PARMA – Over 13 million American kids reported being bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by young people in the nation.
That’s the alarming statistic creators of The Bully Project, a new documentary, are hoping will grab people’s attention.
Currently, there are no federal laws in place protecting children from bullying, but when it does happen, federally funded schools legally must respond to harassment complaints.
The Bully Project, directed by Lee Hirsch, gives viewers an intimate look at how bullying has touched five kids and their families.
The film is currently showing at The Flicks Theatre in Boise.
“I cried all the way through it. It's really difficult to see kids suffering,” said Josie Fretwell, an Idaho teacher.
“Very emotional,” said Chris Bates, a parent of a child that was bullied in school. “I could totally relate to the parents."
However, the stories of bullying aren’t just playing out on the big screen. Many children living right here in Idaho are also victims of bullying.
Fifteen-year-old Ismael Fernandez was bullied throughout most of his young life.
“I got text messages from people telling me to kill myself,” he said. “Someone tried to choke me. I didn’t know what would happen, you know, teachers weren’t there.”
Fernandez recalled the most devastating impact of bullying for him came from the words other kids used to try and hurt him.
“People really don't understand, especially when it comes to verbal bullying, how hurtful it is,” he said.
Soon Fernandez fell into a depression. “I still got bullied despite what I was going through, and I didn't tell anybody what was happening," he said. "I was too scared to.”
He felt his only choice was to get out. Before his freshman year of high school he transferred to a different school district, the Parma School District.
“Every single day of my life I continue to hear the words that I was called, the insults and taunts,” Fernandez said.
In Parma, school administration utilize a bullying hotline as one way for students to communicate with teachers about harassment incidents.
Students and parents can type in the school’s web address and get linked to a program that allows anonymous reporting of bullying. Through the hotline, Parma High School Principal, David Carson, is notified immediately with the details of an incident.
“We needed to have a resource to be able to get that information because that is the hard thing with bullying. A lot of times you don't find out about it until it's already occurred,” said Carson.
“It is the best thing we have done because some kids won't report, some kids won't tell their friends, and some kids won't tell their teachers,” said Sherri Faust, Director for the Parma after school programs
Kelly Miller with the Idaho Coalition against Sexual and Domestic Violence tells KTVB if a student believes someone will take action, they are more likely to report an incident of bullying.
“You have to reach out to trusted adults until somebody hears you,” said Miller.
At his new school in Parma Fernandez feels safe. This year he is enrolled in advanced learning and has made new friends. He looks back on the bullying he went through and regrets not being more vocal.
“I should have told someone. I should have been tougher and not, you know ... but it's in the past,” he said. “I can't do anything about it, all I can do is look to the present and the future and see what I can do to prevent anyone else from going through this,” he said.
Fernandez spent this last legislative session lobbying lawmakers hoping they would pass proposed anti-bullying legislation. The measure didn’t make it out of the legislature successfully, but Fernandez is not going to stop trying.
That is the same hope that the makers of The Bully Project have - that the film will send a message to young people and adults to stop bullying in its tracks.
The Bully Project is in theaters now.
For more information visit www.thebullyproject.com.