Bullying is a subject that refuses to go away, it happens in schools, it happens in work, social clubs, pubs — anywhere people regularly meet.
Benalla’s Emma Harrington is a bullying survivor and wants to share her story to let others know there is light at the end of the tunnel and, with the right approach, things can get better.
For Emma the bullying started in Year 7 when she first started senior school at Galen Catholic College in Wangaratta.
‘‘I was very excited and nervous to start high school, but I had no idea what I was really in for,’’ Emma said.
‘‘I would be pushed into puddles and mud while walking to class. I would hear other kids walk past and make gagging and vomit noises. I would be told regularly to ‘just end yourself’ and that the world would be a better place without me.
‘‘On my 13th birthday I was picked up by a group of students and locked in the school’s rubbish skip. I was all alone and had to sit in the rubbish for hours smelling and crying.
‘‘I could hear other students walk past at lunch time and my sobbing made them laugh louder.
‘‘It wasn’t until the end of school at 4pm that the gardener opened the lid and began to yell at me for being in there.
‘‘I had to get out and walked home alone, smelling of rubbish.
‘‘Every night I would pray to Jesus that in the morning I would wake up pretty and liked.’’
Emma said at that stage in her life she hated herself and the words of the bullies would run through her mind all day, every day.
They called her worthless, ugly, fat and regularly said she should kill herself.
Then things went from bad to worse and Emma started to self-harm.
‘‘I wished that one day I would just stop breathing,’’ Emma said. ‘‘I felt like nobody could help, like there was nobody who could stop this from happening.
‘‘This is when the cyberbullying began, which was even worse.
‘‘Before bed I’d receive texts, emails, messenger and Instagram messages.
‘‘It was relentless. The kids were like wild, hungry dogs and I was the piece of meat.
‘‘When I turned my phone on in the morning it would be full of horrible notifications.’’
Emma tried several tactics to avoid these messages, one of which was to block the bullies, however they would simply create a new account and continue the harassment.
‘‘The first thing I would do in the morning was to rinse the dried blood off my wrists and forearms, and wash the tears from my face,’’ she said.
‘‘I would get dressed and walk to school, making sure I was just on time because if I arrived early I was targeted by the bullies.
‘‘One day we had food-tech, one of my favourite classes. I left the room to clean the bench.
‘‘The teacher made two boys work with me as no-one else wanted to.
‘‘When I got back into class they were offering me money to drink my water. I refused.
‘‘When they left the room I had a drink of it without thinking.
‘‘They came back in and started howling with laughter like hyenas.
‘‘I didn’t know why, but was then told by a girl that one had put the water in his mouth, gargled it and spat it back into the glass.
‘‘I was mortified. I was so embarrassed, I was miserable. Then as I went to collect my laptop from my locker I was pushed from behind.
‘‘I fell to the floor and the laptop smashed. The other kids laughed and told me they wished it was my face that had smashed.
‘‘Every night I would cry myself to sleep. I prayed every day with Mum hoping things would get better.
‘‘By the end of Year 8 I would just have to walk in the street for the other kids to laugh at me, and about me.’’
That January things got worse again as local kids started to spread more and more rumours about Emma.
‘‘Those rumours were so bad that I refused to even start Year 9,’’ Emma said.
‘‘I begged Mum, I pleaded and cried and asked her to home school me.
‘‘I asked her to please do something, anything to help me.’’
At her wits’ end Brigid, Emma’s mother, took the only step she felt she could and arranged for her to change schools.
‘‘All the way through Year 7 I knew something wasn’t right,’’ Brigid said.
‘‘She was crying every night. But I thought it was just because Year 7 is a difficult year.
‘‘I didn’t hear about the full extent of the bullying until Year 9 when she asked to be home schooled.
‘‘When we did end up telling the school they said they didn’t know about the bullying.
‘‘But her step-father had been in twice to let them know, and complaints were made.
‘‘I don’t think they realised how bad it was. One of the teachers asked me to convince her to return for a couple of weeks, promising things would be better.
‘‘By that stage we had already made the decision to move her and for the first time in years she was excited to get to school.’’
That school was Wangaratta High and things started to get better for Emma not long after transferring.
‘‘As soon as I got to that school it was obvious that I had anger issues and was hurting, so they arranged for me to see the school councillor,’’ Emma said.
‘‘I was shown who to talk to, and where to go to seek help. After that the bullying started to slow down.
‘‘Not because I had changed schools, but because I had strategies to address the problem. I had people I could talk to, people who could help.
‘‘During the bullying I made several suicide attempts and now have permanent scars on my wrists.
‘‘I had become interested in drugs as I wanted a way to stop the pain, but that caused many more problems.’’
Emma wants people living in a similar situation to know that drugs and self-harm are not the ways to address bullying.
‘‘If it was not for my mother, her prayers and the school councillors I would not be here today and would not be in a position to help others,’’ Emma said.
‘‘If you are being bullied, please tell your parents, tell your principal, even tell the police.
‘‘Somebody will be able to help, and it will eventually stop.
‘‘Bullying has to be stopped.’’
Emma is now in a much happier place and will begin studying nursing at Goulburn Ovens Institute of TAFE in Wangaratta this year.
Brigid said she was proud that Emma wanted to tell her story in order to help others.
‘‘Some kids just want to push things under the carpet,’’ Brigid said.
‘‘But it’s better to talk about it and to know there are other kids who survived bullying, and survived self-harm.’’
Anyone who meets Emma today would see a happy person living a fulfilling life, and would have no idea what she has been through.
She is a great example that there are ways to overcome bullying, and her story offers hope to those who are in a similar situation and simply don’t know what to do.
The first step is to realise that you are not alone and to ask for help.
●If you, a relative or a friend are experiencing bullying please bear in mind that there is help available via Kids Helpline on 1800551800, or Lifeline on 131114.