"I Am Not Scared" Project
Long term harassment towards a brother and sister
• When and how did the bullying start?
Systematic bullying for A and her younger brother B started when she was 10 years old and he was 7 years old and takes place mainly on the bus – on their way to the school – or at the school itself.
• Main participants
The victims - girl А, who in the beginning of the bullying is 10 years old and her brother B – who is 7 years old.
The bullies – a group of boys from the same school.
Other students from the same school, who remained impartial.
• What specific acts of violence were undertaken
The bullies start harassing B, because he is authistic and looks a bit strange. The use all chances to hit him, to put thumb-ticks on his chair and make him sit on them. In school they often empty his bag and throw it in the trash can in the girls lavatory. Being his older sister, in such cases A always tries to help him and protect him, but as a results ends up being pulled by the hair, slapped around on the nose or hands, kicked and so on by the bully boys.
A is afraid to tell anyone about what is happening, because every time when she threatens the bullies that she is going to tell on them they threaten her back that they will call some older friends, who are going to beat her and her brother if she ever opens her mouth to tell to any adult about the harassment.
One day, again in an attempt to protect herself after a strong slapping, A responds by hitting heavily the attacker C on the hand. However А does not know that C has had a shot in the same hand earlier that day and that the place is really sore. Her hit causes great pain to the bully. When he comes around from the aching, C and the other boys charge towards her and start kicking her in revenge. Later C warns A that he has told to his bigger friends and they will come to beat her up as a punishment that she hit him. A is unable to forget how for more than a week she hid in the girls lavatory after the classes and relied upon her friend to tell her when the bus was coming, so that she would not miss it.
The mother of A and B finds out about the harassment three years after it has started. Usually A and B clean themselves up and try to look alright before they come home from school, so that there would be no signs of the beatings. One day however the bullies beat B so badly that his nose is bleeding too heavily and his clothes are too torn for the case to be hidden again. The mother of A and B forces them to tell her everything and after that she goes to the bullies’ houses together with her children and tells to the parents of the bullies about the harassment. The bullying ends after that.
• Time period – 3 years – from 4th to 6th grade for A and from 1st to 3rd grade for B.
In this particular case the reaction came only on behalf of the mother of the victims. This is due to the fact that A and B shared only with her. They did share with her, because they were unable to cover what was happening to them any longer.
Obviously, during these three years, no lectures and update training courses for victim behavioral analysis have been carried out. The teachers have not been presented with strategies for reacting and among them and between them and the school management and the pedagogic advisors no adequate interaction has existed. The teachers and the management have not discussed different situations, neither did they discuss the procedures, which could be applied in order for the school to cope with the harassment, bullying and violence incidents. The indicators have therefore been missed and no measures were undertaken.
It is most imperative that the schools are aware of the existing effective methods for intervention and prevention. The first important step is for the bullying and violence at school to be understood and recognized. Effective prevention requires good planning, including documenting the efficiency of the best practices and programs, preventive strategies and efficient responses to all kinds of violence, which could be manifested. Since the researches are inconsistent, each school is obliged to carefully assess which programs respond in the best way to the needs of the situation, which has arisen in a certain particular place, as well as to monitor the effectiveness of new programs for improving school safety and lowering the number of cases of improper and иndermining behavior.
In such cases informing the school is absolutely obligatory at least for the purpose of know-how and experience to be accumulated and such situations to be prevented in the future. In order to be guaranteed that all participants – victims and bullies – will receive the help they need – it is necessary that the case does not remain in the scope of the interpersonal relationships, but is brought to the attention of official persons and decision makers. We could imagine a different turn out, if C’s parents were not as understanding and willing to support the bullied family but on the contrary – they renounced their children’s guilt and blamed the complainants in lying and blackmailing.
Solving problems such as this one is more than necessary, because it threatens both the victimized children’s lives as well as their overall personal development as individuals – the knowledge they receive will not be at the level achievable for them, as grown-ups they will not be able to make a stand and defend their opinion at home, at work, in the society in general, they will be afraid to help other people, who have been bullied. The personal development of the bullies is also threatened because growing up they acquire the sense of impunity and their aggressive behavior will broaden the scope of people it is addressed to. As grown ups their punishment would be much more serious. Graver would also be the consequences for their future victims.
Not paying attention to the problems and concerns of the individual children as members of the school community takes away its authority, because the victims cannot rely on and do not hope to receive effective resolution of their problem, on the contrary, they are afraid the problem could become worse. The principles of active citizenship in such an environment are not in force. It cannot be expected from the victims and bullies to take an active citizen position and to be successfully integrated if they find themselves in a situation of such “acceptable” violence.
A understands that the harassment, which starts towards her brother is due to his illness and him looking different than all the other kids. She loves him too much to allow herself to be impartial and starts to try to help him and support him in all possible ways. The bullying sweeps over her as well. А is sorry that their classmates, who witness the bullying, have not taken any action, even if they were not asked to do so. A and B are very scared of further consequences upon them and tougher beating from the side of the “bigger and stronger” friends of C. this is the reason why they remain silent so persistently. Besides, A and B consider that even if they tell someone, the punishment for C and the other bullies would be inadequate and they will have the chance for revenge with more violence. It is a fact that when in situations such as this one none of the witnesses comes to the aid of the victim, the victim starts to believe that it is actually guilty and has managed to somehow bring this violence upon itself - so it keeps quiet.
Problematic situations force A to “grow up” and understand the world” much quicker than normal. She understands that the bullies are mocking her brother in order to look more interesting in the eyes of their classmates.
After the last and most severe beating, the mother of A and B finds out about what is happening and surprisingly effectively manages to solve the problem by going directly to the parents of the bullies. At that time A understands that if she had shared with her parents earlier, things would have ended much more favorably for her and her brother. After the conversation with her mother the bullying on behalf of those boys, and most importantly C, ends.
A and B need the support of their parents and inclusion in a special program focused on helping harassment cases victims. Considering B’s problem, the speaker for the small group should be A. She must overcome the feeling of defenselessness and weakness and to believe that she will receive support and the two of them together with her quiet brother are not alone. A and B need all the support, which their parents and classmates can give them in order to overcome their fears. A and B need also consultations with a psychiatrist, considering the consequences, which such a long period of bullying can inflict.
We can assume that B’s inability to manage his social contacts via nonverbal behavior is aggravating to the bully. B has been chosen as a victim also because of the lack of any interest on his behalf towards the bully and his peers, the inability and lack of social-emotional relationships and not sharing the others’ interests and feelings. The lack of understanding for the actual condition of boy B makes his behavior look as annoying indifference to the bullies. The harassment has the objective of bringing out some kind of emotion out of him. After becoming acquainted with the history of the illness of the child, the bully would most surely feel remorse.
„One day on the school bus one kid made a joke with the autistic boy and everybody laughed. I said to myself that since people were laughing at an innocent joke then I also can pull a trick on the boy. So I started insulting B and at first everybody was laughing, but gradually they got fed up with this activity and they stopped having fun. I however did not stop, because I had discovered a very amusing entertainment for myself – I was mocking the kid and there was no way for it to protect itself. A couple of other guys started to harass B together with me. Gradually the ordinary insults transformed in actions. With the other boys we were using every convenient moment to mock and beat B up. At first, when I got home after a bullying event, I felt awareness of the stupidity of the things I had been doing during the day and I used to promise myself that I would never do such things again and I would not bother B anymore. With time however this feeling of guilt kind of disappeared and I couldn’t care less for the boy’s feelings. B’s sister was not getting too involved in the beginning, but when she saw how rude we were becoming, she tried to protect him – in vane. Every attempt to stop us on her behalf would end in a really unpleasant manner for her and her brother. She was alone and there were always at least a few of us. Every time she stood in our way we started hitting, kicking her, pulling her by the hair and what not. The sister tried to threaten us that should tell on us for the harassment, but I kept telling her that I have bigger and stronger friends whom I would call to beat her together with her younger brother. This went on for 3 years until that day when she hit me on the arm that I had just had a shot into. As soon as the pain went away I paid her and her brother off with a nice beating and I threatened her with my bigger friends. The next day the two of them appeared together with their mother at our door and told my parents everything. There is nothing left for me now except to try to explain myself and to be sorry for what I have done.”
According to uninformed and unwilling witnesses, the two children should have told about their problem to a grown-up and this harassment would have ended much earlier. According to them the violence against the boy has been provoked by the fact that he is autistic and the bullies consider him as unequal to them: “nobody was helping him, as if he is different from everybody else, and he simply had some problems”. A and B did not know how serious was the information they were hiding. They were simply too afraid to share with someone and this is a big mistake. The bullies were torturing A and B because the latter were a few years younger than them and had no chance of protecting themselves. The bullies always had predominance in numbers. A and B were afraid that if they shared with someone the consequences for them would be even graver.
According to some of the witnesses they did nothing while the bullies were harassing A and B, because the bad boys were going to turn on them and start bullying also them. The witnesses admit that they reacted as cowards by not telling on the main bully, but they were afraid that he was going to bring a personal vendetta upon them. Some of the witnesses share that after the mother of A and B found out, they also told to their parents.
Other witnesses say that among the students there always are rumors, i.e. there was no way that what was happening to A and B would remain hidden. But the children did not know whether to tell someone or not, because they were afraid from the reactions of the adults.
Other students share that they have had conversations with A and B and they were asking them if everything was ok with them. A and B always answered that these are their own problems and they would cope on their own. The students share that even despite the fact that A and B denied help, they should have shared with some teacher or with the headmaster, so that measures are taken. The follow up reaction of the parents was adequate, but why did it have to take so long and the children to bear with this harassment for such a substantial period of time.
According to A’s best friend she did not undertake any actions, because A strongly instated that she would not do anything. A wanted to protect the other girl from turning into a victim herself and she was not sure how the adults would react if they found out and, which is even more important, how the bullies would react after they have been told on. A’s friend shares with a feeling of guilt, but also relief, that she is very grateful to A that A kept her out of this situation and protected her from turning into a potential victim.
The situation is a clear example of manifestation of aggression towards the different members of society. The main factor for it is the insufficient communication with the youths regarding the differences between people and the need for tolerance in society. Possible training sessions during lessons (for example in Man and Society) could help avoid such situations and to eliminate aggression before it appears.
In the depicted case the teachers found out about the problems of A and B from their mother on the third year. The main reasons for this long period are several factors:
- А and B were afraid from the bullies and at the same time they had little trust in the reaction of the grown ups around them (parents, teachers, other travelers on the bus, policemen and others).
- The classmates of A and B demonstrated passiveness and failed to inform someone. This lack of reaction on their side is due either to the reasons presented in the previous point, or on the other hand to passive aggression (they share the viewpoint of the bullies without becoming actively involved).
- The teachers on the their side also failed to notice the change of the appearance and behavior of A and B, the change of their moods, their concentration and participation in the educational process.
The teachers could have probably discovered the bullying which was taking place the same way that the mother did – from the looks of the children after the beating – or by being informed by the children – the victims or their friends. Other signs, which could give away the bullying, are the lack of concentration of A during lessons, her poor preparation for school, the reaction of closing in at any attempt by the teacher to discover the reasons for this behavior. On the other hand, the victim B would also change his behavior – he would become more sensitive or aggressive.
Tracking untypical behavior makes possible also the understanding of the reasons for its appearance. After discovering about what was happening, the parents should have informed by form tutors and the headmaster. Following this, the procedure would have required the conducting of conversations with the parents of the victims and the bullies, as well as with the children from the two sides of the barricade themselves – jointly and separately. Following the reviewing of the case during pedagogic council, the bullies surely will be reprimanded. This is the procedural side of the story.
On the other hand, the children who have been victims of bullying need to work with the school psychologist in order for the trauma from this prolonged harassment to be overcome. At the same time, the students who have acted as bullies could also be included in preventive actions against aggression, in order to understand the seriousness of their deeds. The organizing of a common school extracurricular event with the participation of both bullies and bullied could also act as a nice example how such cases could be resolved, because the bullied are usually not the only harassed children. The bullies themselves are also victims, because there has been no one in their family to show them and teach them that violence is not the way to show how great you are.
Just like the teachers, because the acts of violence were not taking place before their eyes, the school managers have also understood about the situation from the mother of A and B. What they could have done in a more successful manner before this violence exploded with such serious consequences could have been the exertion of efforts for better integration of the child with special needs and to inform thoroughly parents and children about the specifics of its condition. From now on the teachers of A and B could receive support from their colleagues for the purpose of better dissemination of information and successful supervision.
The headmaster has accepted an autistic child to be educated in a general school, which leads to the conclusion that he was aware of the illness and is responsible for the integration of the child within the group.
Lectures on the specifics of the different conditions, as well as enlisting more children with special needs in the school, would greatly improve the situation, because the children will learn to be tolerant.
The viewpoint of the victims’ parents: „We did not notice what was happening, regardless of the fact that there must have been enough signs that the children have problems at school. No one from the school informed us that our children were being bullied. Probably if we had predisposed our children to share their daily experiences with us, we would have found about the problem much earlier.”
The mother accuses herself that she is a bad parent, consider for how long she failed to notice the problems her children were facing and failed to recognize them in their behavior. She considers that she could have prevented this situation if she had spoken more with her daughter instead of focusing all her attention to the treatment of her little son. If she had had the opportunity to take them to school and then bring them back home from there, she could have prevented the conflicts. If she had had greater trust in the school as an institution for education, upbringing and supporting the development of the children, she could have discussed in more details with the entire team there and probably also with the students, the specifics of her son’s condition and needs.
Still, her reaction managed to prevent further violence and solved the problem.
Viewpoint of the mother of the bully: „One evening the bell on our door rang. I opened. I was surprised to find a mother and her two children on our doorstep. The lady explained to me that my son is bullying her children. I invited them in and asked to hear the whole story. I summoned by son to be present during their narration. I was shocked by what they said. I could not believe that they were speaking about my child. I sent the mother and her two children off and promised to speak to my son. My first reaction was refusal to believe. Then I asked for his side of the story. I watched him closely while he was answering me. I saw the little signals showing that he was lying to me. He was avoiding eye contact with me, his hands were curled in fists and pushed deeply inside his pockets. Why was he speaking to me in such a broken manner? Why was he not answering with complete sentences? I had heard enough. Then came the most important question to myself. Why my child? Doesn’t this happen to the other families? What did we do wrong as parents? Questions and very painful answers. Both I and his father work all day. In the evening we are tired and nervous. Hard work-days. When in the evening our son wanted to share something from his day, did we hear him out properly? When he told us that sometimes it was hard for him at school, what else except “deal with this yourself” did we tell him? Why did he initiate aggression towards children from his school, especially towards a child with a condition? He chose a weaker one. This is a conscious choice. He was applying systematic aggression, but not alone. He had the support of other boys. Has there ever been aggression towards him? Physical violence? No. I would have noticed. What if it was not physical, but psychological? Why didn’t he tell me if he was having problems? There must be a reason for someone to become a torturer of smaller and weaker. What is the reason for my child? He is beating the defenseless. Why hasn’t anything struck me as odd during these three years? He must have been hiding things very well. I reevaluated our life in a conversation with him. As parents, we are trying to pass on to him our system of values. The friends – why those boys and why is he always the main bully and they are just for fake safety. Yes, there is a problem in our family. Long conversations between parents and son started. I want him to speak to me and to explain to me. I was furious that we have to start on a long and hard road. But where do I start to help my child? From my return back home from work in the evening “Good evening, son. How are you? How was your day at school? Tell me everything. No, I am not tired. I am listening carefully!”
Interesting viewpoints of interviewed parents placed in the position of parents of witnesses (17 adults):
„’How was at school?’ – the daily question, which we, the grown kids, ask. Our children sometimes tell us – if the story is fine for telling – sometimes stay quiet – if the story is nasty. We all know which the nasty stories are: a remark form the teacher, a forgotten homework, poor discipline or mark, conflict between the children.
Some while ago my daughter started sharing with me that a group of boys are picking on a boy form 1st grade and his sister in 4th. The boy was autistic and the bullies extremely intolerant towards all different children. The girl was heartily protecting her brother. I advised my daughter to tell to the teachers and I thought that the bullying would be stopped. I returned to solving my own problems. A lot of time passed and I again heard about such cases from my child – the violence became more severe and finally the parents of the two tormented children found out about the problem.
Following this I spoke with my child about several things. We discussed tolerance towards the different. We wondered how long those children have been afraid to tell their parents what was happening to them. We wondered if the bullies know that Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh, Beethoven and Mozart, Steven Spielberg and even Jim Carrey were and some of them still are autistic. How poor the world would have been without them.
I admitted that I personally did nothing and did not personally inform the school management about the problem – I was hoping that someone else had already done that. I became aware that our refusal to be active in resolving problems at school, to inform the pedagogic advisor and the other parents is detrimental to all children. I wished for myself and for the other parents to become more sensitive and more active for our kids’ and for every kid’s sake.”
According to other parents of witnesses, the connection between the victimized brother and sister and their parents should have been deeper, because the mother failed to understand what was happening on the basis of their behavior. If the communication between them had been good enough this would have been quite possible. According to the parents sharing of the problem is the key to its solution – „the earlier a problem is shared, the better the reaction to it and the better the solution or the proposed way out of the situation”.
The comment of one of the mothers is quite interesting she shares “I wondered if I had made the necessary efforts so that my own child would not find itself in the position of a bullied, or, God forbid, in the position of a bully, and I was unable to answer myself”.
The bullying mainly takes place “on the bus – on the way towards school – and at the school itself”. What strikes the attention is the fact that A and B’s mother actually forces them to speak about the harassment, which has been taking place for three whole years. Perplexing is the fact that no adult from the school staff noticed what was happening during these three years and therefore nobody from the school informed the parents. Obviously, at the time when the parents of the two involved sides find out about the bullying, it is stopped.
In case that the school psychologist or pedagogic advisor does not know about the presence of this problem, he or she is unable to undertake any action whatsoever. The moment he or she finds out he or she should intervene at different levels as follows:
1. Individual work with the direct participants in the conflict (the victims and the bullies) – the theory and practice show, particularly in cases of prolonged bullying, that both sides unconsciously maintain the situation due to various reasons.
2. Consulting the parents of the children – after all the parents are the main figures responsible for the upbringing and health of the children and keeping them away from the problem is out of the question.
3. Group work with the class/classes of the involved students – пalmost always such situations take place before “audience”, and the attitude of the audience could play a major role in the development of the conflict, considering the strong influence of the referential peer group during puberty and adolescence (in the quoted scenario A’s friend knows what is happening, but she also tells no one). Organizing discussions with the children on the topic of autism and acceptance of children with special needs by their peers through role games – when a person is not aware about a certain condition, he/she reacts routinely, i.e. does not concretize.
4. Timely informing of the school management, so that adequate official measures to be undertaken – the headmaster is the person bearing main responsibility about what is taking place in school.
5. Consulting the form tutor (recognizing the signs of violence; measures, which could be implemented in class work; whom to turn to in case of need and so on) – the requests for psychological work at school usually come from the form tutor or the teachers, because they are the ones in a more direct contact with the children and are therefore observers of their relationships.
6. Keeping a register of the children prone to violence, as well as the children prone to becoming victimized.
7. In case of need – joint work with other institutions (Children’s pedagogic office, social offices, non-governmental organizations, Local commission for combating antisocial behavior of minors).
It is not normal that there are no signs showing that the two children have been harassed. The indifferent behavior of the adults on the bus is not comprehensible or acceptable. There is no active citizenship and conscience present in this case. The children should have been taught to share more with their parents. Their silence caused the problem to become this serious. The bullying events were taking place before other students, who at a certain point should have informed the school management and the form tutor. The intervention of the parents and the closure of this case comes too late due to the silence of the children. We should pay more attention not only to the looks of our children, but to their internal psychological state.
(conclusions of students from 8th and 10th grades)
Bullying at school usually is provoked by the fact that all children are different and this is aggravating to some. According to certain students everybody should be rich, should have the most modern telephones, nice and expensive clothes and shoes and that is not possible. Because of this, one group in the class, regardless whether boys or girls, initiates harassment towards one or more of their classmates or students from the same school.
At first the harassment is usually only psychological, but in comparison with the physical one, psychological wounds do not heal in a week or two. Psychological bullying is much more painful than physical. It leaves marks, which are never totally removed from the victim’s consciousness, but are temporarily covered. These signs cannot be healed.
In this particular case the boy has been bullied because he is autistic. This distinguishes him from everybody else. He lives in his own reality. Nobody understands him. Nobody sees what he sees.
The bullies worn that if A and B tell someone, they will call bigger students to beat them up. This does not happen for the first time. All bullies say things like this and use threats like this one. In most cases they do not have bigger boys as friends, but the victims would not take their chances. Violence remains hidden from the adult world. When the parents find out they undertake actions, which put an end to the bullying – not for ever however, just for a while and after that the “cycle” of activities could start repeating itself with years, until the students graduate and their paths split apart.
„As much as would like this violence not to be existing and for us all to be equal, these cases will repeat themselves until we, the children, realize that regardless of the way we look or dress, we are all the same. We can all experience pain, we all enjoy the beautiful days and this will never change.”
„Common between the victim and bully is the fear. The difference lies in the manner, in which they react to this fear. Some hide, like girl A, others put up with the violence and try to get used to it. Others decide that it is better for them to be on the other side and be the “strong” ones.
„The reasons for such events to happen lie mostly in the conditions of our society and the shared system of values. In order for such cases to be curbed, we should strengthen the relationships within the families, to predispose the children to speak with their mothers and fathers, to share and discuss between each other. This could be a good base for preventing cases such as this one. The good basis, which the family could serve as, should be further supported at school. The strong connection between parents-students-teachers could diminish the occurrences of aggression, harassment, etc.”
„My personal opinion is that all participants are complete idiots. I can’t imagine how a normal person would not share with the parent (mother or father) that some jerks are bullying him? The things that happen in this World are so ridiculous that I don’t feel like ever leaving my house!”
(conclusions of teachers)
The role of the teacher in the depicted situation is literally missing. The teacher, who is not just an education, but also mentor, who is trying to convey to the children such qualities as tolerance, goodness, honesty and to use every opportunity to smoothen their relationships.
The connection between the teacher and the parents (both those of the victim and those of the bully) is also missing. The period during which the teachers remained “blind” for what was happening is too long. The fact that a child with serious and visible problems remained outside the scope of attention of the teacher is unacceptable. Unacceptable is also the fact that the parents of the victims transferred such a great responsibility towards the bigger sister, who is barely ten-eleven years old. Probably the fixed attention for the younger brother has diverted their attention and they were unable to sense the worries of their older child.
The parents of the bully boys, to busy solving a number of problems related to finding a steady job and securing normal living conditions in the family, share less time to speak with their children about their relationships with their classmates and friends. Growing up, the boys have become more independent, more confident in their actions, they begin to like to dominate at school, they share less with their parents. The educational process and home preparation become less important. The street is more interesting. This is the moment, in which teachers, pedagogic advisors, headmasters and parents should join their efforts and show to the boys that this “freedom” they are experiencing is fake and that the moral values of society must be preserved. Otherwise, the rules of the jungle will be activated.
(conclusions of parents)
If we could speak of strengthening some relationships, then in this case these should be the intra-family relations between children and parents in the families of the victims and the main bully. It is obvious that A and B’s mother has become aware of the situation at such a late phase, because due to certain conditions, present in our society, her attention had to be focused in the direction of solving family budget problems and undertaking more and more tasks at work. The case has not be elaborated to the level of presenting the status of the father and if he is actually a part of this family. Quite often, when a “problematic” child appears one of the parents gives up the responsibility and leaves the family. This could be the case here and the cares for the children could have been left to grandparents or to some uncle. The mother was busy enough to provide for the family and cover budget lines, which do not appear in other families. Her reaction was immediate and fortunately for her children – she successfully achieved the objective of putting an end to the bullying. A will never doubt her mother’s “powers”, and B will experience and enjoy a new feeling of peace and security.
Thanks to the discovery of the case, the mother of the main bully C is reassessing the overall approach towards her son in her family and promises a deeper contact and “audibility” in the future.
The lack of information of the society leads to graver consequences and exclusion of the children with special needs by the others. These children are rejected by their classmates. The lack of a greater number of specialists leads at the moment to inadequate admission of such children in mass school, due to which their integration is practically impossible. Tolerance towards the different is a quality, which is not educated to the children today. The authority of the teacher is often lowered to the minimum. The lack of a constant connection child-parent-teacher leads to omissions in the level of information reaching at least one of these three. Focusing on behavioral techniques entirely concentrated on the child and its environment could represent a successful intervention.
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