I dreaded going to school when I was in Secondary 1, because my seat in class was next to my bully.
He would help himself to my things, cut my books, and eventually started physically hurting me by slamming the drawers shut on my hands as I reached in for my notes. Once, he even punched me in the face.
Being a victim of bullying felt very lonely, especially because I was too young to know that I actually could get help.
I can only imagine how helpless the victim in the recent case, highlighted by Minister of Education Ong Ye Kung, must be feeling, being the target of not one but a whole group of bullies.
So here are four steps you can take if you are a victim of bullying, or if you witness someone getting bullied:
1. Defend yourself, but do not fight back
If you are being physically attacked, block the blows if you can, shout for help and flee from the situation if possible. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but you should NOT be fighting back, especially not physically.
Every Western movie portraying bullying always resolves with the bully being beaten. But schools here have a tough stance on fighting, and it is much more difficult to prove you were the victim when you were also throwing punches.
Same applies if you witness bullying – you can help to separate the bully from the victim, but you should not be physically harming the bully.
Of the 199 responses to a Youth.SG Instagram poll, 81 per cent said they either experienced or witnessed bullying in school.
IMAGE CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/CLARA TOH & ASYIQIN MUSTA'EIN
Also, bullying in tech-savvy Singapore is not confined to physical harm. There's a lot of emotional and even cyber-bullying going on, and resorting to violence will only increase your likelihood of getting in trouble yourself.
2. Collect evidence and find support
This is an important step that is easily forgotten when you're emotionally affected by the bullying you just experienced or witnessed, but will make all the difference in bringing your bully to justice.
Gather evidence of the incident(s). Take down the date and time and document what happened in detail, including what was said by the bully, and what you said in return. Take photos of bruises or your personal items that were damaged. If there are witnesses you can list, even better.
It is also helpful at this stage to get support from others – fellow classmates who might have been victims of this same bully, or friends who you can trust can be a great support when you move to the next step and confront the issue.
If the bullying you witnessed was online, screenshot any evidence you can get.
POSED PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/EDWIN CHAN
3. Escalate the matter to the school authorities
At this stage, some students may choose to confront their bully directly. That was what I did, and laying out all the evidence came as a shock to my bully, who did not even realise he was guilty of bullying.
You can confront your bully if you are certain it will not escalate into violence. Otherwise, go straight to the school authorities.
Provide your teacher with all the evidence of bullying. Go with your friends or fellow victims for additional support.
If your teacher does not act on it, note down when you spoke to them and what you said, then escalate this to teachers with more seniority, such as your level head or head of departments. If that does not work as well, go up to the vice-principal or principal.
If you feel your voice is not strong enough, get a trusted adult to help you raise the complaint to your school. Letters from parents that are backed up with strong evidence are unlikely to be ignored.
4. Last resort
It's tempting to post about the bullying case online, but this should only be done as a last resort and with a lot of caution. When posts on public platforms go viral, there could be a lot of unexpected consequences for all parties involved, including yourself.
Putting such cases online can open up your entire social media to increased scrutiny, especially if the post goes viral, so only use it as a last resort.
POSED PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/EDWIN CHAN
The purpose of doing this should only be to seek other avenues of support, and not revenge. Make sure you remove all identifiers of the bully. Publishing information that identifies the bully is considered doxxing, and will get you in trouble with the law, so only post the general details of your case.
Also, if you really feel the need to go public, use a platform that is likely to get you heard by the masses, such as Facebook and Twitter. It is unlikely for your message to be heard by the relevant people if you post your complaint on TikTok.
Bullying is an unacceptable behaviour, and it is important for us to take a stand against it in a way that does not make us become bullies ourselves. Work with the relevant authorities to improve your situation, and don't take revenge by yourself.
BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/EDWIN CHAN