Every seven minutes a child is bullied. Every half-hour a child commits suicide because of bullying.
Hoosier author Paige Rawl knows firsthand. Rawl was bullied in school after her classmates discovered she was born HIV-positive. She eventually dropped out to be homeschooled and later attempted suicide.
Rawl spoke with Brown County high school and junior high students April 4 before talking with parents, grandparents and other community members at the library that evening.
Her memoir, “Positive,” was the selection for this year’s Brown County Reads program.
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Rawl is now a college student majoring in entrepreneurship and business. She is working toward starting her own organization for HIV education and anti-bullying advocacy.
Rawl shared some facts about HIV — including that it would take 10 to 12 gallons of infected saliva for there to even be a small chance of a person getting infected — as well as information about testing.
In her book, Rawl shares her experience with administrators at her middle school when she told them about her disease. She and her mother ended up filing a lawsuit alleging the school did not take proper steps.
An audience member asked for suggestions about sensitivity training, and Rawl said having an anti-bullying seminar at the beginning of a school year would enlighten administrators, educators and students.
After she spoke at another Indiana school, an assistant principal came up to her and said, “‘After listening to you talk and what you’ve been through, there are a few kids who I need to go back and check up on. They told me some things and I really just brushed it right off my shoulders and didn’t say anything about it,’” Rawl said.
Another audience member asked Rawl if bullying is more prevalent in person or on social media. Rawl said it’s both ways.
“When they’re at school they go through it all day long and throughout the week. It can just follow them right home. That’s the biggest thing: they want an escape, but kids will find a way to you if you have a social media account,” she said.
Social media bullying can also get ignored by school administrators since it can technically not occur on school grounds, Rawl added.
Rawl said bullies and their families need support just as much — or sometimes more so — as those being bullied.
She said bullies often are dealing with their own insecurity issues, or are having problems in their own group of friends or at home, which causes them to take out their anger on others.
“The worst thing the kids, or anybody can do, is just to go and now pick on that person who already feels bad enough to be bullying, but now have other people picking on them,” she said.
Parents should also teach children to celebrate differences as a way to deter bullying behaviors in school.
“Don’t always go to the kids that are most like you. Go out of your comfort zone,” Rawl said.
Even now Rawl said she still gets bullied. She spoke about a time when she spoke at a New Jersey school. Afterward, she was added on Snapchat by three students who sent her a video calling her “Paids,” the name her classmates had given her after finding out her HIV status.
She reported it to the school.
“They got in trouble,” Rawl said. “I didn’t want them to get in trouble; I just wanted them to know if they are saying these things to me and I don’t even go to school there, and I am a guest speaker, I cannot imagine the things they are saying to kids.
“I tell the kids all the time I really want them to think about everything. … Think about the things you say before you say them; think about the things you do before you do them. You never know how it’s going to affect another person.
“Once they take their own life … you can’t take it back.”