We seem loath to call bullying what it is – deliberate cruelty
You’d have to dig deep into your psyche’s muck and slime before sinking to the level of mocking a disabled person for any reason, and I don’t buy the explanation that teenage girls would do this merely to win merit points online. They do it because they think it’s OK.
A gang of teenage girls at Wellington East Girls’ College tormented a harmless girl with Down syndrome for months before someone in their peer group finally alerted the school and the disabled girl’s parents, we’re told. That means we’re asked to believe that many young people saw degrading images of Holly Reed on Facebook and SnapChat and thought – what? That they were funny? That the girls who bullied her were clever or admirable? That cruelty to the defenceless is legitimate amusement? Or were at least some of them ashamed and fearful – fearful, that is, because bullies might attack them violently too if they reported what was going on?
The nasty girls pretended to befriend 15-year-old Holly. It’s called grooming, and it’s easy to do, I imagine, with someone innocent and incapable of nastiness, but it was designed to win her trust only with the intention to humiliate her. Images of Holly licking the ground when they told her to, or likewise flashing her breasts, were their idea of a good day’s work.
‘‘It breaks your heart seeing things like that,’’ says Holly’s father, Michael Reed. It would break anyone’s heart, not just a father’s.
Even an attempt at explanation sells such deliberate cruelty short. But here’s the problem: too few people are prepared to call it what it is. We hesitate to admit that some things are wicked, as if we’re embarrassed to draw the line at anything, and scramble to find an excuse for bad behaviour rather than confront it.
Whatever you can get away with becomes acceptable in that weak framework, and cruelty hilarious. Welcome to the future.
Holly’s father says that, at a meeting held with some of the students involved, only one girl admitted they had done anything wrong. Miraculously, then, one of them had a conscience. But only one. ‘‘The [general] attitude of the girls was that, ‘We’re just teenagers, it’s the dumb s… that we do,’’ he said.
Actually, your age doesn’t make you a bad person. Where would they get that idea? Age alone is no excuse for anything.
What I’m getting from this report is that the girls felt entitled to act out any degrading ideas that came into their heads, and that makes me wonder, of course, about their parents.
Have they raised their daughters to think it’s smart to pick on anyone with a point of difference, like skin colour or disability? Have they taught them to admire bullying? Have they instilled in them respect for themselves and other people? And were they at the meeting Mr Reed describes?
You can’t blame parents entirely, but if they don’t at least try to instil values in their kids, who will? Secondary school is too late.
Principal Sally Haughton says the school takes the bullying ‘‘very seriously’’ but [she] is not sure how many students were involved. It was too early to say what the consequences would be for the [known] students, she said on the weekend.
It’s not Haughton’s fault that she sounded lame. Nobody wants to front for a nasty business like this, or say the wrong thing for fear of saying nothing.
But I hope that having the wronged family meet with some bullies won’t be thought of as a solution. The Reeds could easily have left the meeting feeling worse than they did before, with the bullies seemingly rewarded for their cockiness and covering up for others. In the meantime, what will the outcome be for Holly, the daughter her parents expected would be safe at school?
We’re told now that police are involved. That’s good.
School bullies aren’t a new invention. I remember an older girl who was different (we were told she was ‘‘spastic’’) and regularly taunted by her classmates. Nobody reported it because teachers were never any help in such matters; it was dog eat dog in the playground. But she passed school certificate, which was more than many of her tormentors did, and I was glad.
You can never be sure of outcomes, and there is always the hope of justice. Take Gareth Morgan’s incessant attacks on cats, including the prime minister’s dead pet. They’ve done him no good. However many millions he pumps into his egotistical political party, whatever brainwave he has next, TOP will always be remembered for his wish to kill other people’s pets.
Cruelty may feel like fun, but it wins no prizes.
What I'm getting from this report is that the girls felt entitled to act out any degrading ideas that came into their heads, and that makes me wonder, of course, about their parents.
Holly Reed, 15, pictured with her dog, has been the victim of bullying at Wellington East Girls’ College.