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Anti-Bullying Week: 'I became a high school bully after being tormented for being gay'

17th November 2016

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While being bullied at school is sadly a common occurrence, not many people would admit to being the bully themselves.

But 24-year-old Matthew Dodwell has spoken out about the self-reinforcing, vicious circle that drives childhood bullying.

The marketing executive from Birmingham admits: “I preyed on people weaker than myself.”

cooper featured
(Matthew Dodwell)

His experience is actually quite typical though, because before that he was the one who was picked on.

A huge survey by leading anti-bullying charity Ditch The Label found a quarter of those tormented turned into tormentors themselves. It also found one in five children was bullied every day with around one in eight admitting to being perpetrators.

Matthew said being picked on “changes your character” and makes you “lose faith” in the essential goodness of people.

He said: “I thought it was just the nature of the high school food chain. I’ll never forget this one art class when I targeted this girl who was from a really poor family.

“We were doing this papier mache project and a big headline on one of the newspapers read ‘Poverty’ so I cut it out and stuck it on her back for everyone to see. She was clearly so upset, mortified.

upset boy against a wall (Thinkstock/mikdam)

“But it gave me a heightened feeling, you know, to hear people laughing with me, at something I’d done.

“There was another boy with severe eczema who I was horrible to in front of a popular group. I was really really awful to him, he took a lot of abuse.”

Ditch The Label founder Liam Hackett said: “Like all behaviours, bullying has a root cause and a remedy for change.”

He added the charity was keen to develop “a greater understanding of people who bully others”.

Matthew says he lashed out because he wanted to gain a “status” for himself following his degrading treatment at the hands of other boys. He was jeered at, heckled and hit with awful comments for being gay.

Holiday selfie
(Matthew Dodwell)

So, Matthew coped by singling out studious types to humiliate because he thought they were weaker and wouldn’t fight back.

Although the feeling gave him a rush at the time, when reflecting on it he says it made him feel “so terrible”.

Talking about dealing with school life, Matthew said: “I was more feminine and camp than the other boys obviously and was constantly heckled in public spaces, you would not believe. It gave me the worst anxiety.

“It escalated when Facebook came around – there would be big group chats where everyone was writing horrible, disgusting things to me and when the harassment closed in I couldn’t see a way out.

“It was just constant and seemed never-ending. When you’re at school everything is magnified, you think it’s the end of the world but it’s really not.

“I have made contact with people I was nasty to, sort of to see how they are. We didn’t discuss it explicitly but they all talked with me at least.”

Matthew said that, having matured, he doesn’t recognise the person he was and thinking of the nasty episodes fills him with shame.

He said: “I’m much more sympathetic to people now and take time to understand them. Change is a beautiful thing.”

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