Age no ex­cuse for bul­lies’ cru­elty

Waikato Times - - Comment & Opinion - ROSE­MARY McLEOD

Here’s the prob­lem . . . 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.

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 in 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 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.

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