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‘School bullies in France must get more help as well as victims’

A recent law change, which can force bullies to change school, has been welcomed but more support still needed, says anti-bullying charity

Bullies can now be expelled, whereas before it was usually a bullied child who ended up changing schools Pic: Daisy Daisy /Shutterstock

Stricter rules on school bullying, which is thought to affect one child in 10, are welcome but more help is needed for victims - and the bullies, the president of an anti-bullying charity says.

Bullies can now be forced to change schools, whereas before it was usually a bullied child who ended up changing if their treatment became unbearable.

More training for staff and parent governors, as well as questionnaires for pupils to fill in to help identify victims, have also been announced.

Read more: How France plans to tackle school bullying

Cases of suicide due to bullying

There have been several cases of suicide over bullying. A recent one involved a 15-year-old called Nicolas, in Poissy, Yvelines, whose parents had raised concerns with his school a year earlier. 

They subsequently complained to the education authorities of a slow response, only to receive a stern letter about their “unacceptable” attitude.

Bullying is now a crime

Since last year, severe bullying is now a délit – a medium-severity crime – punishable with fines and prison, especially where harm to the victim’s mental or physical health is found.  

As soon as intentional and repeated behaviour of a child, from age three up, is a risk to the safety or health of another, the school head must now take steps, together with the teachers and the bully’s parents, to stop this, if necessary by applying for expulsion. 

There must also be follow-up educational sessions with the bully. 

Read more: French MP: why I fast-tracked law to combat bullying in schools

‘We must support the bully and the victim’

Hugo Martinez, who set up anti-bullying charity Hugo after being bullied himself, said: “The message has got out that if there is a problem, they must speak to an adult to get help.

“The problem is that we adults have not been up to the job. 

“We’ve seen it in the latest cases of suicide that, unlike in the past, the victims had already spoken about it.”

Photo: Hugo Martinez, who set up anti-bullying charity Hugo after being bullied himself; Credit: Will Ch

He said a questionnaire is unlikely to help but the decree permitting expulsion of the bully “is a very good thing”, as is the law making bullying a crime. 

“However, there must also be real support for both the bully and the victim,” he said. 

“It could work as a reimbursed programme via the health system, with psychologists and nutritionists – because often it is linked to eating disorders – or there could be a helpline that you call and then a team is put in place.”

He said existing helplines (3020 for school bullying, 3018 for online bullying) offer just one-off listening, with, at most, a letter sent to the school. 

Mr Martinez said so-called ‘cyber’ bullying is just an extension of the normal kind and it is not useful to dissociate them. 

Read more: French MPs back social media age restrictions for teenagers

Bully victims can rebuild their lives

Most of the time, it is all based on a person’s perceived ‘difference’, but it can be something as petty as a case where a young person wore a Mickey Mouse Covid mask, he said. 

“My message for young people who might read The Connexion is that you must speak up, because you won’t be able to fight against it alone. 

“Also, I know they’re going through a difficult time but it’s only temporary: there’s light at the end of the tunnel and life can have beautiful things in store.

“They can rebuild their lives and, for example, fulfil themselves in artistic, cultural or sporting activities.

“As for parents, they should be alert to the slightest change in behaviour and attitude. They should worry about it and perhaps inform themselves at the school gate, by speaking to teachers and other parents.” 

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