Food allergy bullying victims speak out against 'life-threatening' problem
Published Wednesday, July 10, 2013 10:00PM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, July 11, 2013 8:03AM EDT
Bullying has long been a scourge of schoolyards, with kids and teens trying to move up the social strata by preying on vulnerable kids and what makes them different.
But kids seem to be taking on a new form of bullying, teasing kids with food allergies, and taunting them with the very substances that could endanger their lives.
Ottawa-area teen Chelsey Vineyard has experienced food allergy bullying. These days, she is a confident, poised teenager and a recent winner of the Miss Teen Ottawa pageant. But not long ago, the teen with a life-threatening allergy to peanuts was sent into a panic at school, when a girl in her school tried to shove a peanut butter sandwich into her face.
“It's just scary that someone would even think of doing that,” she said.
“It's unfair. I didn't choose to have an allergy and it's something they are using against me."
Beatrice Povolo of Anaphylaxis Canada says food allergy bullying is something she’s hearing more and more about.
“The results we have seen in some surveys that we have done is that 30 per cent of parents have reported that their child has experienced some form of bullying. This is concerning, because this seems to be more prevalent than previously known,” she told CTV News.
Povolo says much of the bullying comes in the form of teasing and taunting, but she says people need to be made aware how serious and life-threatening these allergies can be.
Erika DaCunha has also experienced bullying because of the many severe food allergies she has, which include seafood, all nuts, bananas and a number of other foods.
“I have had people chase me saying, ‘Oh, I have eaten peanut butter today’ and then they put their hands up and pretend to rub it in my face,” she said.
Four years ago, when Erika was 12, she was terrified when classmates hid peanuts around her classroom -- just to see what would happen.
“I went into my classroom and I was putting stuff in my desk… and I looked down and there was a bunch of nuts in there,” she recalled.
Knowing she couldn’t even smell peanuts, she had to run out of the class. Her teacher later discovered the nuts weren’t just in her desk; they were hidden all over the room: under the mats, in the pencil holders, where the scissors were kept.
The culprits in that incident were eventually found and suspended. But Da Cunha says she was traumatized, particularly because she has had a number of other incidents that brought her close to death.
Erika said it was a while before she was able to return to school and feel safe. “It was really – it was a difficult time,” she said.
She added that she wanted to tell her story so others who have faced the same kind of tormenting know they’re not alone.
“I think what we have to do is get the people who are bullied to stand up and say, ‘This is bullying and this isn’t ok’.”
In that vein, a non-profit group in the U.S., called Food Allergy Research and Education, created a public service announcement this spring to underscore that food bullying can send victims to the emergency room.
So far, it’s had more than 20,000 views on YouTube.
With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip