“They’d spit at me, take my glasses off and record it, thinking it was funny then send it round different group chats or post it on their Snapchat stories.”
This is Abigail’s story – she’s a 17-year-old college student from Manchester, who dreams of becoming a primary school teacher.
She was bullied throughout secondary school and says she had to move several times to escape.
A survey by youth charity Ditch the Label suggests a quarter of 12-18 year olds in the UK have been bullied.
They noted an increase of videos of young people being attacked appearing online, so asked respondents whether they would share them.
Nearly half of the 13,000 people surveyed said they wouldn’t.
“There’s been a few times I was attacked. Once, I was on my lunch break and being followed around the courtyard,” Abigail says.
“A girl grabbed me and pulled my hair and there was a girl recording it and it got to the point where I was dragged to the floor and kicked, basically I was jumped.”
The survey also asked young people why they thought they were being bullied – with half saying it was because of their looks.
“It was very much about my weight, the fact I had a gap in my teeth and my chin,” Abigail says.
“Since then I’ve lost a lot of weight and got braces so I don’t have a gap, it’s made me change the way I look.
“It’s just not very nice when someone’s calling you out because of the way you look, it hits home a bit more for me.”
The research, which was completed by February 2020, didn’t include the coronavirus lockdowns.
It found the amount of victims had increased by 25% compared to 2019, with a quarter of those bullied saying they’d received physical or online attacks.
Rose is 14 and wants to work in acting or law when she’s older. She’s been the victim of racist bullying online and at school.
“Because I’m mixed race it made me feel really alienated and isolated,” she says.
“I would go to ballet and the girls would tease me and say ‘you don’t look like a ballerina because ballerinas aren’t dark, they’re all light skinned’.
“And when you have your hair up in a ballet bun and it doesn’t go back into a sleek one because your hair texture is different, it’s pointed out constantly.”
Rose thinks more education is needed in schools about different cultures.
“We’ve made a bigger deal of things like Black History Month and having anti-bullying ambassadors, really educating people,” she says.
“My school is predominantly white and there isn’t a single black teacher or a person of a colour teaching in my school, so as much as they can sympathise, they can’t empathise.”
Two in five of those who were bullied told Ditch the Label it had a significant or extreme impact on their mental health
“When it was at its worst, I found it really hard to focus on anything else,” Rose says.
“With social media becoming a thing, it was constant because I would go to school and be bullied, then I would come home and I would be bullied online.
“I saw my school work slip, my confidence in myself and I definitely struggled a lot.”
‘I did stuff differently to the other boys’
Another of the survey’s key findings was that a third of respondents said they were bullied because of their hobbies and interests.
“I was different because of having a medical condition, which meant I couldn’t do contact sports that the typical boys would do like football or rugby,” 17-year-old Josh says.
“I did musical theatre and acting, so I was always picked on for that and bullied for it because I did stuff differently to the other boys.”
Josh, who dreams of working in event management, says he received a lot of homophobic comments in person and online.
“It was constant, non-stop,” he says.
“I had physical abuse, emotional abuse and verbal abuse – it was just horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, I had my items destroyed and it wasn’t just boys – a girl slapped me round the face.”
‘The worry of getting the bus’
While the survey took place pre-corona, Josh and Abigail have different views on how lockdown’s affected bullying.
“[Lockdown] sort of protected me because even though online was still really bad, no-one was near me physically so I couldn’t get injured or hurt,” Abigail says.
“I also didn’t have the worry of getting the bus to and from college as some of the girls got on that bus so it made things a lot easier.”
Josh adds: “For teenagers [in lockdown] bullying can hugely affect them, especially if they don’t want to talk to their parents or they’ve got no-one to talk to.
“I think lockdown could have huge repercussions on their mental health and if I was still at high school I wouldn’t have liked to have been locked down, because I wouldn’t have teachers to talk to or anyone unless I was referred for counselling and most teenagers get refused from that.”
Liam Hackett, who is the founder of Ditch the Label, says he is “concerned that cases of bullying have continued to grow and manifest online throughout the pandemic” and that the charity has been “inundated” with requests for help from young people who experienced cyber bullying during lockdown.
“This report makes it pertinently clear that young people are struggling with their mental health as a result of growing pressures, bullying and loneliness,” he adds.
Advice from NSPCC if you’re being bullied
- Find a trusted adult to go to whether you’re being bullied online or in person – could be a teacher or parent
- Don’t take on bullies alone or retaliate, it might get you in trouble
- Avoid situations of conflict by staying with friends and not travelling alone
- Report people who are abusing you on social media and take time away if it’s affecting you
- Look after your mental health – go outside, read a book, listen to music or meet up with a friend
More advice can be found here.