Anti-bullying week: ‘I was beaten up at the school gates and lockdown made the cyber-bullying much worse’
The rates of bullying have soared throughout the pandemic, with the main reasons being poorer mental health, loneliness and increased screen time, according to charity Ditch The Label.
Pre-COVID, a survey by the charity found that 20% of young people feel lonely all the time, adding this has been amplified by the national lockdown and social distancing protocols.
For anti-bullying week, 17-year-old Stephanie (not her real name) from Manchester, who was bullied throughout her time at school, explains how lockdown led her to being stalked and harassed online.
At primary school, I had a group of friends and when I moved to an all-girls high school, they decided they didn’t want to be my friend anymore. They became the popular kids, and I became the unpopular person who was excluded from the group.
In Year 8, things got worse. It started off with name-calling. For example, I didn’t used to like wearing my hair down and because of this, they thought I was a lesbian and would call me homophobic names.
Every day, the girls would put their hands up my skirt, take off my glasses on the bus, make fun of my appearance and ask me for money, which I would usually give them.
Soon enough, the bullying turned physical. One time, I was in PE and someone had moved all my stuff. When I asked who did it, I was floored by a girl and fractured my elbow.
After that, I stopped feeling safe at school and stayed at home for a week. Although the head teacher reassured me it was safe to return, things just escalated from there.
I ended up being beaten up at the school gates, which was filmed and shared on Snapchat and Instagram. As parents and students watched, I was pulled to the ground by my hair and kicked until I stopped fighting back and curled up into a ball.
Because I swore in the video, I was put in isolation by the school and I received the same punishment as the bullies who had beaten me.
My parents went into the school and called a multi-agency meeting. Again, I was promised by the school they would keep me safe. Within a week though, I was locking myself into a toilet to stop the bullies getting to me.
I was terrified to go to school, so in the end my parents and I decided I should stay at home.
Alone in my room, I felt depressed, started self-harming and had suicidal thoughts.
It was at this time when the cyber-bullying spiralled out of control.
Every day, the girls sent me and my mum abusive messages. They would get boys from the all-boys school to message me, pretending to be my friend and ask me to send pictures.
They even added me to group chats where they told me to kill myself and described all the ways I should do it. Things got so bad that I attempted suicide and was admitted to hospital.
When I eventually joined another school, I felt like I belonged. But within weeks, the old bullies found out where I was and started contacting random people from my new school with videos of me being beaten up.
And then it started all over again. I was physically attacked, locked into classrooms with the shutters down and followed home.
Due to the significant risk of violence, the police got involved. This threat even stopped me from attending my prom after-party.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed my bullying experience. During lockdown, I no longer had to worry about being attacked in the street.
However, the cyber-bullying has become so much worse, because people are bored and they have nothing to do. I have received endless no-caller ID calls, some silent and others with abuse shouted down the phone.
People have made fake accounts and messaged me incessantly. One day during lockdown, I was sat in the living room with my family, when I got a message saying: “I know what you and your sister are wearing.”
Alarmingly, the person described what we were wearing in exact detail, right down to the colour of our clothes.
The police have listened into the calls and read the messages, but there’s little they can do to stop it because of the no-caller ID and fake accounts.
My mental health is better than it used to be and I am currently in my second year of college, training to become a primary school teacher.
Working with children has always been my career plan. I think now, with the bullying and harassment throughout my life, I want to become a teacher even more, so that kids don’t have to go through what I have.
For anybody struggling with any of the issues discussed in this interview, please visit ditchthelabel.org for free and confidential advice
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK