ANCHORAGE - Anchorage community leaders said it takes an army of people to battle bullying. It's being called a national epidemic and experts said no community is immune.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 160,000 kids stay home from school because they fear being bullied. Also, victims are up to 9 times more likely to attempt suicide than other non-victims.
“It means respect,” said 12-year-old Elizabeth Pope.
Her path at Champs Martial Arts Academy began 2 years ago.
“I used to be one of those small kids sitting in the corner, hunched over, very quiet, but now with tae kwon do, I have been here so long if you just see me walking in a grocery store, you will see that I walk straight and keep the right posture,” said Pope. “I just have confidence.”
But she wasn’t always this confident.
“I was above average and people didn’t except that,” said Pope, who transferred to Holy Rosary Academy from Kincaid Elementary. “They would call me a nerd. So I decided to come to tae kwon do to learn how to defend myself.”
Pope is just one of many kids who understand what it means to be bullied.
The Midtown based non-profit Stone Soup Group (SSG) offers tips on how to battle bullying -- with an emphasis on helping children with disabilities.
“They are just easier targets, children with disabilities, especially the more noticeable ones; they are just an easy target,” said Mandy Cleveland, a parent pavigator at SSG. “Or their peers might not know why they are different, they might just get a feeling that they are different and start bullying them because of that. “
According to SSG, children with disabilities are up to three times more likely to be bullied. They said bullies are everywhere.
At Champ, instructors said it begins with developing one crucial asset.
“Their tae kwon do training will help them to, in our program, help them to build a great confidence level,” said Master Sung Son Yu. “It’s because they are healthy, and strong, and have a positive, mental, winning attitude - yes I can.”
It is a step-by-step process, that doesn’t always involve confrontation.
“One, they need to learn how to stay out of trouble; two, they will learn how to walk away from a situation and how to talk their way out of a situation; three, they will learn to make a new smile so they can make a lot more friends rather than enemies,” said Yu.
Pope said she has learned how to be strong mentally and physically, and hopes to help others win the fight against bullies too.
According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, it's not just happening in the schoolyard. They said the battle is being waged online -- using sites like Facebook and Youtube.
The Cyberbullying Research Center suggests you keep your privacy settings secure, Google yourself and if you find yourself being a victim of a cyberbully tell an adult or a police officer.