What They Took From Me

Content note for bullying, assault, cyber-bullying, unauthorised sharing of images. Reference to sexual harassment of a minor.

Image courtesy of Suan Eman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net shows an empty page in a photograph album.


I was bullied throughout my childhood and teenage years. It started in my second year of primary school and continued until my late teens. High school, though, was perhaps the worst period of the bullying. The first camera phones and smart phones had recently emerged, and had filtered down to young teens whose parents had the cash to spare. A phenomenon known as “happy slapping” (assaulting people, filming it, and sharing it on social media for the entertainment of similarly disgusting human beings) was also spreading.

Bullies are creative, and if there is such a thing as psychopathy, they seem to show many of the traits. Bullies, at least the ones I interacted with, are reminiscent of the unsubs that appear in shows like Criminal Minds, or Lord of the Flies if you’re feeling generous.

Habitual bullies work in pairs or groups. In a pair they take on the usual form of a dominant and submissive, the submissive in need of a protector and confident front, the dominant in need of an adoring audience and possibly someone to hang the blame on. Their attacks are usually planned and coordinated, they tend to be more psychological in the expression of their sadistic tendencies. Their aim is to intimidate, though they may hide it behind other apparent motives like lunch or money theft.

You occasionally get lone individuals acting as bullies. These tend to be the “troubled kids” that can’t make it as the submissive partner in a duo. They are disorganised opportunists, and nearly always punch down. They’re the kick in the shin in the corridor, the jab in the ribs you never saw coming. They disappear into the movement of people. You may never manage to identify them. If caught, they rely on their status as a troubled child to escape any serious punishment.

Then there are the gangs. They hunt as a pack, though their hierarchy seems loose and obscure. They often take turns at harassing victims, wearing them down the way wolves will chase prey in relay until their quarry is exhausted. Looking closely, though, you will notice one or two that never take a turn at the chase. Never at risk of retaliation, they’re the masked ringleaders, and often also the cameramen. If threatened, the whole group will come to their defence. This is much like an extended version of the duo. One or two dominants who avoid risk whilst directing the show. The main difference is that the larger group gives the submissive members a feeling of diminished responsibility. They all feel like they are “going along with the crowd”, that they can deflect blame onto other members of the group. There’s no pretense of theft here, or of any other motive beyond entertainment.

Fighting back against the gang is futile. Like an emperor watching gladiators, the leaders have no interest in the welfare of the submissive members. The submissives are kept in line despite occasional injuries by the illusion that everyone takes part in the relay. Their reward is getting to watch when it’s not their turn.

Ignoring them is also futile. The submissive members will attack and harass anyway. Giving no reaction at all will cause them to intensify their tactics until they achieve the desired result.

The common theme throughout all these types is a sadistic tendency. Most will also display a desire to relive the act later, possibly in private. As trophies, they take videos.

What they took from me was memories. My PTSD as a result of the extended, often physical and sometimes sexually charged bullying prevents me from being comfortable having pictures taken. This is more apparent in casual contexts such as a day out with friends. I can just about manage a formal photo for a passport or graduation portrait.

You wouldn’t think that would matter much, but imagine that empty photo album. No pictures of you with your friends, no mementos of holidays (at least none featuring you). No pictures of you enjoying life with your significant other(s), or your children. Someone looking at your album might never know you existed. You are effectively erased from the most emotionally valuable document of your life.

That’s what they took from me, and I grieve.

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