DESCRIPTION OF THE EXPERIENCE
Period and place in which the experience took place
Class group, technical and vocational secondary school, province of Hainaut.
Systematic and daily bullying prompted by a student who is repeating the year, from September 2010 to the 2nd of May 2011, when the student left the school for a care centre.
Main actors involved (special focus on the profile of the student)
The main actors involved are the victim (18), the leading bully (18) and four followers (16 and 18) to varying degrees.
• had already experienced relational/integration difficulties in the class the previous year;
• is obese, which has always caused him relational difficulties. He has always been like that and, as far as he remembers, has always been stigmatised for that;
• is aware of the relational issues in the class and of the leader’s dominance on the other students;
• is unable to react, to defend himself when he is attacked.
• wanted to secure a position of leader in the group: being the attacker and not to be attacked, to be on the “right side” rather than on the “wrong side”, to be “strong” rather than “weak”,
• had a special family background and had also suffered bullying in primary school because his father was in prison for murder. He developed a Manichean vision of the world and of relations between people.
Description of the factual events
The types of bullying acts that occurred:
• Oral, emotional assaults: teasing, unkind comments, insults about the victim’s appearance, his supposedly weak abilities, his slowness to carry out tasks (mental undermining), depreciation-denigration of his family.
• Pilfering of personal items (given back later) and, only by the leader, racketeering (a few euros per day, once 10€ during an outing).
• Slight but repeated physical contacts (weak shoving), sometimes more straightforward physical violence (shoved to the ground, pression on the stomach).
• Ostracism (no one wanted to work with him practical class).
Actions carried out to identify the causes of the students difficulties
• The victim is followed by the psycho-medico-social centre and an external specialist (psychologist).
• The school mediation service acts with the victim and in the class group.
Actions carried out to solve the situation and the problems encountered
• The victim told his mother and grandparents.
• The grandmother awaited the attackers several times after school to dissuade them from going on, which had the opposite effects. They complained to the teachers that they had been attacked by the grandmother and found there another reason to mock his inability to defend himself.
• Several times, the grandmother expressed her distress to the practical workshop teacher. Attempts at dialogue with the class group to put an end to the situation were made, sanctions were taken for specific attacks, without improvement. A feeling of helplessness to solve the problem set in, the situation was felt as “inevitable”. Indeed, the victim was slyly targeted, mostly away from prying eyes.
The teachers also tried to motivate the victim to react, to assert himself, to defend against students that are often “less strong than him”, and there were questions about the victim who might be partly responsible of the bullying (passivity, provocation?).
• When the educator asked support during the first quarter, the psycho-medico-social centre followed the victim and passed the case to a psychologist for therapy.
• After a new request from the educator in March 2011, the school mediation service stepped in. It received the victim’s testimony, informed the educational team on bullying and different actors joined to act in the class group.
• The victim temporarily left the school in early May 2011 to treat his obesity problem. At that time, he planned to take the exams in September 2011 in a “postponed session”. During summer, he renounced, deterred by the number of exams, despite receiving all the necessary documents from the teachers.
He repeated the year in 2011-2012 and was supported by the teachers. His integration in the new group went well.
• The bully had also suffered vexations in the past and still felt the need to attack in order not to be attacked. When the victim left the school in 2011-2012, he turned to other students.
• The followers did not bear the victim “a grudge”; they felt unease and guilt when the situation deteriorated. Fear of rejection prevailed in the class group (fear of the leader and inability to resist his influence). When the victim left, there was some consensus to avoid the leader, who was victimising other students. But fear was still present which resulted in continuing tensions and a bad environment.
• The intervention of the school mediation service had an important impact: unlike previously, an educator is present during lunch break (when there were many vexations) in the location of the section.
Support received by fellow students, colleagues, school management and parents
• The victim’s family supported him and unsuccessfully tried to solve the situation.
• The other students of this little class (6 members) are the followers. They lived the situation with unease and guilt.
• The teachers were aware of the situation in so far as they knew the victim suffered frequent vexations, but they had no tool to grasp it in its whole dimension. Moreover, the teachers mainly concerned by the class were isolated on a distinct location apart from the main site. They had little contact with the other teachers.
• The headmaster was not solicited to solve the problem.
Strengths and weaknesses of the experience
This case epitomises a serious bullying situation:
• A particularly fragile victim (in physical, social and family respects).
• A bully with a peculiar family and relational background, developing a worrying personality, always on the defensive because he fears he might be bullied again. To avoid it, he always seeks to be dominant, displaying aggressive behaviours toward the weakest.
• Quite empathic followers led by fear: of the leader, to be expelled from the group.
The situation developed in the class group because the victim gave the group the opportunity to focus all its tensions on him. The victim was the scapegoat and regulated the functioning of the group.
• Thanks to the partnership with the school mediation service and the information on bullying, the phenomenon and what it involves are better understood in the school, with ideas to confront it (information, detection and action in case of bullying).
• An educator is now present during lunch breaks (that foster bullying).
• The remoteness of the class group in a specific site for the section probably contributed to the development and crystallisation of the phenomenon: the students feared ostracism all the more that they had hardly any social contacts out of the group.
• The educational team was overwhelmed by the events and helpless to solve them. External services had to manage the situation after the educator called them.
• Why was the headmaster not solicited considering the length and type of bullying? He was the one who should have acted with the class group to remind the rules and regulations.
• The author of this tale does not say whether or how the bully was punished. He also needs to be taken into account. What was his true empathy for the victim? Working with him on empathy would have been interesting.
• It is surprising that the bully’s parents are absent. They should have been at least informed of the events, or even asked to cooperate in their resolution, even though their son was over 18.