I have been a victim of bullying for at least seven years. Whilst I have never been physically abused, I have been ostracised, teased, harassed and socially isolated.
I have not lived in Newcastle my entire life. I began preschool in Deniliquin before moving to Broken Hill where I completed Kindergarten. Year One to Year Three were completed in Ungarie, a small town in central NSW before moving to Newcastle where I have attended school for the past eight years.
Most students at my primary school had grown up together, being at the same school since preschool. I believe that entering this school at Year Four, where friendship groups had already solidly formed, was one of the contributing factors to my bullying. Furthermore, my class was composite and only had eight Year Four students, four girls and four boys. This also limited my ability to meet peers and make new friends, leading to a social isolation that left me vulnerable to bullying.
For my final two years of primary school I was in an Opportunity Class. This meant that all 30 students were academically selected. It was here that I was first subjected to bullying by a girl who would remain my tormentor for most of high school. I don’t remember ever doing anything to upset her, but I believe it may have been to do with test results. This happens with bright students that go into selective schools and classes; they go from being the top at their school to average and struggle to deal with it.
Despite all bar one of the students in my class continuing onto my high school, I managed to get through Year 7 with only a small number of incidents. There was the occasional niggle, but I thought that perhaps I had escaped and that my experience of bullying was over.
Year 8 was a year I would rather forget. The girl who had harassed me during primary school was placed into my class and, even though I had long moved on, continued to bully me. This involved her befriending other students that used to talk to me and making sure they never could sit next to me or do group work with me. This constant niggling and torment was aggravated by teachers insisting there was nothing I could do about this and my peers insisting that this girl was “so nice” and I was making these stories up.
It was not until the middle of the year, during drama class, that people started to take action against her. We had a substitute teacher and were playing a game where the person in the middle makes a statement and anyone who agrees must stand up and quickly change seats with one another.My bully intentionally ended up in the middle and said “Stand up if you think Elyse should get over herself”. At least three students stood up. I walked out of that class distraught.
One girl in my class TJ, was also being bullied by boys in a senior year. I was not aware of this at the time. TJ supported me throughout Year 8 and believed me when I said I was being bullied. She played an essential role in helping me get through that year. I am forever grateful for her and we still remain great friends.
Despite a few more clashes with my bully during class debating, the rest of that year was uneventful. However, I was yet to find out the full impact this girl would have on my life. Last year ( when I was in Year 11), a boy who I had become friends with after he started dating one of my friends and we discovered a mutual love of certain TV shows told me he never would have talked to me because he had been told that I was obnoxious, self-centred and looked down upon everyone else. Whilst I have no proof that this started from my primary school bully, she is the only person I know who would describe me to my entire year group this way.
This girl is not the only student who has bullied me. I have experienced bullying throughout all of high school. I have even experienced bullying from a teacher as he supported a group of students who isolated me whilst I was with them in the Mock Trial team.
However, I haven’t let bullying hold me back. I have represented Australia in Model United Nations this year, which has been one of the best experiences of my life. It is from this that I have decided that after Year 12 I will attend University to study Mechanical Engineering and Exercise Science with the aim of becoming a biomechanical engineer. This job allows me to develop equipment to improve the quality of life for disabled people.
I have been a successful public speaker, winning a National Competition in 2009. The speech I used for Lions Youth of the Year, where I won the public speaking at the State Final, was about bullying and what can be done to address the issue. The most challenging presentation I have ever done was when, at the District Final, I was competing against one of my bullies and she had other students from my year in the audience. It was truly empowering when my bully hung her head in shame and later on, when talking to other students, she described my speech as “kick-arse”. That presentation changed me situation dramatically and I have had a lot of support from those students who saw the speech.
It takes a lot of courage to stand before your bullies and tell them exactly how you feel. Not every victim of bullying will have that opportunity to do so. What is important is that they shouldn’t have to.
Bystanders play a big role in addressing bullying. After the incident in Year 8 drama, more than half of the class reported my bully for her actions. It certainly changed her behaviour for some part of that year. There needs to be a culture change amongst school students. Supporting a victim of bullying or even speaking out against the bullying is essential. I am a firm believer that those who stand by whilst being aware of bullying but do nothing are complicit in the act of bullying.
Similarly, teachers need to be proactive. They need to create an environment where the reporting of bullying is handled with compassion and respect. I could not tell the number of times teachers told me that I had to make changes, that it was my fault I was being bullied or that I was lying, but even hearing it once is too many times. Teachers cannot always take action against a bully, but that does not mean they do not play a crucial role in protecting the victim.