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Social media brings bullying to light

By Christina Zdanowicz, CNN
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Bully video helps police
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A teen is bullied on her way home from school, a student captures it on tape
  • Victim submits video to iReport and police take video as evidence
  • Social media making it easy to post troubling videos for anyone to see
  • iReport.com: Share your stories
RELATED TOPICS
  • Crime

(CNN) -- Her choppy blue-and-blond hair hiding the fear in her eyes, a 15-year-old voiced her dislike for a hip-hop music group and got punched in the face by a classmate. The whole thing was caught on tape and social media helped police in their investigation.

A crowd of six to 10 classmates were following the self-described emo girl and her boyfriend home from school in Newark, Ohio, on an autumn day in September. Some kids were taping it and others were egging on the assailant, who was on the school wrestling team. It all started because Alexis Xanders doesn't like Insane Clown Posse.

One of the students who recorded the incident contacted Xanders on MySpace and sent her the video two months later. The teen says she wanted something done, so she uploaded the video to YouTube and CNN iReport last week.

While only six to 10 people witnessed the alleged assault, the video has received more than 1,000 views on CNN iReport to date.

A local newspaper reporter saw the video and alerted the local police department, says Newark Police Sgt. Scott Snow. A police report was filed on September 24, and authorities are now investigating the other kids in the video who were goading the suspect.

The 15-year-old suspect, who CNN is not naming because she is a minor, was charged as a juvenile Tuesday with individual counts of assault, menacing and unlawful restraint, Licking County Prosecutor Ken Oswalt said. He also confirmed they are looking into charging other people from the video for inciting the fight.

The same day as the bullying incident, Chicago, Illinois, honors student Derrion Albert was beaten to death. The incident was captured on video and shared online. Three teens pleaded not guilty and were set to appear at a hearing on Wednesday.

These examples of bullying are not isolated incidents. Cameras are very accessible these days and social networking has made it easy to post videos for anyone to see.

Dr. Patricia Walton Agatston, a counselor with the Cobb Prevention/Intervention Center in Marietta, Georgia, is co-author of "Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age." She says posting videos online allows for bullies to be more visible to authorities.

Nancy Willard, director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, says tracking bullying arrests and charges that arise from videos posted online is no easy task. "There's no source of that kind of data. Nobody's in a position to track that," she said.

When Xanders posted the video to CNN iReport, she wanted something to happen, but she didn't expect to see a detective at her door the next day.

"Someone did see it and sent it to a detective. I didn't think anything would actually happen with all of this because it happens all the time," the high school freshman told CNN. The mother of the teen suspect could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Xanders says the suspect hasn't liked her since fifth grade, when the harassment allegedly started. "I don't really know why. She just never liked me," she said.

"They would wait for me everyday after school. ... I didn't go to school the day before. They were in a big huge group, waiting and stuff. Once all of my friends were walking, we'd have five or six people, but that day it was only me and [my boyfriend], she did something."

Officer David Bardsley and the school principal held a peer mediation session between the two girls a couple of days before the assault.

The suspect said, "They were talking crap about me," according to Bardsley. But, after a 20-minute conversation, the girls assured him everything had been smoothed over.

Whenever the school becomes aware of bullying, it gets Bardsley involved immediately. He's been the officer on the grounds of Newark High School for nine years. He stands behind the peer mediation process at the school, which has 1,700 to 1,800 students enrolled.

"I would say that more than 90 percent would be an accurate success rate," he said. "Most of the kids say that when we rationalize with them, they realize that they're being silly."

Doug Ute, the superintendent of Newark City Schools, confirmed Wednesday that the suspect agreed not to attend the school's homecoming celebrations.

Since charges were filed, the high school has barred her from participating on the school wrestling team. The suspect is no longer a student, as she withdrew from the school, Ute said.

"Anytime there's bullying or harassment, it's an unfortunate incident and we discourage that type of behavior with our students," he said.

Xanders, who dyes her hair frequently and rocks out to alternative and scream-o music, uploaded the video to iReport and says she told her parents about it afterward. Tanya Xanders, her mother, said she didn't mind, especially if the video might help bring attention to bullying.

In the video, Xanders did not push back or return a punch. "She's not a fighter... that's what she's all about," her father, Chad Bartlett, told CNN.

Xanders says that while she stood back from fighting, she'd tell other kids who are being bullied to fight back in another way.

"Tell somebody and do something about it," she said. "Don't just sit there and take it. You can use your words and not your hands."

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