Thoughts on Bullying
This blog is in response to the Priti Patel bullying scandal that has swept through UK news recently. I’m not a politician and won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the situation – like any other member of the public, the view I have has been formed of what I’ve read and heard from the news and social media. What I do know the intricacies of, however, is what it is to experience bullying and its fallout. I will link resources throughout and below to provide further information on the story.
It has been alleged that Home Secretary Priti Patel has engaged in bullying behaviour towards officials and civil servants in the Home Office. An official investigation and report gives detailed evidence for this, culminating in a statement that she broke Ministerial Code, or, in layman’s terms, that she did not meet the professional standards set for her role.
While I obviously cannot pass comment on what she has or has not done, I know that an accusation of bullying should always be taken seriously. I also know that if I was accused of breaking the professional standards for my own job in such a serious way, then I would probably not be allowed to remain in post while it was under investigation.
I was bullied. Despite a love of learning, strong bonds with my teachers and some friendships to be treasured, from the ages of seven to eleven, I usually dreaded going to school. I lived in fear of people in my class. I couldn’t understand why I was a target, why they could turn on a sixpence and go from happy, laughing children to ones who took pleasure in wearing me down, tormenting me or making me look stupid.
The bullying I experienced ebbed and flowed. It wasn’t always there: there would be an intense few months, and then it would die away for a while, leaving me questioning every sentence and analysing it for the barbs and dual-meanings that could cut me to the quick.
I don’t think it was ever witnessed by my teachers. If it had been, I want to think that it would have been dealt with differently. But just because they didn’t see it, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.
A number of MPs have spoken out in support of Ms Patel, stating that they have never experienced the behaviour outlined in the report. They have only seen a professional woman, who couldn’t possibly be deemed a bully.
The people who bullied me didn’t look like bullies. Even when they were engaging in some of their bullying behaviours, it probably looked like a table of children having a laugh, maybe messing around a bit and avoiding work for a few minutes. Except one of them wasn’t laughing. One was close to tears, humiliated and wanting to disappear. She didn’t think she would be believed, because sometimes, just sometimes, it was just laughing and joking and she could be part of it too. Even though it could (and did) change in a heartbeat, she thought that because the smiles had been seen, the feelings of being bullied wouldn’t matter.
Our Prime Minister has wholeheartedly backed Ms Patel, which sends out a clear message: the important voice here is that of the alleged bully, not those she may have bullied.
I don’t think this is acceptable.
What is this telling those who may be being bullied in their workplace? That if their bully is in a position of seniority, their word and position will matter more? That their bully will be supported, even when presented with evidence of their behaviour?
Let me alter the situation slightly, rewrite it to allow a different viewpoint.
A number of children in a class report being bullied by one individual. The individual is the top of the class, the smartest child who works hard and is well-liked by several teachers. When the report of bullying is made, it is investigated – evidence is collated that exemplifies bullying under the school’s definition. But teachers begin to rally around the accused bully. “She’s never given me any reason to believe she’s a bully,” they say. “I’ve only ever seen her be helpful and kind to others. She speaks her mind and is focused on her work, directing others to get things done, but she isn’t a bully.”
Your child is one who is being bullied. They come home every night afraid to return. Their confidence is slowly chipped away, their work gets worse and they are terrified of being put in a group with this girl. You call the school, hopeful that the issue will be dealt with. You know from other parents that your child is not the only one. You are put through to the headteacher.
He tells you that the ‘bully’ isn’t a bully at all, the reports and evidence are meaningless and there will be no consequences.
If this doesn’t make you angry, you’re not paying attention (to quote the commonly-used phrase.)
It’s true that Ms Patel has a released an ‘apology’ of sorts in relation to the allegations made against her. I’ve watched the footage, and as a formerly-bullied individual myself, it made me deeply uncomfortable. Her words weren’t about those she affected, they were all about her. She made excuses for how she acted, stating that work pressures and lack of support could have been to blame. And maybe the worst, she said that concerns weren’t raised with her over her behaviour: she didn’t know she was upsetting people.
Those who are bullied don’t just approach their bullies to tell them they’re upset. The very nature of bullying wears one down to a state where you won’t look for help, and certainly not from the very person doing the bullying. And the bully knows this – it gives them power.
It’s common enough to say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and there are a plethora of other Pinterest-worthy quotes to suggest we should be grateful for our challenges for turning us into better people. But I refuse to be grateful for being bullied. It stole parts of me I will never get back. It shaped the adolescent I was and the young woman I am. I don’t doubt it contributed to my anxiety being what it is.
I don’t think it’s okay for the voice of a bully, proven or accused, to be allowed to continue in a position of power that gives responsibility for the safety of people in the United Kingdom. Being bullied does not make you feel safe. Being bullied leaves you feeling vulnerable, bruised and alone, which is only made worse by not being believed. And when the most powerful man in the country speaks out in support of the accused, that’s a clear signal that you’re not being believed.
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/nov/20/priti-patel-bullying-inquiry-why-was-it-held-and-what-did-it-find – The Guardian, Priti Patel bullying inquiry: why was it held and what did it find?
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-55015493 – BBC, Priti Patel was warned to treat staff with respect, says former official
https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/nov/23/boris-johnson-no-place-for-bullying-claim-priti-patel – The Guardian, Boris Johnson under fire over ‘no place for bullying’ claim
https://news.sky.com/story/priti-patel-bullying-allegations-what-were-the-claims-against-the-home-secretary-12137076 – Sky News, Priti Patel bullying allegations: What were the claims against the home secretary?