Towards the end of 2008 I had caught the attention of two boys in my class. Although I was a shy, self-conscious and very naïve fourteen year old introvert, I immediately knew that this attention was something that I did not want. Up until this point, they had pretty much ignored me, so why the sudden interest? I have a theory that, because I was shoved into the role of Designated Weird Kid, I was an easy target for bullies. To them, I was probably incapable of saying more than a few words.
It began with seemingly harmless comments: “You’re so beautiful”, “Will you go out with me?”, “I love you”. Harmless, maybe, but said in such a way that I felt they were making fun of me. Soon the comments became lewd and sexual, and then one day they started putting their hands on me. No matter how hard I tried to brush them off they kept coming back and wouldn’t take no for an answer. By December not only had this become routine, it had worsened. They felt they had the right to feel me up, humiliate me and lower my already low self-esteem – and that’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that this happened in front of the whole class, teachers included. You would expect that the teachers, as figures of both education and authority, would do something about this. So what did they do? Nothing.
As I was so shy, I kept quiet about it too. After all, I didn’t want to draw even more attention to myself and I was sure it would stop after we came back from the Christmas break. It didn’t. Going to school had now become a nightmare, and I tried to kid myself that it wasn’t as bad as I thought, that I needed to toughen up and get through it. I thought it was just a normal thing that happens to teenage girls. I was terrified of what would happen if I kicked up a fuss. As a result, I repressed all of my anger and fear at school and let it out at home, directing it onto my parents, the two people whom I could always trust and talk to about anything. As the days went on I became increasingly confused about what was happening until, after an argument with my mother one evening, I finally snapped. Everything came flooding out and, after getting over the fact I’d been hiding it from her for so long, my mum switched on her laptop and together we wrote a letter to the school’s headteacher explaining that this was unacceptable behaviour and needed to stop. Again, you would think that this would be taken seriously and that I would be made to feel secure. Nope. Apparently they got a few weeks of detention, which means they learnt nothing about what they did. So, after my mum made several angry phone calls to the school and with the support of a teacher I liked and trusted (who, incidentally, taught the boys separately from myself and therefore had no idea what had happened) they were expelled for the rest of the year. After taking a couple of days off to process what had happened and recharge, I was able to get back to my normal school life again – or so I thought.
From the moment I stepped onto the school bus, people began to whisper behind my back. I was told that they didn’t mean to harass me, that it was only a joke. There were some girls that even said things like “Oh, I bet you loved it really”. Instead of courageous, I felt ashamed. Was it really worth it, going through all that only to have my peers distance themselves from me? Looking back on it now, it was. Speaking up about harassment is never easy, but for this shy teenager it felt impossible. However, shouldn’t feel that way. Everyone who experiences this type of bullying needs to find the strength in themselves and step momentarily into an uncomfortable spotlight. Okay, it’s easier said than done, and it’s not pretty – but it’s better than letting the bad guys defeat you. But wouldn’t it be even better if people genuinely believed us?