AIKEN - Schofield Middle School student Nick Hayes has gotten so accustomed to dealing with bullies, he discusses it with resigned nonchalance.
"I've had people pick on me," the eighth-grader said. "There's not too many people who haven't."
But, when told Wednesday of a statewide telephone hot-line for victims of school bullies, a braces-filled smile spread across the student's face as he agreed that it was a good idea.
Bob Besley, coordinator of S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon's school violence program, said the main objective of the toll-free hot-line - (888)-NO-BULLY (662-8559) - is to stop all school violence, from the stereotypical schoolyard bully to drug dealers and kids with guns.
"We're kind of a liaison between all the different agencies, law enforcement, the schools ... We want to act as the state's resource on school violence," the former Aiken public safety officer said.
No, Mr. Besley does not plan to scout schoolyards to break up fights. Nor does he plan to horn in on other agencies' investigations.
Instead, he hopes to encourage students who may be getting bullied or are witnesses to crimes to communicate the problems to their parents, school officials, and if necessary, local law enforcement.
"The first thing we would do is talk to the child and make sure the parent is aware of it," Mr. Besley said. "We would suggest they contact their own guidance counselor, but if they're afraid, then we want them to know they have someone to talk to."
All calls are taken seriously, he added, from someone getting shot in the arm with rubber bands on a regular basis, to someone who may be bringing a gun to school.
Mr. Besley said a state law passed this year requiring law enforcement to report school crime and violence to the attorney general's office will also help his program achieve its goals.
The hot-line has been in limited operation since January, but was launched in earnest Tuesday to coincide with the new school year. It is funded by $78,000 in grants from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the state Department of Public Safety.
Since January, the hot-line has received reports from law enforcement and students about crimes involving knives, guns, drugs and at least one arson.
Specific incidents were not immediately available.
Capt. LaLita Ashley, head of the Aiken Department of Public Safety's juvenile division, said the hot-line will likely provide a valuable resource for police departments without specialized juvenile officers. However, she said only time will tell how many kids use it.
"I think they will use it; I'm not going to say it's going to be a widespread effort," she said. "But, I think there are enough good kids out there that some of them will."
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