When Annettea Mills launched a quest in 2011 to end bullying in schools, she expected to see teasing and taunting between students.
What surprised her was the name calling among parents and the bickering she saw from teachers.
Even at an October anti-bullying rally at a local school, Mills declined to say which, two mothers had to be separated when name calling and insults almost turned physical.
“It’s not just students bullying students anymore,” said Mills, whose CSRA Saving Our Students group holds rallies and awareness campaigns in area schools weekly. “Today’s bullying, 2013 and 2014 bullying, is about getting in the other person’s head. You get in that other person’s head and you got total control over that parent, that student, that teacher, that adult.”
Mills, who founded SOS after her nephew, James Gillette Jr., was killed while working at the Belair Conference Center in 2011, said she hopes recent allegations against Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito of bullying teammate Jonathan Martin will help society recognize the problem among adults.
The NFL launched an investigation Monday into threatening and racist voice messages Incognito alledgedly left for Martin, among other harassment that reportedly went on for more than a year. According to FOX Sports, Incognito routinely taunted Martin and called him a “big weirdo.”
In a last straw scenario, Martin left the team to seek emotional help last week after other players refused to sit with him in the team cafeteria, according to news reports.
“You would think that grown men wouldn’t be bullying each other like that,” Mills said. “We are here trying to portray to our young men and young women about not bullying ... we have to learn from this.”
Gary Namie, the founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute, said adult bullying must be more aggressively addressed and is often overshadowed by the crisis with adolescents. In the Institute’s 2010 survey, 35 percent of adult Americans said they experience workplace bullying, which can lead to the destruction of livelihoods and families.
Namie said the Martin case is unique in that the victim is a 300-pound, multimillion-dollar sports star and that his case is being made public. But he hopes it leads to more legislation to protect victims in the workplace or at least give adults being bullied someone to identify with.
“This case will validate all the people who are not multimillion-dollar pro-sports players because Martin is saying what they have been trying to say or were too ashamed to say,” Namie said. “He overcame a lot of shame to do this. He’s our hero.”
Mills said SOS has launched several initiatives to help tackle adult bullying this year. In December, SOS will hold a domestic violence rally to provide men and women resources on what to do if they are being abused or threatened.
Mills said children witnessing violence between adults can provoke problems at school, leading to bullying or worse. She has also held small work groups for parents and teachers before school-wide bullying rallies to educate adults on how to handle aggression, whether it’s coming from a grandchild or another parent.
“With daddies and mommas using weapons against their spouses in front of the children, it’s all tied together to the bullying in schools and between adults,” Mills said. “They’re all just reaching out for somebody to listen.”