This is the story of Michael Carnevale, an eighth grader in Woodbridge, Ontario, as told to his parents.
On Ash Wednesday, I got hit really hard. In school.
And I still don't know who did it.
I was walking down the hall at school after mass, when I felt a hard smack in the back of my head. It wasn't unexpected. Kids had been calling me names like "stupid retard," poking, and threatening me for weeks before it happened. But after it happened I was still in shock.
Someone took a blunt object (it felt like a textbook) and whacked me so hard I felt like I had fallen down a flight of stairs.
I'm in martial arts and view that kind of physical contact as cheap and cowardly. Even if I knew who had hit me, I would never respond with violence.
Unfortunately, since I was blindsided, I still have no idea who did it.
Nobody who walked down the hall with me that day will speak up and help identify the bully.
It isn't as though my classmates and I can't identify bullying. We've actually been educated to recognize bullying by the V.I.P. (Values, Influences, Peers) awareness program since grade six and the halls of our school prominently display anti-bullying and zero tolerance posters.
Unfortunately, my tormentors have been effective in scaring everybody into silence.
Anti-bullying education failed me.
But I refuse to be silent. After getting hit, I tried to regain my composure and quietly told a staff member I had been hit in the head because that is what we are taught to do: Report the incident.
Unfortunately the staff on duty interpreted my story as though I was only suffering from a headache, not head injury.
Trained ears failed me.
Since the assault happened at the end of the day, I quickly packed up my bag, walked my two younger brothers home and immediately told my parents what had happened. They were horrified.
A few minutes later, we were in the car going to the doctor's office. Since the incident, I've seen four different doctors and continue to suffer from horrible headaches and pain that I did not experience prior to the assault.
My parents followed up with the school officials, asking for the video recording of the assault because my school is equipped with cameras to catch these incidents. Unfortunately, the bullying was not caught on camera.
Technology failed me.
Word quickly got around that my parents were looking into the bullying. The bullies, afraid of getting in trouble, called me a "rat" and "narc" and continued to sneakily harass me behind the backs of teachers. What felt even worse? My friends ignored me. I don't blame them, though. If they associated with me they would also get picked on. I ate my lunch alone every day for a week. At recess, I read a book instead of socializing with my peers.
My peers failed me.
A few months ago, I would only hint that I was being bullied to my parents, casually mentioning that a few guys were bothering me, downplaying the harassment and verbal abuse I experienced everyday. Now I was ready to tell them everything.
I made it clear that I was not going back to a place where people could emotionally, verbally and physically hurt me. I told them in detail about how the bullying started with name-calling and in a few months, had escalated into a full-blown assault. I expressed the incredible dread I felt every Monday morning when I had to return to a place where I felt unsafe. I explained that I had difficulty paying attention in class over the year because my concentration was constantly broken by verbal harassment. My dad blamed himself for not seeing signs of bullying earlier and my mom cried. But my parents did a lot more than anyone else.
They listened to me. They believed me. And they continue to support me. We made the decision that I would not return to school until my safety could be guaranteed.
My parents are working with the principal, demanding to see a plan for safe re-entry that is an unprecedented action at my school. I have had lunch with my school's principal and we are now working together to make school a safer learning environment for me, and other victims that have been bullied by the same kids.
And despite being failed by the system, I am not going to give up or shut up.
I'm not going to fight back the way the bullies want me to. Instead, I'm going to speak up and not suffer in silence.
My hope is that other victims of bullying will read my story and realize, even if your friends turn their backs on you, even if your classmates deny seeing anything, even if your teachers claim that bullying didn't happen in their halls and classrooms, you are not alone.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Bullying can be an incredibly isolating experience, and many victims feel that they are alone–that something about them, specifically, has brought this on. Explain to your child that bullying is something that can happen to anyone: boys, girls, preschoolers, high schoolers, kids at large schools and kids at small schools. This means there is a large group of people impacted by bullying, and if we all work together, we can certainly make a difference.
A common reaction to bullying is encouraging the victim to ignore the bully. "They just want a reaction," people say, and if you deny them the reaction, they'll go away. That's not always the case. Sometimes, when the bully realizes they are being ignored, they can feel a sense of power over their victim that can actually make the situation worse.
Asking your child basic questions about their day and their experience at school can help you catch a problem sooner. Ask how a specific class was, or who they sat with at lunch. Ask who is trying out for the team, or who is going to local fair that weekend. These harmless questions tell your child that you care, but they can also help you detect changes in your child's situation that may indicate a bullying problem.
While helping your child prepare a speech or enrolling them in self-defense courses might seem like an empowering solution, you're sending the message to your child that this problem is theirs, and that they have to handle it alone. Instead, discuss what some solutions might be and involve your child in the decision making process.
The National Crime Prevention Council reports that 20 to 43 percent of middle and high school school students have reported being victims of cyber bullying. Encourage your child to protect themselves by following these two guidelines: 1. Never say or do anything online that you wouldn't say or do in person. 2. Never share any information that you wouldn't tell a stranger.
While we'd like to think we know everything about our children and their friends, don't express disbelief if they say someone has done something that shocks you. Your child needs to know that they can trust you. Asking them to provide evidence or saying that someone "would never do that" can come across as you taking the side of someone other than your child. Instead, be as supportive as possible and listen to their side.
A recent study of children ages 9 to 12, showed that 56 percent said that they usually either say or do something to try to stop bullying or tell someone who can help (Brown, Birch, & Kancherla, 2005). Make sure your child knows who he or she can talk to if they have something they want to share, whether that is you, a school counselor, a teacher or a coach.
Explain the importance of keeping online passwords private, even from close friends. Your child may be thinking that sharing a password with a close friend is harmless and convenient, but explain that anyone with their password could impersonate them online and embarrass them. If they insist that the friend would never do that, remind them that the friend could share their password, either intentionally or unintentionally, and someone else would have that same power.
While your first reaction may be to protect your child by calling the parent of the bully or confront the child yourself, this is not always a good solution. Not only is this this rarely effective, it may even prove fodder for additional bullying. Your child wants to feel empowered and involved in the solution, so discuss options with him or her and work together to decide on a plan of action.
Your child may be embarrassed or afraid to talk about what is happening to them. This is normal. Rather than pressuring your child into speaking before they are ready, just make it clear that you are willing to listen and be a source of support for them. Once they feel comfortable, they will know that they can open up to you and seek your advice. Better yet, if you've had this conversation preemptively, before a problem arises, your child will know right away that you can be their partner in finding a solution.
Green Giant's Raise A Giant site includes a page that lets you read letters other parents have written to empower their children. You can write your own letter and explore their other resources, including videos and sharable infographics. PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center site also has a page with resources like informational handouts, fact sheets, educational toolkits, and the "We Will Generation." You can also browse the video page to see if some of their video resources would be helpful for you or for your child. Green Giant's Raise A Giant site includes a page that lets you write a letter to empower your child, but you can also read the letters other parents have written to inspire your talks with your child.