PETALING JAYA: A bullying case involving students of the Mara Junior Science College (MRSM) in Kuala Kangsar, Perak, last month has sparked not just sadness and national fury.
Within just five days of the viral video clip of the incident emerging on Dec 10 last year, more than 100 people from all over Malaysia took to social media to share their own stories of being bullied.
This is among the findings of The Star’s examination of online conversations that took place from Dec 10-15, mainly on Twitter.
Our analysis found 143 stories that were shared on social media by bully victims or their siblings who recounted the traumatising experience of being bullied in the past, mainly in school.
In many cases, the victims shared their stories in hopes that it would create greater awareness of the physical and mental damage caused by bullies.
The analysis was done using a social media listening tool software which employs a keyword tracker to record mentions of “bully”, “physical bullying” and “buli di asrama”.
This generated 9,072 posts (including retweets or shares) which had used the keywords from Dec 10-15, with a significant peak of 3,041 posts on the topic recorded on Dec 11. From the total number of posts, 135 mentions were identified to have been made by alleged victims and eight by victims’ siblings.
The numbers are believed to be higher as stories by victims who confided in others were also posted online while some posts were later deleted.
These posts could not be recorded due to tracking limitations.
The number of personal stories on social media surged after a Twitter user @hafizazman_co shared about how he was bullied in a hostel, which included him being treated as a maid for a year and enduring various physical abuse.
He shared how the years of abuse had traumatised him mentally and emotionally, which affected his character and turned him into a hot-tempered “thug” in university.
— HAFIZ AZMAN (@hafizazman_co) December 10, 2021
Other victims recalled how they were bullied for various reasons such as wearing glasses, coming off as being bookish, or because of their weight.
Many of the victims who shared their stories said they were bullied by their seniors (19 posts) and peers (18 posts), while others said the bullying involved teachers and colleagues.
Almost 70% of the bully incidents happened in school.
Among them, 42 stories were about them being bullied emotionally or verbally, while seven posts were about physical bullying and eight included both physical and emotional bullying.
Some of the stories shared by the victims took place years ago, but many of them said they were unable to forgive their tormentors or forget what the bullies did to them.
Several victims said that the incidents have caused lasting trauma. Some said they suffered from low self-esteem while others said they developed depression and suicidal tendencies.
According to the Education Ministry, 14,000 bullying cases were recorded at school between 2012 and 2015.
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“I was bullied mercilessly in primary school. I carried the hurt for years and remember their names. Even as an adult, I contemplated revenge,” shared one of the victims.
Some victims said they could not accept the fact that they have to live with the effects of the long-term mental damage caused by their victims without knowing whether their tormentors were sorry for their actions.
Others told of how they fought back, with two victims sharing how they reported their bullies to school authorities, which later expelled their bullies.
Many of the social media users who spoke about bullying criticised the persistence of a bullying culture in school over the years.
They alleged that school authorities are complicit when they conceal bullying cases to maintain the school’s reputation.
This in turn normalises a bullying culture, especially in boarding schools.
Among social media users who posted comments on the subject, 14.2% said they would not send their children to boarding school, while 9.2% acknowledged the trauma inflicted on victims due to bullying.
The viral bully video had caused personal details of the bullies to be spread online but 9.4% of the commenters said they were against cyberbullying or attacking the perpetrators or their families, as it is also a form of bullying.
A long, dark history
One of the most infamous cases of bullying took place in 1989 at Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM, which is now known as Universiti Putra Malaysia) involving six senior students who bullied six juniors at a rented house near the university campus.
A victim, who wanted to be known only as Joe, when contacted said bullying was common back when he was a freshie at UPM in the 1980s, and nobody complained about it.
“It was especially bad for us guys. We were told about it and were prepared to face it, we didn’t have a choice,” said Joe, who is now in his late 50s.
Joe was a victim of the infamous “Serdang heli” where a group of seniors watched and laughed as he and several other freshies had a string tied to their genitals to the ceiling fan, forced to run around in circles as the seniors adjusted the speed of the fan.
The juniors were herded into a senior’s room late at night to avoid attention. They were told to remove their clothes and stand in line for the helicopter “game”.
Joe performed on his own, as well as one of three guys, much to the amusement of the seniors present.
Asked if he felt humiliated over the entire episode, Joe said he pretended he was okay with it as a mechanism to deal with the bullying.
“I couldn’t complain, as I feared I would be ostracised for revealing what happened and who was involved. I would have had to pay for it,” he said.
He felt the authorities could not do anything to help him with the existing regulations and that what was available could not protect him. “So, I just went with it.”
The helicopter torture came to light in the late 1980s when one of the UPM juniors made an official complaint to the authorities, forever tying UPM to the infamous episode.
Action was taken and several of the seniors were expelled from the university.
An English teacher, who only wanted to be known as Faizal and who was a warden for two years at a school hostel in Pahang, said bullying was common in some schools due to students who feel superior and want to poke fun on others who are considered “weak”.
“Seniority issues among students in the school I was teaching at were not that apparent, as the school is not a full-board boarding school.
“Bullying cases will often start with the kids joking verbally and sometimes it will escalate to something more serious, like physical bullying,” he said.
In his two-year stint as a warden, he only dealt with three to four cases of bullying, which were reported by the victims or their friends.
“When cases are reported, I will check whether there are injuries. I will then call the bullies, victim and witnesses separately to investigate,” he said, adding that the school administration will then decide on the punishment for the bullies.
Commenting on the impact of bullying towards the victim, Faizal said victims could either withdraw from their friends or show signs of depression.
“I would always check on them to see if they’re doing okay,” he said, adding that school counsellors should play their role in providing emotional support to victims.
On how bullying can be eradicated, Faizal said schools should have stricter laws against bullying.
“Often times, the school would let off the bullies by giving one to two warnings, and the last option would be expulsion.
“Even when they are expelled, their parents sometimes plead to the state education department, and the bullies will be allowed to re-enter the school,” he said.
He said those guilty of bullying should be permanently banned from staying in hostels or boarding schools as a repercussion.
He added that dormitory wardens assigned should not be among teachers so that better supervision and management can be enforced to eradicate bullying.