Bullied Bus Monitor Karen Klein's Message is More Important Than Ever, One Year Later
Everyday, it seems like there's a new viral video that reduces one's faith in humanity. Earlier this week, we saw a Florida woman with "a business degree" verbally abuse, terrorize, and discriminate against Dunkin' Donuts employees because she hadn't been given a receipt during her previous visit. There's also the recent clip of a nude California guy taunting people in one of San Francisco's BART stations, causing one woman to hysterically sob after he comes close to sexually assaulting her. Not too long ago, there was a massive riot in McDonalds. In the fall, one man had the audacity to write a local TV reporter and attest that her weight was sending a bad message to young female viewers and needed to be addressed.
All of these terrible clips can really bring you down and, well, hate everything for a part of the day, and though we have a lot of mindless, warm and fuzzy content on the internet, there aren't enough cat/dog GIFs in the world to make up for the evil we're exposed to in some of these disturbing viral videos.
One such clip I've never been able to forget is summer 2012's "Making the Bus Monitor Cry," a brutal 10-minute video of New York middle school bus monitor Karen Klein being relentlessly harassed and torn apart by students. When the clip first took off, I chose not to watch it because I'd heard about unspeakably awful things happening in it: the students calling her "fat," threatening to ejaculate and defecate in her mouth, telling her to kill herself, labeling her a poor rapist, demanding to know where she lives, mocking her for crying, and saying she has no family because they committed suicide for being related to her, which hurt Karen more than any of the other rabid remarks, as her son took his own life a few years back. Anti-bullying activism has been important to me all my life, so I played the clip to fully understand the situation. Needless to say, it ruined my week:
"You're so fat," one student tells Karen at the beginning of the video. "You take up the whole entire seat."
"Karen, you're fat. You're so fat. Oh my God, your glasses are all foggy from your freakin' sweat, you fata--. If you look into her eyes, you're going to turn into stone," another pipes in.
"Unless you have something nice to say, don't say it at all," Karen responds after a while, prompting more vitriol from the monsters in the vehicle.
"How about you shut the f--- up?" one boy adds. "You can f---ing see the sweat dripping down her face."
"Karen, are you sweating? Why is there water on your face?"
"I'm crying," she whispers.
"You're crying over your eyes, you dumba--?"
"I'm crying all over."
The video, of course, goes on for another eight and half minutes:
By the end of the clip, I was sick and physically angry. I hadn't even seen the faces of the kids who'd hurt Karen but I wanted them all expelled from school and shamed in front of the country, forever. Even though I was perfectly aware that, as my former colleague Jon Bershad put it, middle school-aged folks "are terrible people [and] the scum of the universe" thanks to their awkward stage in life, I thought these guys still deserved the wrath of the nation and to suffer consequences on the home front for ganging up on a kind, innocent adult.
Once my rage fizzled, I looked into the positives of the viral video, which had garnered more than 1 million views and a ton of outrage, which in turn became something else: sympathy. Rather than stay mad, many people felt for Karen and wanted to help her in any way they could.
One man started a fundraiser to send Karen on a vacation, and the end result was $700,000 in donations. Several businesses, such as Southwest Airlines, came forward with enticing offers and gifts for Karen, who was floored by the generosity and warmth of strangers. I was too, and it all almost made up for the true acts of evil we witnessed on the bus. After making the rounds on different TV shows to share her experience, Klein vowed to start her own anti-bullying campaign, which is now the Karen Klein Foundation. She spent Christmas on an all-expense paid Disney cruise, getting four rooms and full transportation, among other benefits:
Karen's story inspired a nationwide movement and added a new, but even more tragic, element to America's anti-bully discussion. We learned that it's not just our children who are being tormented in schools, but educators and associated employees as well.
For every Karen Klein, there are dozens of pariahs whose plight flies under the radar, only recognized by victims and occasionally those doing the harassing. I'm proud that the internet stepped up a year ago and pulled Karen away from the callous, twisted, seriously unhappy guys, some of which apologized, but not everyone is awarded the same opportunities, so remember that the fight against bullying must go on full-force, both for alienated outcast students and overlooked, defeated instructors who are trapped in toxic work environments.
What do you think of Karen Klein's story? Let me know on Twitter: @LauraDonovanUA