Originally posted in 2012, now updated
As we hear the news that a 16-year-old Australian boy who had been bullied so much that he tried to kill himself has finally died from his injuries, and of an Ohio school student who was marginalised and bullied and who tragically took a gun to his classmates, we are again reminded of the awful dangers of bullying.
The events in Ohio are too recent and too unclear to comment upon in any detail. But we know the story of Dakoda-Lee Stainer who two years ago tried to end his own life: bullies at his Kempsey school had tormented him mercilessly for months, and on this particular day he had been accosted by a gang of teens.
He survived the suicide attempt, however was clinically dead for 30 minutes.
Dakoda-Lee suffered irreversible damage to his windpipe and was left terminally ill with severe brain damage. He was unable to speak or walk and had to eat through a tube in his stomach.
The high school student was raised in Toowoomba but moved to northern NSW in 2007.
His mother, Tess Nelson told the Toowoomba Chronicle in November: “We live every day as we can and we help him as much as we can. If his windpipe collapses it might be his last breath.”
On Valentine’s Day this year, Dakoda-Lee passed away in Caboolture Hospital. We pass our heartfelt admiration and sympathy to his carers, family and friends.
Ever since his tragic accident, his mother, has been campaigning to give a voice to her son who had lost his own.
The Facebook group ‘See justice done for Dakoda-Lee Stainer’ says “Please join my group and we can speak for him. justice must be done, criminal charges laid and compensation given. And maybe together we can help make a change.”
According to News Limited and Yahoo, Dakoda-Lee’s stepfather Bill Kelly, is suing the NSW Department of Education and Communities for damages. The family claims it breached its duty of care.
What can you do?
Re-blog this page, re-post it to Facebook, email around this article to your friends. Especially, but not exclusively, if you’re an Aussie, because on Friday 21 March, schools throughout Australia will join together to celebrate the annual National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence.
A lifetime ago, and for many years, at boarding school near London, I was mercilessly bullied.
Brutally. Repeatedly. Continuously.
In what amounted to nothing more nor less than emotional, psychological and physical torture, I was ruthlessly teased, beaten, humiliated, and marginalised.
I was picked on primarily because I was creative – a writer, singer and actor – and unusually intelligent and sensitive in a school environment that largely mistrusted those qualities. And because the pack or the mob always seems to need a victim to unite against, and because once a child at school is accorded victim status it takes an earthquake to turn things around, this lasted from the age of about 11 until about 16.
I came from a middle class home in the south of the country, most of my classmates came from working class homes in the north.
I was obviously from Welsh stock. Not very tall, and slightly overweight. (This later helped me be an effective rugby player, playing hooker in the middle of the pack, which re-aligned my community status a little.)
I missed my home and didn’t hide it.
I also had bad breath which no amount of tooth brushing seemed to cure. (In later life I discovered I have sleep apnea and have probably had it all my life from birth due to a combination of nasal and soft palate deformities – as a result my mouth would dry out at night.) Needless to say, no social or medical intervention was offered.
Complaining to teachers about the treatment meted out to me was usually met with advice to “toughen up” and “fight back”, and often a sneering assumption that I was somehow responsible for my own bullying. One teacher in particular would deliberately curry favour with my pupil cohort by bullying me himself. He is probably dead now, which is a shame, as I would like to land just one mighty blow on his ugly, smug little face. I hope he rots in the deepest most lonely corner of hell. I’m sorry that those thoughts are ignoble, and beneath me. Walk a mile in my shoes.
At stages in my life, when reacting to stress, I have struggled with both depression and obsessional compulsive disorder.
(I am reasonably well at the moment, thank you, and have been for some time.) I ascribe both, in overwhelming measure, to my school experiences. I still have nightmares: I am now 54.
That I have grown, eventually, into a moderately well-adjusted adult with a working quantity of cheerfulness, stoicism and self-esteem cannot hide the scars I still carry from this experience.
I am, for example, by nature, somewhat “conflict averse”. In a conflict situation at home or at work I will commonly either over-react with anger, frustration and fear, or under-react, with acquiescence and grudging agreement. I have had to learn, step by painful step, to assert my point of view quietly and good-naturedly in these situations, and not to take any opposition personally (as it rarely is personal), and to laugh off minor setbacks. I expect to have mastered this skill by the age of about 80, which will leave me just enough time to get on well with the bossy busy-body nurses in my retirement home, and even my killjoy gerontologist when he tells me that a road-trip grape-grazing in the Yarra Valley would probably be counter-productive at my age.
I eventually managed to bring the bullying under some sort of control by one day losing my cool altogether and belting two tons of shit out of a couple of big kids who were the ringleaders.
I surprised myself. I certainly surprised them.
This didn’t fix the problem entirely, but it ameliorated it. Needless to say, this was an antiquated, barbaric response to a barbaric problem, and it should never have come to that. It was probably fortunate that I was not living in a country with free access to firearms, or the place might have been minus a few students and at least one teacher. Perhaps two, thinking back.
Many school bullies, interviewed later in life, express bitter regret at their behaviour, and talk of how they too felt isolated and frightened, and how they fell into leadership of the pack and a cycle of poor behaviour that they felt unable (or unguided) to leave. Some of them report carrying those behaviours over into adult life, causing themselves and others great sadness.
The victims of bullying frequently take their own lives, or suffer the torments of hell trying to re-establish the self-esteem and sense of safety that should never be stripped away from a child.
So what can you do?
Make the world a better place.
At the very least, click now and get behind Bullying No Way in your school community: as a start, ask what your school is doing to participate. Consider in what ways the principles involved could be utilised in your family and workplace, too.
If you are overseas and reading this, ask your school or education authorities whether they should be running similar programs.
And above all – above all – if you’re a parent – ask your child if they are ever bullied. Including “online” bullying, now, a horrible new phenomenon. And listen to their answer with fierce attention.
Or find out if they bully anyone else.
And if either is true, do not ignore it, or hope it will go away, or brush it off and dismiss it. Work out what action to take to correct the situation. Get professional help if necessary.
Because sooner or later, bullying is a problem for all of us. And it maims – and even ends – lives.