By Kate MacHugh
I grew up in a small Jersey Shore town, much like any other town that dots the coastline. I was fortunate enough to have two loving and supportive parents. Parents who asked where I was going, who would be there and when I would be home. They raised me to believe that I was beautiful, smart, and worthy. They did everything good parents should do. They sent me to a school that they believed would be a safe and nurturing environment. But they could not have planned for what would happen when I got there.
“You should just kill yourself already!”
“Everyone hates you, why do you even come to school?”
“You are so disgusting!”
These were the messages I received from my classmates over the computer, on the bus, and in the lunch line. I was harassed, physically assaulted, and the subject of vicious rumors. The bullying started the first week of 7th grade and lasted until I packed my bags for college.
The girls that bullied me were often pretty, popular, and well liked by teachers. They were leaders in the student government, soccer stars, and teachers' pets. When I recounted their bullying behavior, I was met with disbelief. The school authorities discounted their behavior and minimized the issue. I quickly learned that reporting the bullying did not yield any results, and the bullying continued. I suffered for six long years at the hands of peers. I contemplated suicide often; it seemed like the only way to end the torment. My classmates made me believe that killing myself was a better option than coming to school.
I never shared with my parents what was happening at school; I was too embarrassed. How could I come home and tell my mom that there was a rumor going around school that I had slept with the wrestling team? That I was pretending to be sick again because I knew that there was a girl waiting to beat me up after lunch? So I suffered in silence. It's typical for parents to be unaware if their child is being bullied. Parents often to do not recognize the warning signs: grades slipping, frequent illnesses, low self-esteem.
This culture of victim blaming that is so often seen in schools has long-lasting emotional and psychological effects on the victim. I was made to believe I was responsible for what was happening at school, on the bus, and online. It was not until I began to work through the trauma and start healing myself did I realize that I was not to be blamed. The girls that told me to kill myself, that called me ugly, that destroyed my self-worth -- they were the ones that deserved the blame. Today, I have a Masters Degree in Social Work and I have published a book on my experiences; Ugly: The Story of a Bullied Girl. I have healed myself and learned to truly love myself. I speak all over the country sharing my experiences with teens, teachers, and law enforcement. I have been blessed with the ability to share my story in hopes that it change's lives.
My trauma and torment I endured were not in vain.