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Grim report helps launch anti-bullying campaign in defense of disabled

By Erika Dimmler, CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new anti-bullying campaign launches on Capitol Hill
  • The campaign is especially in defense of disabled children
  • Special needs children are 2 to 3 times more likely to be bullied, a report says

Washington (CNN) -- Schools, parents, teachers and educators can no longer afford to turn a blind eye when it comes to the bullying of American children, and particularly for those children who happen to be disabled.

That was the message Wednesday at the launch of an anti-bullying campaign on Capitol Hill Wednesday that included the release of a report published by abilitypath.org, Best Buddies, and the Special Olympics. The report, entitled "Walk A Mile In Their Shoes," details some of the heart-wrenching injustices that many special needs children endure at the hands of their peers.

The statistics are grim. According to Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, special needs children are two to three times more likely to be bullied than the general student population. In addition, 85% of bystanders do nothing in response to bullying they witness. Fifty percent of special needs respondents reported being fearful of their peers.

Speier was joined by actress Lauren Potter, who plays special needs student Becky Jackson on the hit TV show "Glee." In a strong but emotional voice, Potter described the bullying that she endured in school, and spoke about the boys who thought they wouldn't get in trouble because she was "just a Downs girl."

"But this Downs girl spoke up," Potter said, referring to Down syndrome. "I'm here to tell you that enough is enough. I found my voice and I'm able to speak up for other kids."

Despite Potter's current celebrity, she is still not immune from bullying even today, having recently endured a spate of cyberbullying on her Facebook page. But this time, support from fans across the world was swift.

As her mother, Robin Sinkhorn, described it, "Within just a couple of minutes, people were writing wonderful remarks back...we had messages saying, 'France has your back,' 'England has your back,' 'Australia has your back,' 'New Zealand has your back.' And everywhere around the country, everyone had Lauren's back."

Sinkhorn concluded by emphasizing the importance of "zero tolerance" for bullying, not just by using prevention programs, but also by increasing awareness.

"We can no longer turn the other cheek. We can no longer expect someone else to take care of it. When we look at 85% -- that number of 85% -- of people who just stand by and do nothing because they don't want to get involved, we have to get involved."

Among the organizations behind the report and the new campaign, abilitypath.org describes itself as "a unique online community for professionals and parents of children with special needs." On its website, Best Buddies describes itself as "a nonprofit ...organization dedicated to establishing a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Special Olympics, on its website, says, "For more than four decades, Special Olympics has been bringing one message to the world: people with intellectual disabilities can and will succeed if given the opportunity."

 
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