Lessons Learned from Abuse of Bus Monitor Karen Klein

Posted on June 21, 2012 by

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Karen Klein, an older bus monitor in Greece, New York, is shown in this ten minute video being verbally abused by a group of middle school students.

The footage is disturbing and upsetting. In response, a fundraising effort on indiegogo to give Klein a vacation has brought in over $134,000 and the numbers keep going higher every time I hit the refresh button.

But what do we learn from this incident?

Elders are abused. That’s why events like World Elder Abuse Awareness Day are so important. Elders are also vulnerable, and may have a more difficult time responding to and coping with abuse.

Reporting matters. Reporting abuse, and the entire constellation of harmful behaviors that fall under the umbrella of “bullying” is of critical importance. Without this video, what would have happened to Klein? More of the same. I firmly believe that every victim has the right to determine if, when, and how to report their experiences. But Klein’s case is not just about Klein – it’s actually about all of the children on the bus.

Verbal abuse has many victims. Klein is not the only victim. Every child on the bus who watches or knows what is happening is a victim too. Klein’s victimization sends a powerful message: kids rule the bus, and no one can help you if you are victimized too.

Adults must be more responsible with youth. This is difficult to say given how badly Klein was treated, but she had a greater responsibility to the children on the bus. I don’t believe for one minute that this was the first or only instance. Rather, what happens in the video appears to be a product of a bus culture that has developed over time. These children have clearly tested the boundaries before, and their earlier efforts must have been successful. Klein’s job is to be the bus monitor, to protect children. It was her responsibility to deal with just such behavior problems, and she failed to do so. If it was more than she could handle, she had a responsibility to the youth in her care to seek assistance from her employer.  Her employer had a responsibility to have a better handle on what was going on as well.

Bystander intervention and compassion can still carry the day. The person who saw this video on Facebook and posted it to youtube is a hero — a digital bystander who took a social risk to do the right thing. This move could have cost him or her socially. What if it had backfired and the abusers had targeted the upstander next? The outpouring of sympathy online and funds on indiegogo also demonstrate that human beings are capable of goodness.

There is hope, after all.

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