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Tuesday, March 3, 1998 Published at 21:09 GMT


What makes one child a bully and another a victim ?
image: [ Thousands of children all over Britain are bullied, usually at school ]
Thousands of children all over Britain are bullied, usually at school

The gang who tormented Kelly Yeomans probably never intended her to die.

But what is it that drives a group of youngsters to make someone's life a misery? And are some children more vulnerable to being "victims" than others?

Kelly spent months enduring "fatty" taunts, was subjected to practical jokes and pelted with eggs, margarine, cakes and even stones.

[ image: Dozens of people left flowers outside Kelly's home after her death]
Dozens of people left flowers outside Kelly's home after her death
Hurt and anger

Pauline Hasler, director of the Anti-Bullying Campaign, says: "Some bullies are horrible because of their own inadequacies and frustration.

"They take their hurt and anger out on another human being. A bully is fully aware when they pick their victims that they will not fight back."

She says the reasons for victimisation are numerous: "It could be their weight, race, hair colour, anything. Sometimes it is actually down to jealousy.

"If you tell someone they are fat or ugly enough times they will begin to believe it, which often leads to anorexia and bulimia."

The helpline of the Anti-Bullying Campaign receives 16,000 calls a year. Last year, 10 British youngsters committed suicide because of bullying.

Safety in numbers

According to Ms Hasler, bullying "is usually a gang activity, rarely one-on-one. Bullies get safety in numbers."

She says the perpetrators are often the products of dysfunctional families and their behaviour may mimick their father, mother or elder siblings.

Ms Hasler supports the decision to prosecute Kelly Yeomans' tormentors and says: "It's about time the law took a more serious view. Some children are fully aware of what they are doing. They are getting off on a high on what is unacceptable."

The victims

Alan Mclean, principal educational psychologist with Glasgow City Council, conducted a survey of schools in the Strathclyde area in 1995 and found bullying was "endemic" in the area.

According to Dr Mclean, becoming a victim of bullying is a "lottery" but he says there are three main factors:

  • Isolation: introverted, shy or "self-contained" loners are more vulnerable.
  • Being Different: this includes ethnic minorities, people with ginger hair, glasses, acne, pronounced accents, weight problems or especially high or low IQs.
  • Soft Targets: bullies often spot vulnerable targets by their lack of assertiveness. This is often shown by under-reactions or over-reactions, such as crying.
He found that in only 14% of cases did the intervention of teachers or parents persuade them to stop.

But in 75% of cases, bullies stopped because they "became more aware of the effect their behaviour was having and were able to put themselves in the victim's position."

[ image: Kelly Yeomans was found dead at her home in Derby]
Kelly Yeomans was found dead at her home in Derby
The bullies

But Dr Mclean says the typecast portrayal of a bully as big, dim and oafish was inaccurate and simplistic.

The ring-leaders of the gangs of bullies others "are often very bright and can be very powerful, manipulative and charismatic individuals. They often end up as leaders of industry and government," he says. Gang members, however, are often "dragged along ... under peer group pressure and are often bullied themselves."

The intimidation

Vicky Wood, who runs a counselling and information service in Leicester called Open Door, says that bullying occurs not only in schools, but children's homes and among neighbours as well. It can take the form of name-calling, physical attacks, offensive graffiti, poison pen letters and exclusion from peer groups.

Victims often have dinner money or shoes stolen, a form of extortion known as "taxing".

The victims exhibit symptoms ranging from truancy, running away from home, drug or solvent addiction and even attempted suicide.

Ms Wood says bullying has always been around but she refuses to believe that it is part of human nature and says: "Once adults start behaving properly and showing better examples to their children then we will begin to see an end to bullying."

Anti Bullying Campaign
Advice line: 0171 378 1446 (Monday-Friday 09.30-16.00)
Fax: 0171 378 8374


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03 Mar 98 | UK
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  Internet Links

Bullying and the bullied child - Family & Children Services, W.Australia

Bully Beware - Tips and strategies to fight bullying

Bullying: what every parent should know - Scotland Online

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