02/25/2015 06:35 EST | Updated 02/25/2015 06:59 EST

Pink Shirt Day Reminds Canadians To Keep Up Fight Against Bullying

Feeling weak is a big reason why many bullying victims don’t come forward.

toned close-up of a hand on a man's shoulder
Stockbyte via Getty Images
toned close-up of a hand on a man's shoulder

How do you remember the holidays of 2006?

For Alex*, who was 12 years old at the time, it was hell.

His bully, Paul*, along with some of his family friends, locked Alex in a closet in the basement.

"I screamed for help and my younger sister luckily found me," Alex said. "She realized I was being hurt and was concerned with what was happening so she told my family, and that's when it came out that I was being bullied."

The harassment began in Grade 5 when people began to notice and attach his more feminine traits to his “assumed gay sexuality.”

Alex’s best friend in elementary school suddenly stopped talking to him. His name tag was defaced from “Alex” to “Alexa.” Then his favourite "Harry Potter" book covers were ripped and placed on top of his desk. It even escalated to the point that his MSN account was hacked.

He never told anyone about the bullying until his sister found him in the closet. "I was embarrassed to talk about what people thought about me — the fact that I couldn't defend myself," Alex said. "The fact that I felt like I was weak for having to seek help."

Feb. 25, 2015, is earmarked as Pink Shirt Day, an annual event dedicated to stopping bullying in schools and beyond. Started in 2008 by two high school students from Nova Scotia, the day encourages people to wear pink to demonstrate their opposition to bullying.

A new report on school bullying conducted by the Angus Reid Institute found that 75 per cent of Canadian adults were bullied at least once in school.

In contrast, only 46 per cent of parents with kids currently in school say their child has been bullied, while 89 per cent of Canadians say bullying in school is "a serious problem today."

Feeling weak is a big reason why many bullying victims don’t come forward. Dr. Debra J. Pepler, scientific co-director of PREVNet, a Canadian authority on bullying prevention, says "bullying is about power."

"The victim loses power and so it needs an outside influence to protect that child and bring that power back into balance," Pepler told The Huffington Post Canada in an interview.

Pepler offers a suggestion as to why bullying might not be reported: "They (victims) don’t trust adults to respond to bullying effectively. They expect them to brush it off or not take it seriously ... they are worried that the bullying will just get worse."

She says that bystanders who witness bullying don’t want to become victims themselves and therefore are reluctant to report instances.

One of the reasons Ryan Clayton didn't reach out in high school was because he didn't know who he could trust. He spent most of his time in the library hiding from people because he "couldn’t really stand up for (himself)."

Now 27, the small town native speaks about bullying and discrimination in mainly rural B.C. schools, and helped launch the Purple Letter Campaign. The initiative collected personal stories about homophobia, transphobia, and LGBTQ lives and delivered them to the B.C. government.

For Clayton, #PinkShirtDay is an important symbol for queer youth and victims of bullying in general. "I didn’t know who I could reach out for help at the end of the day when I needed it,” he said. "(Pink Shirt Day) allows youth take a look around themselves and see a bunch of allies ready to support them."

*Alex and Paul’s names have been changed to protect their identities


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