By: Rob Benn-Frenette, O.N.B
Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director, BullyingCanada
What were you doing in 2005? I can easily recall what I was trying to accomplish. I was a grade 9 student at Bathurst High School (New Brunswick) at the time, trying to get the courage to do something that no one ever thought I would do – come forward as a sixteen-year-old teenager who endured years of bullying. Coming forward to try and accomplish one task, prevent bullying by the year 2008; the year I graduated from High School. I hoped I could prevent other bullied kids from being silenced about the dark thoughts, the abuse and the pain they were enduring. The same thoughts, abuse, and the pain I was enduring.
I was kicked, spit on, called names because of the way I walked. I was given a hurtful nickname that unfortunately I will remember for the rest of my life.
Prior to going public about my abuse, I wrote an anonymous letter to the editor of my local newspaper The Northern Light. That letter turned in to a column about bullying written by the newspaper’s editor. His column was entitled “Even in so-called enlightened times, bullying is still a problem.” That headline spoke volumes to me, and it still does today, but for a different reason.
I can clearly remember the nightmares, the night sweats, the headaches, not being able to do my homework because I had to pay more attention to what might happen to me that day. Was I going to get thrown down the stairs? Tripped? Shoved? Kicked? How could I concentrate on learning while trying to prevent another sleepless night? I remember two girls who I went to school with, two sisters who publicly never were identified… how they burnt the back of my neck on the way to school, and how unfortunately no punishment could be handed out because a) no one would say a word on what they witnessed in fear that they would be the next target and b) the location the bullying happened on school bus. The bus driver didn’t see the incident happen and the bus did not have a camera.
In the first 10 years after launching BullyingCanada, bullying changed dramatically. Cyberbullying has become pervasive. The way bullying is reported has changed, and the way schools handle bullying has changed. Most importantly, youth hopefully know they now have a voice, and can speak out and get bullying support when they need it most. Since 2006, I’ve been able to help grow a national anti-bullying charity, share my story about how a student with cerebral palsy was bullied, and most importantly, on how I can now help other youths and their families get the support they need.
School bullying policies have come and gone over the years. Some have helped to prevent other children from enduring what I did. Newer policies that I lobbied for provide something that was not there when I was in school – more support for bullied kids, their teachers, and information on the new forms of bullying.
I’ve been recognized for my tireless work, ranging from my first award – the Chaleur Youth Outstanding Award – given to me during an award ceremony offered by the Bathurst Youth Centre. Since then, I received a Community Leader Award and in 2011, at the age of 21, I received the Order of New Brunswick. At that time, I was the youngest New Brunswicker to receive this honour since its creation.
Today, I continue to work towards providing a 24/7/365 support service, and advocating for more community-based support networks, laws, and policies to help reduce bullying.
To the educators who did all they could with the resources they had when I was in school, thank you. To the media, especially The Northern Light and MAX 104.9 FM (formally CKBC), thank you for helping tell my story. To the national media then and now, thank you for helping get my message out, coast to coast to coast.
To any child or teen who is afraid of coming forward to tell someone, I have a very important message to you, your parents and family: tell someone. Tell a teacher, a guidance counsellor, a school official, a coach, your parents. You do not need to live in silence and endure your pain alone.
And I urge you to use BullyingCanada as a resource. Any child or teenager or their family can reach out to BullyingCanada 24/7 for support, information and resources by telephone at: 877-352-4497, or by email: [email protected] We will stand by you until your bullying stops, and there are resources put in place for you to heal, because no child should have to live through the horrors of bullying that I did.