Abuse drives teen to quit school

HOME SWEET HOME: Jocelyn Giles with daughter Georgia Giles-Petrie who feels too intimidated to return to school after being bullied by text message.
HOME SWEET HOME: Jocelyn Giles with daughter Georgia Giles-Petrie who feels too intimidated to return to school after being bullied by text message.

A West Coast teenager says she was forced out of school by text-message bullying and intimidation.

Georgia Giles-Petrie, 15, and her mother, Jocelyn Giles, moved to Westport from Nelson in April last year to join her father Mike Petrie, who had taken a job on the Coast.

Georgia said within months she became the victim of intimidation, physical bullying and abusive text messages from girls at Buller High School.

The text abuse came to a head in September, when Georgia said she received 15 in one day including such threats as "Don't bother coming back to school if you want your face intact" and "Sleep away from the window tonight, just as a little warning".

Unable to cope, Georgia said she resorted to truancy until the school contacted her parents about her poor attendance.

"I was in the A stream in Nelson and when I came here I dropped down to the C stream," said Georgia, who was now enrolled with the Correspondence School.

"I used to want to go to school and hang with my mates and learn, but now I don't want to go anywhere near the place.

"I just couldn't handle it, and [was] keeping it all to myself."

Buller High School arranged a meeting between Georgia and one of the bullies to resolve the problem, but she still did not feel she could return to school.

Principal Sheila Grainger said following the meeting "both sets of parents agreed the matter had been dealt with fairly and appropriately".

Pupils could have cellphones, but were not allowed to use them during school time.

There were "multiple avenues" for pupils to talk to staff if they were being bullied and surveys showed the school compared well with others in the way it dealt with the problem, Grainger said.

Andrew Cowie, peer mediation co-ordinator for the Cool Schools scheme in the South Island, said text bullying could force children out of schools.

"I've been to a couple of secondary schools where a student has made a deliberate effort to leave, and both cases have been with girls."

Children often kept the problem from their parents, especially when it came to text or cyber-bullying.

"Typically, the bullying is more hidden because parents cannot see any evidence of it. It's like these huge infernos can be created, but no parents or teachers can see the smoke."

Parents should be aware how much time their children were spending on computers or text messaging, Cowie said.

Schools could help by bringing bullies and victims face-to-face in mediation so "they know there's a real person and real consequences".

The Press