Bullying — and its variations teasing, ostracizing, intimidating, assaulting — is a problem that has come out of its closet and into the courtrooms in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. But it isn’t new. Bullying is a time-honoured approach to life acted out everywhere from schoolyards to the killing fields of war, from business offices to governments.
I remember a six-year-old, Grade One student, smart, somewhat uncoordinated, and wearing glasses. A group of her fellow students decided that she was the perfect victim. They would swoop down upon her in a long line, holding hands, form a ring around and chant “Pinch or punch or join the bunch”. But the “join the bunch option” wasn’t allowed: that child always had to choose a pinch or a punch. The physical hurt was a problem, but the deeper problem was the confusion, the wondering “why?” The deeper problem was that the bullies couldn’t see the pain and confusion behind her “I don’t care” face and she couldn’t see the pain and confusion behind their “we’re going to get you” faces.
This issue of School’s In will suggest a variety of techniques that may help students experience “Changing Faces” in controlled situations as a way to learn more about what others experience and also about ways to act positively to end bullying.
The activities suggested as possibilities here are based around the facts and decision of a British Columbia case, R. v. D.W., heard in Youth Court in March 2002. Today’s Trial discusses some of the larger issues that are raised by this case. In School’s In, we are presenting the case in a form that could be used as a case study, a mock trial, or a starting point for role plays. Student learning logs are also used.
In all the exercises, it is suggested that students be directed in ways that will help them change faces; i.e., help them examine the issues from both the bully and the victim point of view. For example, after the case study, it is suggested that students be asked to write two letters to the judge, one from the bully D, one from the victim M. Any discussions of bullying and victimization must, of course, take into account the dynamics of any particular group of students. In particular, if there are potential bullies and victims in a class, they should perhaps be assigned different roles in any mock trial or role play than they are playing in ‘real life’.
Ask students to draw a spider-web starting from a word such as bullying, threat, violence. Then ask students to write a statement about how they feel about bullying and what they think students and teachers should do about bullying incidents.
“You’re Dead” —Case Study Exercise
Bsaed on British Columbia Youth Court case R. v. D.W., March 2002, and the dialogue and explanations are taken from or paraphrased from Judge Rounthwaite’s decision. The statements of law are simplified statements of the Criminal Code.
Several young people became friends when they first met at school in September, having sleepovers and in some cases even spending Hallowe’en together. However, in November, D heard that M was calling D names and spreading rumours. D first confronted M at their lockers and warned M to stop talking about D or risk getting beaten up. Several times that week, D told M’s best friend that D did not like M and would like to get other people to beat M up. M was frightened, went to the school counsellor every day, and tried to make sure not to walk home alone. Another student, K sometimes went with M to the counsellor.
On November 9, there was a confrontation between several young people at lunch time. X began yelling at M, threatening to beat M up. Other people stopped M’s best friend from intervening. D told M, “Stop talking about me. If you say anything else, I will beat you up.”
M was crying when the others left. Later when M ran into D and X, M turned around to walk away. D and X laughed and taunted M about being afraid and running away.
The next day, D met M in the library and asked to borrow some shoes. M lent the shoes but looked as if she had a fake smile on her face, as if she was not happy. After school, D, K, and X met at the PetroCan and talked about how mad they all were at M because they’d heard rumours about what M did and said. They said they wanted to beat M up and that one of them would befriend M, lure M out of the house, then beat M up. Later that evening M talked to D and K on the telephone. There was a new rumour that K said M was spreading. K decided that M or D or X was lying. K was talking on the phone with M while D and X were listening. K said “Whoever is lying, I’m going to beat them up.” At first, K was angry, but then K calmed down and tried to calm down M as well. K spoke to M in a soft, gentle tone, telling M to stop crying and that everything would be okay. K agreed to meet M to talk. Everyone thought everything was fine until D yelled into the phone “You are f_____ dead.”
Later that evening M committed suicide leaving a note that indicated she was very frightened.
You be the Judge
Students can work alone or in groups to explore how the law applies to this particular situation and to answer the questions below. Students should be encouraged to explain the reasons for their answers in general class discussions.
For Judge Rounthwaite’s decisions and reasoning, see the end of this article.
D and K were both charged with threatening with death or bodily harm and D was charged with criminal harassment.
The crime of threatening:
Section 264.1(1)(a) — knowingly and in any way causing someone to receive a threat to cause death or bodily harm to anyone.
Section 2 —Bodily harm is “any hurt or injury that interferes with the health or comfort of the person”, and it must be more than a trifling hurt.
Various cases decided by the courts have helped fill out the principles of the crime. For example “Bodily harm includes psychological hurt or injury, as well as physical (R. v McCraw 1991). The threat does not have to be directed at a particular person, but simply an ascertainable or identifiable group (R. v. Remy 1983 and R. v. Deneault 2002) … the offence does no require that the threatener intend to carry out or act on the threat.”
Questions to determine if the crime of threatening has taken place:
- Did the words that D spoke to M contain a threat of death or bodily harm?
- Did the words that K spoke to M contain a threat of death or bodily harm?
- Did D intend the words to intimidate M or to be taken seriously by M?
- Did K intend the words to intimidate M or to be taken seriously by M?
The crime of criminal harassment:
Section 264 (1) — if one person knows that another is harassed or doesn’t worry if the person is harassed, and nevertheless acts in ways that cause the other person to fear for his or her safety Section 264(2) defines the kinds of conduct that may be criminal harassment including
- repeatedly communicating in some way with a person or anyone who knows them,
- engaging in threatening conduct that causes that person to fear for their safety.
Case law has further defined being harassed as “feeling either tormented, troubled, worried continually, or chronically plagued, bedevilled and badgered (R. v. Kosikar 1999).
Questions to determine if the crime of criminal harassment has taken place:
- Did D engage in one of the kinds of conduct that can be criminal harassment?
- Was M harassed?
- Did D know that M was harassed or was D reckless or wilfully blind about whether M was harassed?
- Did D’s conduct cause M to fear for his/her safety?
- Was M’s fear reasonable under the circumstances?
“You’re Dead” Mock Trial
A mock trial is always a good action-packed alternative to a case study. In the October/November 2001 version of LawNow, we presented a template for constructing simple mock trials from reports of real cases. Using the Role Play, Trial Procedure, Principles of Criminal Law, and Personnel Cards from that issue, it is possible to run a mock trial of D for criminal harassment and of K for threatening.
Here are Fact Situation Cards for both situations. Click to enlarge and print:
“You’re Dead” Role Plays
Role plays, and other techniques borrowed from the theatre, are a useful way for students to experiment with seeing things from another point of view. They can be used as a part of the process of doing a case study or preparing for a mock trial, or as a basis for discussion. They can also be used as a starting point for developing a more formal drama that students could present to other students to stimulate discussion of the issues of bullying. Role play is a powerful and emotional experience and adequate time must always be allowed for debriefing.
Brainstorming or spider-webbing from words such as bullying, bully, victim, threat, or violence is a good way to begin work in this area, and can be done as a class, in small groups with feedback whole class discussions afterwards, or individual students can do this on paper. In small groups, you may want to provide large sheets of newsprint and marker pens that students can use to create a spiderweb from one of the words to present to the rest of the class.
To add a physical dimension to brainstorming you may use statue or freezeframe exercises. If students are working as individuals or as a whole class, clear desks to the side of the room and give students time (perhaps five minutes) to experiment with different physical positions (statues) that express one or more of the ideas that they have brainstormed.
If working in small groups, ask each group to arrange themselves in a scene that illustrates one of their brainstormed ideas, and then to ‘freeze’ those positions and demonstrate them to the class.
You may ask the class to respond with their feelings about the statues or freeze-frames, to guess at the concepts being illustrated, or to ‘interview’ the statues or freeze-frame characters with a who-what-where- when-why sequence of questions.
In preparation for more complex role play, you may want to read the facts of the case aloud. Then begin by identifying the possible roles in the situation. You can continue to use the initials or have students name the roles: e.g. Bully 1, victim, best friend, by-stander, teacher, counsellor, parent, etc. Ask students to develop questions that they might like to ask the different characters/roles.
You may wish to begin with static roles, that is roles in which there is a minimum of interaction or improvisation. Ask students to all choose one of the roles and keep that a secret. Then, again in an open space in the classroom, ask students to move their bodies in ways that illustrate the role they have chosen. After a brief period of movement, ask individuals to demonstrate their movements, and ask other students to guess the role and explain the rationales for their guesses. Or have one student demonstrate the movements that he/she has associated with a role and have other students describe what they see and how the movements make them feel. Then ask students to interview other students about the roles they have chosen. Questions might follow the general ideas of the debriefing questions listed below.
Statues and freeze-frames are other examples of static roles that can be used for preliminary exploration of particular roles. Depending on the age of students, you may also wish to conclude this phase of the role play exploration by drawing pictures of their roles, writing a brief monologue using the voice of their chosen role, or making a mask that illustrates the face of their particular role. Simple masks can be made of paper or cardboard, string, and pencil crayons, marker pens, or paint.
It is suggested that the teacher give students or student groups specific roles depending on classroom dynamics and the work done at brainstorming or static role work. Using the facts of the ‘You’re Dead” case as starting points, suggest different scenarios: for example, ‘At the Lockers’, ‘On the way home’ ‘In the lunchroom’ ‘ At the PetroCan’ ‘On the phone’, ‘At the sentencing circle (see Today’s Trial).’ Have each student or student group develop some ideas for a particular scenario, then ask students to try an improvisation or role play of each scenario.
After each role play of an incident of bullying, have the audience suggest ways to replay the incident to have a positive outcome for all characters. Then have the original students replay the incident with a different and more positive ending.
A useful variation on the Instant Replay is to ask students to change roles with each other and replay the incident, now looking at what happens from someone else’s point of view and trying for a more positive resolution. If you have had students create masks to illustrate roles, have them exchange the masks at this stage to literally change the face that they are playing behind.
Debriefing is crucial to any of these exercises. Students need to express their feelings about the case study, mock trial, or role play. They also need to be guided into making suggestions, and even concrete plans, for what they might do if they found themselves in any of the roles in a bullying situation.
Suggested questions to start discussion:
- Why do you think D behaved the way he/she did?
- How do you think D felt while threatening M? What about after?
- Why would someone behave like M and not fight back at the bullies?
- How do you think M felt? What do you think made M so frightened?
- Why do you think no one stood up for M?
- How do you think the others felt when watching the bullying?
- How do you think parents, teachers, counsellors felt about the bullying?
- What do you think others could have done in these situations?
Bringing it home
Bullying happens everywhere. Students may now wish to tell the stories of bullying incidents that they have seen or experienced as bully, victim, or bystander.
If a student has a story, he or she may wish to tell the story, or to choose other students to role play the people involved. In this case, help the student tell the role players the basis of the story, ask the students to role play an incident, then with audience suggestions have students replay the incident to arrive at positive outcomes.
Ask students to write a reflection about the studies of the “You’re dead” case focusing now on their own feelings during and after the exercises. Then ask students what they would do now in a bullying situation? What do they now think teachers, students, and authorities such as police should do about bullying? Have them reflect on whether their ideas have changed from their first learning log, and if so, why.
Judge Rounthwaite’s Decision
“Application of the law to the facts “ R. v. D.W.
“18 The words spoken by K.P.D [K], ‘Whoever is lying, I’m going to beat them up’, are capable of constituting a threat to Dawn Marie Wesley [M] to cause her bodily harm. Notwithstanding their general nature, the words were directed at an identifiable group, one of whom included Dawn. However, viewing the words objectively within their entire context, it must be noted there is no evidence of K.P.D. having previous bad relations with Dawn. In fact the opposite; one witness told of K.P.D. having been protective of Dawn, accompanying her to the school counsellors. Immediately after saying the words, K.P.D. spoke to Dawn in a soft, gentle voice, trying to calm her down, telling her that everything was going to be ok, and agreeing to meet in order to talk. Witnesses thought that everything had been resolved, and K.P.D. subsequently told her mother that nothing was going to happen, Given that entire context, Crown has failed to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that K.P.D. intended her words to intimidate or be taken seriously. The general nature of the words, when coupled with the immediate attempt to calm and reassure and the proposal of some sort of alternate resolution, constitute the reasonable doubt. Crown has failed to prove [the crime of threatening] against K.P.D.
19 The circumstances involving D.W. are quite different. There is ample evidence of previous bad relations: the locker incident; the comments to the best friend. D.W. admitted that she did not like Dawn, wanted to beat her up, and tried to recruit another person to do it for her. On November 9th, while another person was yelling threats at Dawn, D. W. joined in: ‘Stop talking about me. If you say anything else, I will beat you up’. On November 10th, D.W. yelled into the phone: ‘You are fucking dead’. There were no immediate attempts to calm or reassure, but rather laughter, and comments about Dawn being scared and running away. D.W. said that she did not mean the ’you’re dead’ comment. However, the offence does not require that the threatener have any intention to carry out the threat, only that they intend the words to intimidate or be taken seriously. There is no doubt whatsoever that D.W. intended her words to intimidate or be taken seriously, or that a reasonable person, having regard to all of the circumstances, would view them as a threat. Crown has proven, beyond any reasonable doubt, that D.W. threatened Dawn Marie Wesley with death and bodily harm on November 9 and 10.
20 Crown has also proven the offence of criminal harassment against D.W., between November 5 and 10. D.W. clearly engaged in threatening conduct directed at Dawn, on November 9 and 10. Dawn Wesley was harassed, in that she was troubled and worried continually. This was exhibited through tears, visits to the school counsellor, and making efforts not to walk home alone. D.W. must have known that Dawn was harassed, after seeing or hearing about her tears during each threat, and commenting that she was scared and running away. Finally, this threatening conduct caused Dawn to fear for her safety, a fear that was entirely reasonable in all the circumstances.
In this regard, I consider not just the threats of November 9 and 10, but also the earlier threat at the locker and the comments to the best friend, which may or may not have occurred during the stated time period.
21 There is a long established legal principle that a person cannot be convicted of two criminal offences made out of a single subject matter. In this case, Crown agrees that the same facts which justify a finding of guilt on the charges of threatening also constitute the offence of criminal harassment.
Crown asks that the conviction be recorded for the offence of criminal harassment.”
Thus in this case, K.P.D. was not convicted of threatening, while D.W. was convicted of criminal harassment. The mother of Dawn Marie Wesley asked that sentencing be carried out through an aboriginal sentencing circle. The sentencing circle included the judge, Crown and defence lawyer, the family of D.W. and Dawn’s family, and First Nations elders who ran the process. A feather was passed around the circle and as it passed, the holder spoke about bullying and their own point of view on the case. D.W. passed the feather each time without speaking, breaking down instead. At a break, Dawn Marie’s mother went to D.W. and, it is reported, told her that she needed to hear from her and that her door was always open. At the end of the circle process, D.W. spoke to Dawn’s mother as reported in Today’s Trial.