Spain addresses problem of school bullying

Today is the first day of the trial against eight secondary school children accused of bullying a Spanish schoolboy, Jokin, who committed suicide last year in San Sebastian. The trial will take place behind closed doors to protect the anonymity of the accused. The children will declare from behind a screen set up within a special courtroom set up in San Sebastian’s Palace of Justice rather than in the juvenile courts where it would be more difficult to protect the identity of those on trial.

Jokin began to be a victim of bullying in his school towards the end of 2003 when he was unable to control an attack of diarrea in the classroom, to the amusement of his schoolmates. He became a joke figure and then the constant humiliation turned into violence and continued throughout the school year. During a school trip, Jokin and his schoolmates were found smoking a joint, and his friends accused Jokin of telling tales, and the violence got worse. On the first day back at school, 13th September 2004, Jokin arrived to his classroom to find the walls and desks covered with toiletpaper (exactly a year had passed since his diarrea problem) and was beaten up.

His teacher made Jokin clean up the mess. Two days, and several beating-ups, later, Jokin didn’t turn up at his school and his tutor contacted his parents who were unaware of the bullying their son was suffering. The parents and school agreed that Jokin would return to school on 21st September, armed with a mobile telephone so that he could ring them if he got bullied again. On 20th September Jokin wrote a message on an Internet forum site: «Libre, oh, libre.Mis ojos seguirán aunque paren mis pies» (Free oh free. My eyes will go on even though my feet will stop”. In the early hours of 21st, Jokin committed suicide. The autopsy performed on his body showed clear signs of the violence he had been subject to the previous week, and the eight teenagers whose trial begins in San Sebastian today were put on immediate suspension by the school.

The case served to highlight the extent of the problem of school bullying in Spain, a country which, until recently, tended to ignore the whole issue of bullying. Infact no Spanish word exists to differentiate bullying from other kinds of harrassment or a bully from a harrasser. Since Jokin’s suicide more and more articles have appeared in the press, but writers or psychologists either use the English word in italics, or find a substitute like “acoso escolar” (school harrassment) or hostigar (harrass).

Spanish schools are rarely equipped to deal with incidents of severe bullying, and it is only since Jokin’s suicide that the extent of the problem is gradually becoming apparant.

Since the boy’s death, more and more parents have come forward to report cases of bullying and to criticise the lack of support available from schools and education authorities to address the problem and offer solutions.

According to an article written by a pedagogic researcher in El Mundo last year, no less than 48 percent of Spanish schoolchildren aged between 9 and 14 have suffered or suffer some kind of bullying. More than half of these are cases of verbal bullying, but 18 percent of the victims suffer severe physical bullying at the hands of their schoolmates.

As far as we have been able to gather, there is no official department in the Spanish Education Ministry or in regional education authorities to deal with the problem and no Internet sites available in Spain similar to those available to victims, teachers, parents and bullies in other developed countries. If any good at all is to come out of the publicity given to Jokin’s tragic death, and to the trial which has started today, then resources need to be made available to teach Spanish society to come to terms with and how to deal with what is obviously a widespread problem in Spain.

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