get involved because it is none of their business, that words do not cause harm and “it’s simply a part of growing up.”
“Why does the department of Justice care about this problem? Because among other duties we have the duty to ensure the school systems provide every child a learning environment,” Killian said.
The Justice system is also concerned about bullying because of its connection to hate crimes and civil right laws violations.
“Nearly one in three middle and high school students reported being bullied,” Killian said.
When middle school and high school bullies grow up, they turn into gang leaders, perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assault, human traffickers and drug traffickers, according to Killian
“The very basis of the gang mentality is a bullying mentality,” Killian said.
He said for a gang member to gain higher standing in the gang requires intimidating, harming or killing someone.
Hate crimes are punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison or up to life in prison if the hate crime involves kidnapping or murder. And in federal prison there is no parole.
Killian said a crime is defined as a hate crime if it is carried out because of the victims “race, color, religion, nation of origin, gender, sexual orientation or gender identification.”
Many (81 percent) lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students have reported being harassed verbally while at school. Six out of eight LGBT students have felt unsafe while at school because of their sexual orientation.
Statistics show females from ages 16 to 24 are the most common victims of sexual assault.
“Research shows that most of them tend to be raped by someone they know,” Killian said.
This and human trafficking collide in sex trafficking.
Killian said immigrant minors are the most common victim of human trafficking in the U.S. with American-born minors being the second most common. Human trafficking occurs when a person forces someone else to do something for them that generates income for the perpetrator.
“The coercion could be physical abuse. It could be psychological abuse. It could be legal abuse threatening to have them turned into the police,” Killian said.
Minors are also targeted for human sex trafficking. According to Killian, some signs that may indicate a child is a victim of child sex trafficking are often and unexplained absences from school, talks about travel to different cities, signs of physical abuse, often malnourished, has a “boyfriend” who is significantly older and a sudden change in clothing and items a child usually cannot afford.
Those convicted of human trafficking face up to 20 years in prison, Killian said.
A child sex trafficking conviction carries a sentence of 15 years to life in prison if the child is younger than 14.
“You would think that is impossible but it happens more often then you may imagine,” Killian said.
With the advancement of the Internet and social media, bullying has taken on an electronic form.
“Often the victims are people who are not the most physically developed. They are not the most popular. They may be reclusive by nature,” Killian said.
Twenty-one percent of children and teens who use the Internet say they have experienced cyber bullying, according to Killian.
Some signs a student may be experiencing cyber-bullying include avoiding the computer or cell phone and avoiding conversations about computer use along with low self-esteem and declining grades.
Cyber-bullying or repeated hang up phone calls can result in sentences of two years in jail. Letting someone use a phone for such a purpose carries the same sentence. Jail time increases if obscenity is involved.
Killian said he wanted bullies to know the consequences of there actions if them chose a life of crime.