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February 12th, 2013
09:32 AM ET

AC360 special documentary: The Bully Effect

An extraordinary documentary called "Bully" captured a behavior adults hear about, but rarely see: the way some kids pressure and relentlessly harass their peers. Filmmaker Lee Hirsch was embedded in several schools for an entire year. What he filmed was so raw and eye-opening that the project catapulted a movement, sounding the alarm about the critical and dangerous issue of bullying.

Something profound has also happened as a result. In the time since "Bully" was released, a number of kids and parents profiled in the documentary, and the filmmaker himself, have been on life-changing journeys, and in some instances have experienced remarkable transformations.

AC360° has dedicated the past year to tracing the course of their journeys and personal missions. In partnership with Cartoon Network, we want to share their stories with you in a powerful documentary called "The Bully Effect," premiering on CNN on February 28 at 10 p.m. ET. The program will air again on March 3 and 9 at 8 p.m. ET.

When Alex Libby was a 12 year old in Sioux City, Iowa, the slurs, curses and threats would begin even before he boarded the school bus. It escalated to such a frightening degree that Hirsch put down his camera and got involved in his subject's life. He warned Alex's parents and school administrators that he feared for the student's safety.

Today Alex has become an anti-bullying rock star with appearances on national television and a visit to the White House. He also regularly delivers speeches to capacity crowds as an activist, and considers himself a spokesman for the bullied. We'll show you how he overcame the junior high torment to find happiness in high school.

Kelby Johnson came out as a lesbian in middle school and in the years since she and her family have been treated like pariahs in their small town in Oklahoma. Kelby admits to once being a cutter and speaks matter-of-factly about attempting suicide on three separate occasions. Even after she was hit purposely by a van of high school boys while walking back from lunch, she believes it's her destiny to remain in her small conservative town and change a few minds.

Now 19, Kelby says her participation in "Bully" empowered her to raise awareness about bullying targeted toward the most at risk population for suicide – LGBT youth. "I know that being gay, you can feel very alone," she says, "and I hope that when they watch the movie, that goes away and they realize there is someone standing with them who has gone through that." You'll get to hear about Kelby's struggles, the people who abandoned her family, and those who stood by her.

Kirk Smalley's story is both inspirational and heartbreaking. The film introduced him burying his 11-year-old son TY after he committed suicide because he was bullied. Kirk says, "I will fight bullying forever because my son will be 11 forever." You'll see his family turn unbearable pain into motivation to enlist the entire world in the fight against bullying.

Hirsch's mission has continued since his film's release - his goal is for 1 million students to see "Bully" through their schools. He has helped create an anti-bullying curriculum, in partnership with Facing History and Ourselves, to be coupled with the film so that students, teachers and administrators can watch together and get everyone involved to stop bullying. "The Bully Effect" tracks his progress trying to reach 1 million students while also traveling back to his own middle school where he opens up about his personal history with bullying.

Anderson Cooper and the producers at AC360° have been reporting for years on the long-lasting damage suffered by victims of bullying. We now want to focus on the change happening in light of "Bully" and campaigns to end intimidation and harassment. "The Bully Effect" reveals how individuals are making a difference in their communities and all over the country. Learn about their stories on February 28 at 10 p.m. ET, and March 3 and 9 at 8 p.m. ET. Share your own stories on Facebook.com/AC360 or by using #bullyeffect on Twitter.

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Filed under: Bullying • The Bully Effect
soundoff (18 Responses)
  1. Reta

    Work place bullying is very over powering too. I am also a victim of work place bullying. Too bad employers allow this to occur. Even when it has been reported by the victim.

    February 26, 2013 at 10:43 am |
  2. Melissa

    Can anyone tell me if this program will be available online for streaming. I am an educator who uses the film, 'Bully' with my middle and high school students and I would love to be able to show this as a follow-up at school.

    February 26, 2013 at 8:11 am |
  3. chris

    I think this bullying thing has gone for far too long... Kids nowadays have grown soft just like their parents.... They need to grow a pair and kick the bullies ass like its been forever. No sueing involved , just a good ol' fashioned ass kicking. I was bullied,im a geek, but i turned out fine stop taking the abuse and stick up for yourself.no this doesnt mean find a gun and shoot someone, it means take out the leader and all problems solved.. and cyber bulling is the biggest bunch of crap i ever heard, turn your damn computer off and problem solved. I work in a school and i cant get over all these bullying laws .

    February 26, 2013 at 5:58 am |
  4. Barb

    I'm glad you are addressing the issue of children being bullied.
    There is a whole bigger picture out there. Adults are being
    bullied all the time as well and this topic needs to be given
    attention. Neighbours can bully neighbours, managers can
    bully tenants, bosses can bully employees, etc. Childhood
    bullying is only the tip of the iceberg!

    February 26, 2013 at 5:39 am |
  5. Lisa

    Im a parent of my son,now age 13 that was a victim of being bullied through 3 years of elementary,grades 3-5.The entire experience was a nitemare while being awake.The worst year,(while in the same school district) was 5th gr,when most mornings my child and I would sit in the school parking lot and cry together.My child was laughed at,picked on,kicked in the halls,pushed down stairs,spit at,and emotionally tormented on almost an every other day basis,by the same group of kids,(since)every grade.I visited the office several times,and made alot of calls to the principal and teachers.Nothing worked.I then got C.P.S. Involved after the school counselor suggested that my child had anger and anxiety issues!! (go figure!) I brought the social worker to the school,for a group meeting,and after a few more meetings,the odds kept stacking against me and my child.The principal had the nerve to tell me-since my child was sometimes shy and quiet student-that he was making himself a target for being bullied!!

    February 26, 2013 at 3:40 am |
  6. Julie

    Please, Please, Please – bring awareness to the hidden secret of teacher bullying (their students). Yes, most teachers are wonderful, but the ones who bully have devastating consequences for children and for their peer teachers who are required by law to report them, yet don't. In my son's classroom of 10 year olds, all were subject to terrible bullying and threats not to tell. The result, many got sick, including 2 who became suicidal. In one year, my son racked up over $110,000 in medical and academic bills as a result of this teacher who had been bullying for 15 years. How can that possibly happen? Lack of awareness, tenure freight, the Sandusky effect, and uninforced education and criminal codes/laws. Please help protect these defenseless children from potential death, illness and lifelong scars. They all have a right to a safe classroom environment conducive to learning.

    February 25, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
  7. Jennifer Greene

    Bullying happens anywhere and it is not just in schools. It happens in work environments and even teachers. It is not just the principals; it can be the teacher. I recall once a member of our church choir bragging about how members liked to harrass each other, and if a person did not like the harrassing atmosphere, they should just not be in choir. She was saying this kind of poo-pooing members who had left over it. I mentioned it to the minister, and she said also poo-pooed it saying, "They were just having fun, and did not mean any harm." And, THIS is the problem I do not sekine talked about in any of these BULLY articles and that is that obviously when it comes to physical abuse the bullies know they have crossed the line, but teasing and pranking that is often part of bullying is often not seen as harmful (this is especially clear when others join the bullying because they thought they were just "having a little fun.") The point is that kids often do not understand THAT line, and they grow up into adults who do not see that a line is crossed when a person leaves because of the teasing.

    February 25, 2013 at 7:12 pm |
  8. Eric

    Bill gates the owner of Microsoft said; "Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one."

    February 25, 2013 at 6:03 pm |
  9. Shannon Hayden

    i got a brain injury when i was six or seven years old.that caused me to have epilepsy and a learning disability.i was bullied growing up but most of the bullying came from my own family.i got called retard,a slut,i was told my mom wanted to abort me,i was called,ugly,fat,worthless and the list go's on and on.then bullied online over a few girls being jealousy of me over a guy friend of mine.then bullied and called stupid online because my grammar is not perfect i
    m 42 and i have issues trusting people.at times i look at myself in the mirror and think i'm the ugliest women ever.i try to please everyone so people will like me enough and not bully me again.i don't date hardly ever because i think why would anyone want to date a women with family problems and others issues.whoever said sticks and stones will break my bones but words won't hurt me is a liar

    February 25, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  10. Theresa

    I completely agree that bullying is out of control in this world, but please understand that it isn't just kids bullying kids in the schools. My son (17yo, 6'1", 200lbs) has been bullied for nearly 3 years by his band director. He's not the only one that this happens to. Unfortunately, if my son wants to do high school band (he loves music) he has to put up with this man. I've complained to administration, but nothing ever happens. I've spoken directly to the teacher, but he blames my son. I've seen this bullying, and have complained repeatedly – now what? How is it that teachers are immune to consequences? If another student had done this to him, it would have been dealt with, but since it's a teacher doing it, it's ok??

    February 25, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  11. Robert

    My first bully actually was a teacher. My first grade teacher. A brutal and abusive Catholic Nun who actually beat me and used her fingernails to inflict damage in the classroom. The sad thing is the parish was aware of what was going on. My mom and dad initially thought the bruises and scratches were from rough play with other kids until one day teacher went overboard and did some real damage. My parents confronted her and school officials who promptly put the blame back on me as an 'unruly child". I was born with a congenital hearing and vision problem which had gone pretty much undetected. the teacher and school officials as well as my parents diagnosed my problem as just being a lazy child who did not pay attention. So my dad also regularly beat me to correct the problem. By the time the medical problem was found and diagnosed the damage was done. i failed first grade and was labled a failure thereafter for the rest of my educational experience. i was then bullied and regularly beaten up by classmates and the behavior was routinely ignored by both school officials and my parents. my dad just told me to learn to take it like a man. The psychological trauma of all of this still haunts my nightmares at age 61. The nun responsible for all of this died last year in her 90's. Her obituary had a long passage about her being a "strict disciplinarian" so I assume I was not alone in my suffering. I am now the father of 5 and grandfather of 18. Bullying has never been tolerated for an instant in my home. i made sure my kids were "bully proofed" at a very early age. I also made sure that they never bullied. It's a tradition now being passed on to my grandchildren.

    February 25, 2013 at 2:40 pm |
  12. Sherri

    My son was being bullied in one of his classes. I addressed the administration and the answer was to take my son out of the classroom for two weeks until the original teacher returned. Why is it my sons right to learn is not as important as the bullies right to bully?

    February 25, 2013 at 1:11 pm |
  13. Andrea

    Why is it that when people bring up the topic of bullying it is most often assumed that it is children bullying children? Many often I have witnessed as a parent and volunteer in the schools how children are often the victims of bullying by their elders. Unfortunately, some adults do not know the difference between commanding respect from students as teachers/administrators but resort to what are blatant bullying tactics. Instead of being a part of the solution, some can make situations worse for the bullying victim. Some even tend to reward the bullies and make the victim feel even more inadequate and are often perceived by their peers as such. Because these days both teachers and even worse, administrators are so inexperienced they often do not handle the situations well. There should be a law that administrators need to have at least 10-15 years in a classroom teaching before they can take the seat as Principal. I seem to remember as a child growing up in NYC schools, the adults that were the administrators were hardly ever under the age of 45-50 years old. This would mean they probably had about 20 years of experience interacting with children and even their fellow teachers. These are the adults who can clearly say they are helping to create a generation of lifelong learners if they too believe they still have something to lear instead of acting as if they know all and their way is always correct.

    February 23, 2013 at 4:40 pm |
  14. Chris

    I am curious if this will be made available for viewing online, either real-time or after the initial broadcast. I would really like to show it in my school's education major club.

    February 23, 2013 at 1:01 pm |
  15. Janice

    Thanks Liz, just what I was going to write about, too. I would guess that it is not just teaching, but in other professions, too. Our son has had many problems as well, and he is is in a computer field. Please do a follow-up story about bullying in the workplace! Thank yo.

    February 20, 2013 at 1:14 pm |
  16. Wendy

    Thank you so much. This is a very important topic that affects many people. Bullying in schools creates scars that last a lifetime. We also need to consider that those school bullies grow up to be workplace bullies.

    February 18, 2013 at 10:11 pm |
  17. Liz Dedow

    Bullying amongst children is, of course, a worthy topic. However, I strongly urge you to address the issue of Workplace Bullying! It is a HUGE issue in my profession; teaching! Please do a follow-up story about this important topic...the bullies on the playground grow up to be the bullies in the principal's chair!

    February 18, 2013 at 9:18 pm |
    • Hazel Cussons

      To Liz Dedow i do argee with you on bullying in work place is bad as well at schools College i got bullied at work and i just hated it but i am glad they are gone now i been bullied at school it just never ends

      February 26, 2013 at 12:29 pm |