Worthless. Belittled. Scared. These are not the words you would think to associate with a normal school experience. But for Melanie, these words describe her entire school career. Beginning in Year One and continuing right the way through to the end of compulsory school education in Year 11, Melanie was subjected to a torrent of abuse that included both verbal and physical attacks.
One incident in particular sticks firmly in Melanie's mind. One day, on her way home from school, a group of boys followed her home, shouting insults in her direction. "Every three or so metres they'd say stop, hold their hand out in a blocking gesture and not allow me to go past. I remember it being so horrible as it was a group of boys and I was alone."
This week (19th - 23rd November) marks Anti-Bullying Week, an initiative that aims to create a world where bullying, harassment and violence are unacceptable. Up and down the country this week, schools will be running specially-focused lessons with the intention of raising awareness, campaigning for a change and letting children know that they are not alone. But for some, speaking out against the bullying isn't a feasible solution.
Bullying is often dismissed as character building. "It's just a bit of childhood banter," says Steve, who admits to bullying people whilst at school. "No one likes a moaner. There's no harm in a bit of a cheeky insult or name calling. It builds you up and doesn't inflate your ego too much." But statistics from The Home Office shows that there is indeed harm involved in a "bit of name calling." Each year, up to 14 youth suicides are directly attributed to bullying, with bullied children being six times more likely to contemplate suicide than their non-bullied peers. And with the bullying now stretching far outside the school gates, it's a horrifying statistic that could potentially grow to something much, much bigger.
Tayler's bullying wasn't confined to the classroom or playground. In addition to a group of girls threatening her at school, she also received messages on Facebook telling her that she would be beaten up or seriously physically attacked. "It made me self conscious and nervous," she says. "I always wanted to stay at home so I would always make myself late for school. When my mum went it for meetings with the school, it just made things worse so I stopped telling people what was happening."
In Melanie's experience, telling her school also did nothing to improve her situation. "Getting other people involved just made the bullies worse as I was seen as a snitch," she says. "It's how the bullying cycle continues I think." It is a sentiment echoed by Tayler who said that the things were made worse by telling her teachers. "The school always said that they would deal with it but they never really did. They just told the person to stop and that was it."
Both Melanie and Tayler attended schools that had active anti-bullying initiatives, yet they are relatively new schemes. They weren't much help for Ella, who attended school a few years back. Ella was bullied towards the end of her primary school education by a group of girls who had previously been her friends. After telling a teacher, Ella was put into a separate classroom to learn on her own as her teacher believed it would be for the best. Ella, however, said it made things worse and felt "horrible." Eventually, she left school before completing the year due to the torment.
Nina also had experience of bullying before the stop bullying campaigns came to the forefront. She was physically attacked by a group of girls who dragged her to the floor by her hair, punched her several times in the face and kicked her. "They used to call me awful names and pick up on the fact that my family didn't have a lot of money. It was awful." Nina's bullying came to an end when the perpetrator left school during Year 9 and she found the strength to stand up to her bullies eventually.
The experiences of Ella and Nina are the exact type of things that Beatbullying, the UK's leading anti-bullying charity, is trying to put an end to. They have worked with 1.6 million children since their launch in 2002 and continue to run programmes to support children who have experienced terror and torment within the confines of school. But as was the case with Tayler, children are frequently being targeted within the apparent safety of their own homes.
Tayler says that people on the receiving end of cyber bullying should ensure they save all of the messages they receive. "Show somebody the messages. Don't reply to them because that's what they want you to do. They want a reaction. The bully wants you to feel down and upset." Unfortunately for Tayler, her school's reaction to the bullying didn't improve her situation and she was forced to change school. "I was still upset about it though," she says.
For Melanie, the experience didn't have the disastrous long term effect it could have. "I wish I had the confidence I have now when I was at school, I can tell you that the bullying wouldn't have lasted for very long if I had. I still think about the people that bullied me at school and it still upsets me. I think it's made me a stronger person, though, and that drive to not let them win has spurred me on even more to better myself."
Ella is also a strong advocate of letting people in authority know what is going on. "My advice to anyone would be to tell someone because it's the only way it will hopefully get better. School's have to do something about it." In the US, anti-bullying campaigns are at the forefront. One of the most famous initiatives is the be a STAR alliance, co-founded by The Creative Coalition and WWE. be a STAR, which stands for "Show Tolerance And Respect," promotes positive methods of social interaction and encourages children to treat others with respect, with the input of several world famous wrestling superstars, including John Cena. I'm sure that the irony of an organisation, most famous for having it's stars beat ten bells out of each for entertaining, running an anti-bullying initiative is not lost on anyone. But the be a STAR campaign resonates with the American youth, who are able to see their idols taking a stand against something that directly affects them.
It is a wide-reaching effect that is beginning to take place on these shores, too. Over the past week, numerous celebrities have tweeted their support for Anti-Bullying Week and have said that they're against it. But whilst it's all well and good people lending their support to a charity, and for schools to sign up to anti-bullying campaigns, it is still very far removed from people actually doing something. With so many people reporting that their pleas regarding bullying are either ignored, or just inflame the situation, it is clear that so much more needs to be done.
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