Martin Robinson: Lifelong harm of school sadists

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Being bullied and unpopular is a horrible experience. Photo / Thinkstock
Being bullied and unpopular is a horrible experience. Photo / Thinkstock

As part of the Herald campaign against bullying, Martin Robinson explains that the wounds sometimes never heal.

I went to an all-boys boarding school in England, so I know something about bullying and every kind of persecution and cruelty.

Kids who punch, pinch or poke you hard on the arm every time they pass by, who throw shoes at your head and deliberately barge into you, knocking you to the floor.

Sadistic kids who twist your arm up your back until you cry out with pain, grab your hair and twist it, or continually grab your balls. Others scribble on your homework or textbook, and then hide or damage your bicycle.

Some kids continually mock, insult and belittle you, curse you and call you derogatory names. Every time you cross their path they tell you how stupid you are, call you "Box head", or grunt like an ape. If you are skinny they call you "Little Weed" or "Stick Insect".

If you're disabled they call you "Spastic" and they keeping asking, "Why don't you kill yourself?"

Schools are not always how they are meant to be, or how teachers and parents think they are. So much is hidden or else adults turn a blind eye. "Boys will be boys," they say.

Being bullied and unpopular is a horrible experience. Tough-minded children may be able to shrug it off, but more sensitive souls suffer physical and mental torture every minute of every day at school. They dread walking through the school gates.

Many boys at my boarding school were bullied besides my twin brother and me, but I cannot remember even one discussion about bullying. It was a taboo topic, and this silence allowed bullies to thrive.

The worst aspect is the victim's loss of self-confidence and self-esteem under a constant barrage of taunts, put-downs and physical abuse. Victims can feel useless, hollow, just a worm. A few commit suicide or attempt it. They can be scarred for life.

If some boy kicked me, the physical pain soon wore off, but the feeling of helplessness and unfairness did not.

A schoolboy thug has grabbed my glasses. What can I do? If I try to grab them back the glasses will probably break. If I punch the guy he's going to enjoy hurting me back. If I tell him he's behaving like a prick he'll just laugh. Perhaps if I just stand there looking pathetic maybe, just maybe, he will return them.

People say, "Why didn't you tell a teacher or your parents?" The bullied at my school never did that because parents were far away and telling teachers was "sneaking", and you would suffer worse persecution. Bullies had a hundred ways of making your life a misery without physically assaulting you.

We knew that the bullies were capable of far worse than they usually dished out, so what was the point of provoking them by complaining to an adult? No one could be there as a bodyguard every minute of the day and night to protect us the next time we came face to face with the bully or his mates.

In my previous school a boy had thrust a penknife into the knee of another boy. That was the last thing I wanted, being crippled for life by some spotty teenage moron.

The fist or knife of the bully is close, while the teacher, parent, social worker or policeman is far away. How can they protect you from a mad dog living in the same house as you?

If you accuse bullies of anything, they deny it - "I didn't push him, he tripped". Bullies are devious and tell a mate to bash them so they can say, "He hit me first."

We knew the bullies would get away with it 95 per cent of the time. In fact we would probably cop the blame for lying about them or starting it or giving the school a bad name. What's the point of fighting a battle you will lose?

Never underestimate bullies; not all are big and stupid, some are sneaky and smart, slippery as snakes. It's hard to defeat them because they are such expert liars. They can pull the wool over everyone's eyes and butter wouldn't melt in their mouth.

Bullying was normal. You got used to it and put up with it because there was no choice. "Thump the bully," people say. "All bullies are cowards." This is a comforting idea, but dangerous.

Some bullies are cowards but others are evil, and who can tell the difference for sure? Punch them in the face? You might be poking a Rottweiler in the eye with a toothpick.

The day I left high school I breathed a sigh of relief that the bullying would finally stop.

A couple of years later I visited my twin brother who was studying at college and living in a rented farmhouse with some course-mates.

I was so relieved and happy to see him surrounded by friends and having fun. At school he had been picked on and bullied worse than me, but thankfully it was over.

But it wasn't over.

Thirty years later my twin brother told me that at 50 years old he still suffered nightmares about the bullying he had suffered at school. Shivers went up my spine.

My more sensitive brother had suffered much more than I had realised, and I hadn't done much to protect and comfort him. He hadn't said anything to me at the time, but that was no excuse. I had failed him when he had most needed it.

Why didn't I and others help him? I should have made a stand, if only to help my brother. I had been selfish and cowardly - it's something I can never undo or make up for.

Martin Robinson is a freelance writer living in West Auckland.
Email hotchoco7@hotmail.com.

- NZ Herald

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