(Photo by Mark Boster: Gizelle Studevent, center, with teammates, Alyssa Morgosh, left, and Yessica Palmer walk to their cars after basketball practice at Bishops School in La Jolla. Studevent, 17, a top-ranked basketball player being recruited by colleges such as Duke and Stanford, transferred from La Jolla Country Day School after facing years of bullying there.)
Gizelle Studevent was a 13-year-old eighth-grader at prestigious La Jolla Country Day School when the harassment began. She returned from a basketball tournament to find an unsigned note in her suitcase: Addressed to "Senorita," it mocked the girl's skills on the court and suggested she go home to Mexico.Over more than two years, an anonymous band of bullies tormented Gizelle.
Their acts grew increasingly cruel -- on the Internet, in notes and around school. Finally, she transferred.
"I would go home and cry every day," said Gizelle, now a junior at private Bishops School in La Jolla. "It was horrible. The scary thing for me was, what was next? What was going to happen?"
The 17-year-old is among a growing number of students who are reporting that they are victims of bullying, according to educators and experts. And bullying -- once largely restricted to stolen lunch money or hallway shoving that were taken somewhat lightly -- has grown increasingly serious, officials, parents and students say.Today, parents are filing lawsuits against students and schools for failing to protect their children, administrators are taking stronger disciplinary action against perpetrators, and a virtual industry of antibullying programs has sprung up.
Educators, who coined the phrase "cyberbullying" for online attacks, have increased teacher training and say they are on the lookout for symptoms of victimization or bullying behavior.
In 2005, 28% of students age 12 to 18 reported being bullied in the previous six months -- double the figure from four years earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The true figure is almost certainly higher; experts believe underreporting is rampant.
The consequences can be devastating, and even deadly, as in the slaying of 15-year-old Lawrence King at an Oxnard middle school. The teenager was shot in the head Feb. 12 in a classroom after being harassed by some classmates when he disclosed that he was gay.