Kelsey was beaten, abused and threatened at school on a daily basis, and he was reaching breaking point.
“I’m sensitive and aggressive … it’s like mixing dangerous chemicals together. It’s just going to explode,” the 14-year-old Queensland student said.
“Since early primary school I’ve been picked on, and after a while you just grow tired of it.”
In desperation, Kelsey’s parents reached out to an ABC production team that proposed a controversial idea: give bullied kids hidden cameras in bags so they could film their tormentors and then prove to the school hierarchy what was going on.
The results have been turned into a new documentary, Bullied, which is presented by swimming champion Ian Thorpe and is about to air on the ABC.
Kelsey’s footage showed a string of abuses, physical threats and violence. One student tried to head-butt him and another hit him over the head.
Kelsey also received abusive texts even when he wasn’t at school, including one that read: “Why don’t u go kill/harm ur self.”
The two-part documentary raises the question of just how aware schools are of the bullying that’s taking place, and how equipped they are to respond.
‘The school didn’t know what to do.’
Kelsey’s dad Rick told the Bullied program he had raised his concerns with the school, but they were out of ideas for how to stop the cycle of abuse.
The first response had been to radically reduce Kelsey’s class time to just a couple of classes a day, but the bullying continued.
“I met with the head of year, for Year 9, who sat in front of me and told me that he’s at a loss and doesn’t know how to deal with it and doesn’t know how to fix the problem and doesn’t know where to go to from here,” he told the program.
For Kelsey, things were getting dire and he did not know who to turn to.
“I don’t really trust anyone, because I know trust just gets you stabbed in the back,” he said.
“Even though I ignore it, it does hit deep down, really.
“If you continuously poke a bear with a stick, at first it won’t care but in the end it’s just going to end up hurting. Either it hurts you, or you hurt it.”
So what did the Bullied program learn?
In filming the documentary, Thorpe said he discovered not only how widespread the issue of bullying was, but also how varied the school responses could be.
“Some schools are handling this better than others,” Thorpe told ABC News Breakfast.
“When we go to the schools and we explain to them this is what we’re doing, the reaction is either, ‘Why is it at my school that you’re doing this?’ [or] the other one is, ‘If a student had to go to this length to try and get a problem resolved, obviously we’re not getting it right.’
“I like the latter. That’s something that you can work on.”
Professor Marilyn Campbell from Queensland University of Technology’s faculty of education told ABC News Breakfast school responses could including anything from a disciplinary approach (suspending bullies), to a counselling approach (to learn why bullies acted out), to mediation between bullies and victims.
In Kelsey’s case, the school watched the footage taken from the hidden cameras and allowed Thorpe and Professor Campbell to run a workshop with students.
The goal was to make the kids themselves aware of the problem and hopefully instigate a cultural change in the school. In Kelsey’s case, the approach showed positive results.
How aware of bullying are schools?
Professor Campbell said it varied from school to school, but she “constantly” heard from people involved that they weren’t aware of how widespread the bullying was.