When you hear the words "school bully," you probably envision some muscle-bound guy beating up on the skinnier boys. But bullying is not limited to male students. The Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffman takes a look at girls bullying girls.
Stephanie Dennis recalls, "She just came over and started trying to hit me and scratch me and kick me."
It was when she was a sixth grader that Stephanie was bullied by other girls.
She says, "You don't want to bring it to anybody's attention because you'll be labeled a tattle tail or a snitch and it'll just get worse."
A new student at the school, Stephanie was a little chubby. First, she was teased; then the bullying escalated to shoving. Eventually, she was jumped and beaten.
She says, "Its scary because you're worried how far they're going to take it."
Her mom says, "Her face was red, a lot of scratches on her face."
Over the school year, her parents say, she became increasingly despondent and withdrawn.
Her dad says Stephanie went through "a lot of depression, a lot of anxiety. Her self-esteem went into the gutter."
Stephanie's hardly alone. Visit any middle school in America, and you'll likely find girls bullying girls.
At Taylor Middle School in Albuquerque, where Stephanie was targeted, the problem has made it into the sixth grade curriculum.
As a teacher writes the word "bullying" on the board, she asks: "How many people have either experienced that or seen someone be bullied?" And all the kids raise their hands. So she continues, "Don't be silent, you know, just because you're afraid."
Jordan tells of her experience being bullied, "This group of girls, they, like, came over to me and, like, tripped me for some reason, I don't know why."
Josie adds, "They were calling me teacher's pet and stuff."
Asked if it is enough to make them cry? Both look at each other for a beat, and just about answer in unison, "Sometimes!"
The teacher, Liz Freysinger, created this girls-only class when she realized how widespread the problem is.
She notes, "Boy bullying tends to be more on the physical side of pushing, shoving; they'll threaten to fight and then they actually will. The girl bullying is more subtle, gossiping, rumors…"
But her eighth grade teaching-assistant says it often comes to blows.
"There's so many girls being suspended constantly for fighting, and most people generalize fighting as a boy thing, but it's not the case at all," Marquette Rose says, pointing out that girls usually scratch and pull hair.
It's been a Hollywood staple in teen flicks since way back, like in the film "Carrie." But only recently has girl bullying become a hot topic, worthy of several books. Rachel Simmons, the author of "Odd Girl Out" says the bullying can leave lasting scars.
Simmons says, "There are adult women out there who can't remember their wedding night, but remember with incredible detail the angle of their shirt collar the day they were humiliated by another girl."
Seventh graders Rachel and Kelsey paint a dark picture of middle school.
"Rumors. Rumors are the worst," Kelsey says, even worse than a threat to beat her up after school.
Kelsey says she does not believe that most people in America know that girl bullying goes on. She says, "They think it's only between boys! They don't realize that girls actually do fight."
And she says it can be very scary to think that she might get beat up.
The special class on bullying is supposed to make things less scary.
Marquette Rose instructs the class: "Tell the bully what you don't like: You know what, I don't like you pushing me in the hallway or calling me names."
You can see in their faces, the girls are eager for any tips. The class becomes a kind of support group, a place where the girls can talk openly about a problem they might otherwise hide in secret shame.
Freysinger says her class should be taught across the country. "Girls would need this kind of information," she says.
The principal says girls who have gone through the class are less likely to become bullies themselves because they learn to empathize with the victims.
The class didn't exist when Stephanie was in sixth grade. Now an eighth grader with her own circle of friends, she's no longer being bullied, but the experience still haunts her.
She says, "You feel isolated and nobody wants to hang around with the kid who gets bullied all the time."
Something Freysinger wants to change. She says, "Bullying is not acceptable, not normal."
In many classrooms, bullying is a subject that is taken very seriously these days, especially in the wake of the Columbine shootings that took place nearly five years ago.
Friday, Kauffman continues her report with a look at how one episode of the hit series "Without A Trace", an episode that focuses on bullying, has become recommended viewing for many teachers and students. And The Early Show will talk to an expert about warning signs that every parent should look for.