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There is real danger in harassment at school in France

Emilie Monk's tale is a warning to every parent

Young and bright, Emilie Monk suffered bullying at school that was so intense that, almost two years after leaving, at the age of 17, she took her own life.

Her parents found the start of her autobiographical novel, in which she tried to make sense of it all, and have published it to alert parents, teachers and politicians to the devastating consequences of verbal harassment.

It reveals how being ‘different’ puts a target on your back and can make life a living hell. That can be someone who is kind and sensitive; finds it difficult to say no; finds it hard to say ‘Stop’ to a person being mean; who gets worried easily, and someone who shows respect for the school and the teachers.

Emilie’s father Ian shares his experience: “In France, and probably elsewhere, you imagine sending your kids to a private school will provide a better education in every sense, including mutual respect.

“Unfortunately, we happened upon a group of over-privileged, arrogant children who hated Emilie because she got better grades.

“Emilie was precocious, bright and pretty, while not giving a damn about designer handbags and smooth and silky hair. She liked to read, act, play the piano... so was a total misfit among her classmates.

“And, because of their parents, none of the teachers – even the headmaster – dared say anything against them.

“We knew something was wrong, but seriously underestimated the problem. In our family, we had all been bullied to varying degrees and had reacted in different ways – mine was to become scary and weird, Emilie’s sister Laura’s way was to not care, or apparently so at least.

Read more: 700,000 pupils suffer at hands of bullies every year

“What I didn’t grasp was how much Emilie wanted to have friends, and felt isolated.

“Depression can look like just any other teenager being a pain, and so be overlooked. It took time to work that out.

“‘Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ is one of the dumbest proverbs invented. Verbal violence is particularly awful because it leaves no physical trace and can carry on constantly.

“France is launching a campaign against verbal harassment. Will it be enough? Every effort is welcome. I think teachers need to be more aware and not see themselves just as ‘dispensers of knowledge’. There is, like it or not, a social aspect to being a teacher.

“Every situation is unique. But it’s important for parents to wonder if their kids aren’t bullies, or at least silent witnesses, and not just be relieved they’re not being bullied themselves. It comes down to keeping open a dialogue, I feel. Which I managed to do in the end, but too late, I’m afraid.”

Rester Fort by Emilie Monk,
is published by Editions Slatkine & Cie

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