Boy, 14, Allegedly Tattooed Against His Will By Bullies
A 14-year-old boy in Concord, N.H., claims he was bullied into getting a tattoo on his buttocks May 10.
His father tells the local paper, the New Hampshire Union Leader, that bullies at Concord High School threatened to beat the boy if he didn't submit to the tattoo.
According to the father, the boy has attention deficit disorder and has been habitually bullied by older students.
The bullies allegedly told him they would quit harassing him if he got a tattoo showing the outline of a male sex organ and offensive terms. If he refused to get the tattoo, the father tells the paper, they vowed to "kick the crap out of him."
The father and mother reportedly learned what happened two days later after a teacher overheard students talking about the incident in the hall. Cell phone images of the tattoo have also been circulating, the father tells the Union Leader.
"Honestly, when I heard this on the phone, I was so distraught, I left work immediately," the father tells the paper.
The parents took the boy to a doctor to be checked out, and while he is physically fine, it will cost thousands of dollars to remove the tattoo.
Teachers reportedly want to pay for the laser treatments, but the dad has other ideas.
"I think the kids should pay for the laser removal," he tells the paper.
Charged in the incident are Blake VanNest, Donald "D.J." Wyman, Ryan Fisk and Travis Johnston. None of the suspects are juveniles. Police tell the Union Leader a 15-year-old juvenile -- who allegedly bought the tattoo gun for $30 as a souvenir -- also will be charged.
VanNest was charged with two counts of simple assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, tattooing without a license, indecent exposure, criminal threatening and breach of bail.
Fisk was charged with two counts of simple assault, endangering the welfare of a minor, tattooing without a license, sale of a controlled drug, criminal threatening and breach of bail.
Wyman was charged with conspiracy to commit criminal liability for the conduct of another and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a minor.
Johnson was charged with conspiracy to endanger the welfare of a minor.
Fisk allegedly did the actual tattooing. When he was done, he and the others reportedly took the boy outside Johnston's home where a group of students waited to look and laugh while the victim was forced to drop his pants. Fisk allegedly gave the victim a bag of marijuana as payment for the humiliation.
According to court documents, VanNest told police the tattoo was his idea and admitted that he preyed on the younger, unpopular and frequently picked-on boy.
Tragically, this incident could likely have been avoided, Dr. Michele Borba, an educational psychologist who has written 23 books on parenting, tells ParentDish.
Borba keeps a picture of an 11-year-old boy who was bullied to death in her pocket as a reminder of what can happen when bullying goes unchecked.
Adults need to spot the warning signs of bullying, she says. The problem almost always starts gradually and escalates.
"That's the cold-blooded viciousness of it," she says.
Notice the alleged bullies in this case threatened to "stop" if the victim got the tattoo, Borba says. That means he had been tormented for some time. And kids knew it: That's why they were talking about it in the halls. That's why there was an audience waiting for him to drop his pants.
"Kids always talk," Borba says. "There's always a grapevine that gets through."
She suggests schools offer anonymous tip boxes to be alerted to bullies. The trick is to make a general comment box, she adds, so kids won't be afraid to be seen dropping in notes.
Researchers at the University of Toronto did a study on bullying to find out who are the most likely targets and found bullies will pick on just about any mental or physical difference they can find.
Parents should try to pinpoint such vulnerabilities first, Borba says.
"What parents need to do is get in the shoes of the kid," she says.
That way, she adds, parents and children can rehearse responses and comebacks that diffuse bullies rather than giving them the emotional reactions they crave.
"We need to teach kids these comebacks also as a life skill," Borba says.
Kids also need to learn to stay safe by avoiding isolated bathrooms, locker areas and other places where bullies can do their business away from watchful adults, Borba says. For example, she adds, kids can sit to the school bus driver's immediate right -- the most defensible position on the bus.
Borba also says kids need safe havens at school where they can turn in times of trouble. This could be the school nurse or their beloved band director. They must have someone and someplace to go to when parents aren't available, she says.
"Someone needs to be the listener," Borba says. "Our kids need someone to be their hero or savior."
The tattoo victim's father tells the Union Leader his son was handling the incident well until it became public.
"He's overwhelmed with it," he says.
The parents of his son's girlfriend reportedly called to say they don't want the boy contacting her anymore.
"I respect her parents' wishes, but it wasn't his fault," the father says. "He's lost his first love over this."
Related: When Your Child Is the Bully
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.