Thursday, 13 September 2012

Bullying: A Legal Crime

I pose a question for you: Have you ever witnessed an encounter you would consider, hmm… out of line? I presume the answer is yes. Friends having a small argument; no big deal. Tripping over a misplaced leg; accidents happen. Getting shouldered in the corridors; it was busy. Books getting knocked off tables; once doesn’t mean anything. But what if these weren’t once-offs? Having “LIAR” engraved in your desk. Can you tell where this is going? Bullying can be so subtle, and it isn’t always the kids that go home with the black eye that hurt the most. But us Irish folk have adapted this wonderful phrase that goes something like “Ah he’ll be grand”. Will he? Are you with him every night, as he screams into his pillow and turns to self-harming as an escape? Still think he’ll be grand?

Statistics in Ireland show that 175,000 (or one in every four) secondary school pupils are bullied. Globally, as many as 160,000 students stay home on any given day because they’re afraid of being bullied. The next set of statistics I’m going to show you disgust me and I hope most of you feel the same: Adult intervention- 4%, peer intervention- 11%, no intervention- 85%. Wow, just wow. Four per cent? Is that really the best we, as a nation can do?

I bet you’re so ashamed that you don’t want to hear anymore. Well, tough shit. Do you know what that four per cent means? Let me break it down for those that didn’t excel in mathematics: It means for every hundred children that are bullied, adults in Ireland only help four. Once again, wow. How can you continue using the line “Always tell an adult first”? Going by the statistics, we’re better off telling our friends while waiting in the queue behind ninety-five other kids.

*Before I go any further, I’m just clarifying that I am in no way or form demoting telling an authority figure. This is simply one scenario. One personal experience*

Nevertheless, telling authority figures doesn’t always solve the problem. I’m sure most secondary schools have an “Anti-Bullying Charter”, yes? My school does. You can’t miss it because it’s everywhere. It’s in the halls, in the classrooms; it’s even in our school diary. We even have to sign a Code of Behaviour. But none of this is ever really taken into consideration when it’s needed most. As I stand here looking at the charter, I can tell you honestly I have experienced all five types of bullying on the list: Physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, e-bullying, and damage of personal property. Yet when the bullies and I were confronted about it (for about the seventh time, and only after me practically begging the principal to help) we were both accused of “being at each other”. And that was that. No consequences for their actions.

Let me give you one example of how lax my school was about it all. This one I find quite disturbing to recall. Picture this: Principal, vice principal, two other girls and I, sitting in the board room. As I sit there with silent tears streaming down my face, I tell the so-called “authority figures” that I have been receiving abuse online. Somehow, the principal(s) thought it was the appropriate time to announce how they didn’t have Facebook accounts, and then joke with the girls opposite them about how they should set them up. Quite sick, isn’t it?

Basically what I’m trying to say is that there’s never one specific ‘go to’ person. Nothing can guarantee the bullying will stop immediately. But one thing is certain- it won’t last forever. That’s such a cliché but it’s true. If you witness bullying, talk to the person and make sure they’re okay, even if you don’t know them. They will remember that, trust me on this one. If you’re currently being bullied, tell someone. Anyone. Even if you feel it might not be what’s considered “typical” bullying. It all adds up. If anything, I’m living proof.

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