‘Bullying can take many forms, from name-calling in the corridor to sending abusive text messages. Whatever the method, the aim is the same: to make you feel small, humiliated, degraded, hurt, stupid, ugly, unpopular, weak and worthless. I know this from personal experience.
‘When I was in primary school a group of older girls would torment me on my way home. They would run up behind me and pull my ponytail, grab my satchel and toss it into the air so that my books spilled onto the pavement. I remember a horrible time when they started a whispering campaign, spreading unkind gossip about me. My crime in their eyes was nothing more than being smaller, younger and less able to defend myself.
‘The straw that broke the camel’s back happened one day when I was waiting for the school bus. They grabbed my bag, rummaged through its contents and pulled out my diary. I tried to grab it back but one of the girls restrained me while the others took turns to read it and laugh, before tearing the pages into dozens of small bits and scattering them on the ground.
‘Just before they ran off, the ringleader turned around, her eyes narrowed, and she snarled, ‘If you tell anyone about this, we’ll make your life even more miserable than it is.’ The sad thing was, I believed them. I didn’t even tell my mum because I was so scared. That night I couldn’t sleep. My mind kept racing over everything that was in my diary and whether I’d written anything they could use against me.
‘The next day at school, I saw groups of kids gathered around a notice on a wall, pointing and laughing. As I got closer, I recognised a page from my diary. On it I’d compared my maths teacher to Adolf Hitler. Everyone thought it was hilarious except me. I was mortified and scared. I felt sick. A teacher came over to find out what all the commotion was about. She tore down all the pages of my diary and, when she found out it was me who had written them, I was given a detention. I burst out crying. I didn’t tell the teachers about the girls because I was still so scared of them.
‘For some reason, the bullies suddenly stopped picking on me. Perhaps they found a younger, even more vulnerable victim. Perhaps they got bored. Perhaps they grew up. But, because of the experience, I became much more clued up on how to defend myself.
‘So what would be my advice to those of you being bullied? It’s not easy, I should know. I was torn between fighting back, ignoring it or buddying up with the bullies as a means of protection. In the end, though, the important thing to remember is that it’s not your fault. If you are being bullied, tell a kind teacher and your parents so that action can be taken. Never suffer in silence. The abuse will only stop if someone bigger and scarier than the bully himself stands in their way. I certainly regret not telling anyone sooner.
‘It’s also important not to let bullying ruin your life. Take heart from the likes of actor Tom Cruise, who was singled out by his classmates for being dyslexic, and Kate Winslet, who was spitefully called ‘blubber’ when she piled on the puppy fat as a teenager. Cruise reckons the experience toughened him up for the cut-throat world of Hollywood, while the Titanic star took great delight in showing her bullies ‘look at where I am’ as she walked the red carpet at the Grammy Awards.
‘However, I would urge schools to do more to stamp out bullying. For example, Dubai American Academy has a team of trained counsellors who both console the victim and confront the bully. My friends who attend the school say this works well. I was impressed to learn that in the UK, all schools must have an anti-bullying policy. There, it’s the law, but that’s not the case here in the UAE. This must change.’