NewsWest 9 Special Report: The War on Bullying Rages On in the Permian Basin

By Cierra Putman
NewsWest 9

MIDESSA - Stalking, vandalism, harassment; they aren't words you'd typically associate with kids, but if a child is the victim of a bully many times that's exactly what's happening.

For Midland High School senior, Kaitlin Wingo, it started with name calling in 7th grade, but the bullying steadily got worse.

"In 9th grade, when I was called fat, I'd get hamburgers thrown at me," she said. "One time I got in a fight because a girl threw some food at me and I poured ketchup on to her. I just wanted to fight back."

Kaitlin says her schools tried to help, but her tormentors wouldn't stop.

Over time, the sexually charged rumors, name calling and even vandalism became overwhelming for Kaitlin.

She got depressed, stopped eating, sleeping and was even diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

"I didn't tell my mom what was going on because I was terrified of what she would do," Kaitlin said. "I asked her several times; can you move me out of school, can I go to private school, can I do something else but go to school."

It turns out many older victims stay silent.

"That I think is the biggest thing here in high school," ECISD H.S. Counselor David Wallace, said. "Bullying goes on, but they never report it instead they try to take care of it themselves and it just becomes monumental for them. I think that's when you see the horror stories you see across the country."

Both Midland and Ector County ISD's encourage kids to speak up, but sometimes they need help tackling the problem. So sometimes they bring in outside help like Dallas based bullying expert Dr. Brad Schwall.

"I focus on bullying not bullies," Dr. Schwall said. "Because I believe all kids have the potential to give respect."

He says teaching kids early on to respect themselves and others, and rewarding that behavior can reduce the number of bullies and victims.

Now Midland ISD - like many other districts in Texas and nationwide - plans to use his Cool Kids curriculum to put a stop to the harassment.

"Bullying has always been a problem," Dr. Schwall said. "We hear about it but doesn't mean can't do something about it and prevent it."

It might not be new but it has evolved from just playground teasing to something more sinister thanks to technology like cell phones and the Internet.

"I don't think you can come home and it be gone," Kaitlin said. "Because it's still in your head. I think bullying is 24/7. It happens all the time."

At one point, her tormentors started harassing her on Facebook.

Local counselors say Kaitlin is not alone. They say texts and emails are also used to torment.

"I think we can call bullying what it is," Betty Newman, ECISD Executive Director of Student and Scholar Development, said. "It's stalking, harassing. All of that is bullying and it doesn't just stop in high school."

But victims can fight back.

"We encourage people not to respond to that, but not to erase it," ECISD Junior High Counselor, Nancy Vanley said. "Keep it where it can be printed and turned in so you can get it stopped. And charges can be filed if they don't stop."

Kaitlin says speaking up and finding people to trust helped her survive years of bullying.

Now the soon to be high school graduate wants other victims to break their silence.