Campaign to help bullying victims

The Bolt Down On Bullying campaign aims to offer help to the bullied and urges both victim and perpetrator to seek help.

Ibrahim is 17 years old and freely admits to being a bully. "I have to be," he said.

"No one dares talk to me in class. If I see a group of bullies against a boy, I'll definitely be on their side and bully with them, because this way no one can ever bully me, everyone would know I'm powerful," he said.

"Whoever is weak will always be weak."

Yesterday was National Anti-Bullying Day. To highlight the date, a campaign called Bolt Down On Bullying aimed to raise awareness in a country where a word does not even exist for the problem.

Samineh Shaheem, a professor of psychology, teamed up with Jessica Swann, from the radio station Dubai Eye 103.8, to talk about the issue. The problem affects the bullied and the bullies, Ms Shaheem said.

Bullying "has a long-term effect on the child depending on the age, and the long-term effect is not only on the victim, but also on the bully," she said. "I would like to tell the victim: speak up and tell someone, don't be ashamed, don't hide, and make sure you report this offence because it is an offence. I would like to tell the bully that they need to be ashamed, they need to seek help."

She said bullies should try to make friends in a positive way rather than through fear.

Ms Swann said talking about the campaign on the show expanded its reach. "It's really just the beginning, just the tip of the iceberg in the UAE," she said. "There are so many things that aren't yet talked about and they happen."

She added that when people became aware of an issue, "everyone starts talking about it, and once you start talking about it, at that point you can actually start to make a difference in the community".

The Al Nahda National Schools said they have an anti-bullying policy that they hand out to students, parents and teachers. The policy deals with "all kinds of bullying, physical, verbal, emotional, racial, or any type," said Adnan Eissa Abbas, the principal at the boys' campus. "If bullying occurs, though everyone is aware of our policy, we stop it, we follow up the incident, we support the victim and let him see the social counsellor we have in school, take disciplinary actions towards the bully, monitor the situation regularly, and keep a high profile."

More people were starting to acknowledge this behaviour was wrong, but "in a lot of cultures, bullying isn't even understood, there is no word to describe bullying in Arabic or Farsi when you try to explain it to officials," Ms Shaheem said.

"Some people don't understand it, don't understand the psychological manipulation and the emotional damage, that it is not about bruises, it is not about scratches. You may not be able to show the pain that has been inflicted, and that's why it is very abstract.

"I can't imagine how those children in school feel going through all that pain and not being able to name it or describe it and so the kid suffers in silence."

Major Rashed Khalaf al Dhaheri, the criminal affairs manager at the Abu Dhabi community police station, said school bullying cases reach the community police about once a month. He said the prevention of bullying was a shared responsibility between parents, the school and the police.

Ms Shaheem said parents have the biggest responsibility, and suggested they should make sure a bullying policy was in place in a school before they enrol.

If a child was withdrawn or moody and made excuses for not going to school, it may be a sign there were problems.

'The still intimidate me'

Jessica Swann, an anchor at Dubai Eye, a radio programme, was bullied in school.

“You know it’s just not fair, there are those girls who try to befriend me on Facebook and I accept them as my friends, but I can’t help but think if they are still mean. Are they still horrible? And even though I’m in my 30s now, they still intimidate me.

“Just the thought of them is intimidating. No one intimidates me, but they do – they still do,” Ms Swann said in an angry voice. “It really raised some old wounds of the mean girls in school and the bullying that goes on in school, the nastiness that goes on. One thing I didn’t anticipate is the volume of people who have contacted me, and contacted the programme, who are adults still carrying issues with them from the years in school and how they were bullied.

“It just blows my mind how people can be so affected and their social functioning, or more like ‘dysfunctioning’, becomes a way of life for them because of the bullying they went through in their teenage years or when they were even younger.”