I was a fast runner, but they’d always catch me. Thrown to the ground, my heart thumping in my chest, sweat beads on my brow and pooling in my arm pits. I’d shout and squirm as they’d grab under my skirt and push my arms down beside my shaking body. They thought it was a game; it was funny to them. It was terrifying to me. Humiliating.
I’d kick myself free, pull their arms away and push their sweaty bodies off me and run to the sanctuary of the toilets. They’d move onto the next girl. The chase would begin again. I’d hear her screams.
When the teachers discovered what was going on “the game” stopped. And a new one begun. This time the boys would gather at the school gate and follow me onto the bus. They’d taunt me, they’d call me names like “slut” and “bitch” and “whore”. I was thirteen. I’d only kissed a boy once behind the shelter sheds. Frigid would have been a “better” choice of word.
I’d jump off the bus and run. At first, they’d let me be. They’d laugh out the window while I stumbled, dragging my school bag behind me. I’d only stop to rest once I knew I was truly alone.
But then they decided it was time to step it up a notch. Then they started getting off the bus with me; walking behind me and telling me what they’d do to me. They’d nudge me from behind, push at my school bag, slip their hand under my dress, brush their arms against my breasts. I’d run faster.
It didn’t take long for my Mum to notice a change in me. I’d arrive home flustered and quiet. She questioned me. And finally I felt brave enough to ask her to meet me at the bus stop. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want her coming to the school as I knew it would only get worse. I knew they’d get bored soon and leave me alone. Seeing my Mum must’ve touched a nerve in them because as quickly as they’d started, they then stopped. I was no longer their target.
That wasn’t my only experience of bullying or harassment. There have been other times throughout high school and in the workplace. I coped in different ways. I even bullied another girl at school for a time; a younger girl, a girl with long blonde hair and a so-called “perfect life”. We’d heard she’d been mean to some others in her class, so my friends and I become vigilantes for the underdogs. I’d gone from powerless to powerful. We cornered her, we followed her around, we called her “Barbie” and “bitch”, we made her cry. Her tears and her fear of us eventually made us stop. I was full of shame. I have never forgiven myself for such nasty behaviour, for stooping to that level. I knew the pain it had caused me and yet I had become the bully.
You never know what’s going on in someone’s home, head or heart. When you join the pack and have a go at someone else whether it be over a difference of opinion or in pure hatred it impacts on their psyche. Bullying comes in many forms, it’s not always obvious. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am social media did not exist when I was at school.
You need to put yourself in the shoes of the one running and also the one chasing. Empathy and understanding, kindness and listening with an open heart. These qualities are all important to fully understand bullying. Approach confrontation in a more measured way. Step in and lend support if you see someone faltering. How can we teach our children to treat others respectfully, if we can not lead by example?
I will never forget the fear of running like a scared animal; the fear of being hunted. I am so lucky I had someone who was there to look out for the signs, imagine those who are alone. I’m grateful I’ve a strength of self to keep carrying on, many do not.