Bullying and death – it can’t get much worse
Bullying is nasty, insidious, undermining, humiliating behaviour. At a relatively low level it can make you feel bad about yourself, has an impact on your confidence, and makes you suspicious of other people so that you find it difficult to form trusting relationships; at worst it undermines a person so much that they feel they have no worth, no value, no one likes them and they kill themselves. Whether this is a result of behaviour meted out by students at school or the cross-examination of a survivor of sexual abuse in a courtroom the tragedy is enormous. How can we allow children to ‘torture’ and bully a child in their class, the playground, their cohort, football team or street? How can we allow a person to be bullied and mocked publicly and call this acceptable judicial process?
The first tragedy I am referring to is of a child who killed himself in the West Midlands this week as reported in a national paper. He was a fifteen-year-old with special education needs who had had a girlfriend for two months. He hanged himself. His mother claims that his death was due to being bullied by classmates. He was taunted and called a paedophile (the girl he was going out with was two years younger than he was) and he was humiliated for not being able to keep up with his schoolwork.
Shall we learn? Do professionals who work with adolescents learn from these tragedies and provide better counselling services, the opportunity for children to speak openly and confidentially with an adult who can help bear the load, change the perspective, and sort out the issues carefully and properly, protect the bullied child for a period until the excesses of the bullying have worn themselves out, and teach those doing it to reframe, rethink and relearn social behaviours? Or, heaven forbid – even refer the child (because the case is too complex) to a specialist bullying provision, such as Red Balloon, where the child can recover gradually, putting themselves back together, learning new social skills, different strategies for dealing with unwanted behaviour and catching up with their academic work. And people tell us at Red Balloon that there are no such children – there is no need for our provision – mistakes just happen!
So are we fighting a losing battle? I shall take you now to where, in January this year, people sat and watched (I hope with horror) a respected person of power, wearing a wig and gown (a disguise) being paid to undermine, humiliate and tear apart a person already fragile from her experiences of sexual abuse. For a two-hour period the victim was told that she was a fantasist, that she was making the allegations up! Reported in the paper were some of the questions, statements or rhetorical questions asked by the prosecution barrister. “It’s utter fantasy, isn’t it?”, “You’ve told this jury a complete pack of lies. Your evidence to this jury is a skewed version of the truth.” The alleged abuser was allowed to call her – publicly – “depressive, hysterical and a fantasist” and his defence team accused her of making up a “pack of lies”.
How can we condone this behaviour, which looks like, sounds like and clearly feels like bullying. Or perhaps we don’t want to call this behaviour bullying?
And what of the other high profile case in the press this week – Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce – accusations, incriminations and confessions exposing undisguised brittle, unrestricted hate. Who is bullying whom?
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