I was also the victim of bullies constantly from 6 to 16. I was always the new kid in school and that was always enough to set some group off. The harassment, beatings, and verbal abuse were almost unbearable. The teachers did nothing when they saw what I was enduring, but if I tried to defend myself *I* was the one called down for it. There is nothing like that kind of helplessness for a kid.
Gawd, if any of them had suspected I was gay, I can't imagine how much worse it would have been. I knew, but I sure as hell wasn't letting of them know.
You're absolutely right: the only thing bullies understand is the kind of force that can be brought to bear if they continue to behave in an uncivil manner.