Report serious assaults, say police

By Genevieve Helliwell

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Tauranga police want people to report all cases of serious bullying after a 15-year-old was punched in the face at school.

Community Constable Matt Elliott said physical assaults involving school-aged students were serious and needed to be reported to police.

"When it comes to bullying or physical assault, it doesn't matter where it occurs, whether it's on school grounds ... if there's a complaint of assault, we'll deal with it," he said.

Mr Elliott said serious instances needed to be reported because they could lead on to bigger things.

"Girls particularly use cyber bullying to attack their victims and the things they say can get quite nasty ... and sometimes this can lead on to tragic consequences for the victim."

His comments come after a 15-year-old Tauranga Girls' College student said she had been assaulted three times in three years by different girls.

Her mother said she complained to police after her daughter was punched late last month but was told it was the school's responsibility because it happened on school property.

She said this was the same response as when the family complained about an earlier attack and she has now approached the Bay of Plenty Times in frustration.

The teenage victim, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in the latest attack on July 26, another student verbally abused her and then punched her in the face. She said she did not know the girl but knew her boyfriend. She described the attack as "pathetic". Her attacker, she said, was stood down.

Last year, she said she was kicked to the ground for no reason and suffered a back injury. No action was taken against the bully.

In 2010, she was punched in the face for being part of a group that laughed at a student. Her attacker in that case "got two days off school but that's something everyone likes so I don't see it as a form of punishment".

The victim said she did not feel safe at school. She had also been bullied on social networking sites, through her cellphone or indirectly through rumours.

"I've been told to go die in a hole and that I'm an ugly mutt, it's horrible."

The teenager's mother was unhappy with the way the school and police had handled the situation. She accepted the school had taken action but said the rules favoured the bullies. She said, in her opinion, there was no discipline at the school and the school needed to be tougher.

Tauranga Girls' College principal Pauline Cowens was asked specific questions about these complaints but would not comment, other than saying the school had a zero-tolerance policy on violence and "an effective discipline policy" which included restorative practices, mediation and peer support.

Otumoetai College principal Dave Randell said principals were put in a difficult position of suspending trouble students or keeping them in school where they continued to disrupt others.

"There is pressure where on one hand, yes we have the power to suspend but the Ministry of Education demands every student under the age of 16 has the right to an education. We do try our best to keep students safe at school and sometimes we have no option but to remove them from the college ... but if we stand them down for three days then they come back and nothing's changed, what good is that going to do?"

- Bay of Plenty Times

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