ACCORDING to Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Kelvin Charles, bullying is defined as continuous harassment over time. In response to queries from Newsday over the case of 13-year-old Rayon Radgman – who had to be hospitalised for an injured hip after reportedly being ambushed by five students in March – Charles demurred.
“Bullying suggests a continuous harassment over time,” he asserted. “The impression that I have gotten, from the reports I’ve seen, suggest it was a one-time incident.”
It shouldn’t matter whether the child was attacked once or several times. What matters, and what defines bullying, is the dynamic in which a vulnerable person is preyed upon. Charles, who is also the Secretary of Education, should know the nature of school bullying is such that it is more about intimidation and less about the methods assailants use to exercise power over their victims. It’s not helpful to quibble over what word should be used to describe Rayon’s ordeal.
Victims of bullying, and those who are trained to recognise it, might more readily recognise the signs presented in this case. An unexplained injury, a failure to report the matter at the earliest opportunity, a fear of backlash, and a fear of being perceived as a tattletale – all are hallmarks.
The shifting sands in relation to the facts in this matter demand a full and proper explanation. Initially it was reported two boys were involved in a fracas outside a school compound in a neighbour’s yard. This fracas reportedly escalated to the point where one child was injured. Both children were from the school but what they were doing on private property is not clear. Subsequent reports however indicated Radgman, a Standard Four student at an Anglican primary school in Tobago East, was ambushed by five fellow students who hit him several times.
The police and social workers need to get to the bottom of these discrepancies. Charles should also satisfy himself that a written report from the principal and school supervisor on this issue is as comprehensive as possible. The teacher who spotted Rayon’s injury should be praised for vigilance. However, it needs to be ascertained how the serious acts of violence described could have happened in such close proximity to the school without being picked up.
At the end of the day, Charles should appreciate that the vast majority of students in TT experience bullying. The 2016 TT School Climate Report produced by the Silver Lining Foundation suggested the rate may be as high a 73 per cent. Rayon suffered serious physical injury, but there is a psychological component to bullying too in terms of damage to self-esteem and trauma, also noted by this report.
These figures suggest we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand. Charles should acknowledge that one blow is bad enough.