Victoria (fictitious name) insisted that she had a bulge in her belly. It was the first days of December 2022 and the girl, then 13 years old, kept repeating it. She also said that her body was ugly and that she disgusted him. She ate less and less. “We covered the bathroom mirrors with towels, because she would look at herself and come out crying,” recalls her father. After a few weeks, she started saying that she didn’t want to go to class, that her stomach or head hurt. Then came the sleepless nights, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. Months without her parents knowing what was happening and in which she did not count anything. In April, after several visits to the hospital, she was admitted to a mental health center, where she stayed for a month. She came in with symptoms of depression and anxiety and the beginning of anorexia nervosa. Little by little, she managed to give voice to something that she had been suffering in silence since October: two students from her class had sexually assaulted her in the bathrooms of the institute, Cardenal Herrera Oria from Madrid, and a few others had been doing her since primary school. bullying.

The family thought that by telling what was happening, the institute would identify the aggressors ―the girl knows who they are―, would sanction them and protect their daughter. The father met several times with management for this purpose. “You have to do something”, he begged them in one of the meetings. The protocol against bullying was activated, which is still open, but the center claims to find no evidence of bullying. María José Fernández, president of the Madrid Association Against Bullying (Amacae), indicates that this is the “usual trend” in many schools and institutes in the region, public, subsidized and private. “It’s fighting against a concrete wall that you can’t knock down,” she criticizes. And it is the same situation in which dozens of kids find themselves, like Irene and Cristina (both fictitious names to protect their identity), aged 13 and 17 respectively, and with whose families this newspaper has also spoken.

“Go off topic”

The first thing Victoria recounted, while still hospitalized, was the bullying. “At first she only managed to say the word, nothing more. If she tried to explain it she would get nervous and tremble. She was already taking antidepressants and anxiolytics, ”the father says by phone, who asks not to be identified to preserve the privacy of him and his daughter. As the days went by, they found out the magnitude of the problem: since sixth grade – he went to the school adjacent to the institute – other boys and girls insulted him, threw sticks and balls at him, stole his books, broke his material or pushed and hit (she used to say at home that bruises were sports injuries). “They shouted that she was a moron, a fool, mentally ill, that she was useless and that she was ugly. The tutor told me that things happened in class and that he punished the children, but he didn’t tell us what things. My daughter got so bad that everything that was an assault I saw as normal. When she entered class, they told her: ‘The dead woman has arrived,’ says her father.

The family learned of these details in April ―Victoria was hospitalized and had not been able to go to class since the beginning of January―, and as soon as she found out about them, the father showed up at the institute and asked that they open the bullying protocol. They opened it, and on May 11, barely four weeks later and, according to the minutes of the institute, to which this newspaper has had access, the center considered that “there were not enough indications (of harassment) for the moment or They were not conclusive.” There is just over a week left until the end of the academic year. “From the beginning they have done nothing. They go off topic or minimize it. The protocol, in theory, is still open, but the director told me that he can’t do anything else, that it has gone to higher levels, ”explains the father.

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So, in mid-May, Victoria spoke for the first time about the sexual assault with a friend, on WhatsApp. On October 13, at recess time, the girl was in one of the bathrooms in the center, when two classmates entered. One of her turned him around and grabbed her arm, holding her still, while the other lifted her sweater and bra, and lowered her legs. leggings and underwear. Both groped her breasts and genitals, while laughing. When finished, they threw him to the ground and left laughing. Days later, under the threat of attacking him again, the kids coerced him into sending them nude photos. Victoria, frightened, did it. The family filed a complaint and alerted, again, the center.

“Horrible year”

“The complaints are the same in all families: that the school does nothing. And the Administration leaves them totally defenseless”, criticizes Fernández by phone. It is a recurring criticism: the protocols do not work. When this protocol is activated ―approved in November 2016 under the presidency of Cristina Cifuentes (PP)―, two “impartial” teachers who have not taught the harassed student or students, have to meet with those involved, teachers and families to write a report. For Teresa Jusdado, head of education at UGT Madrid, there are three problems in the community: a shortage of personnel, overcrowded classrooms and a lack of time. “All of this prevents individualized attention, as is required in these cases. The ideal would be to practice prevention and detect it as soon as possible, but teachers and families often find out when bullying has grown like a ball, ”she points out.

“As long as the schools are judge and part of the activation and closure process (of the protocol), they can lie. They do not see signs of harassment, they shelve it and the Ministry consents to it, because it is interested in statistically lowering the data on harassment ”, denounces Fernández. And he adds that this course is being the “most horrifying” in terms of bullying “to date”: they have received 30% more cases than last year. “More than 400 people have contacted the association and, of them, a hundred in person. It is a shame. The inspection does not care to see if the protocol has been done correctly or not ”, he laments. Jusdado agrees that bullying is increasing: “Teachers see and say that violence in the classroom has increased considerably, especially after the pandemic.” 30.5% of students between the ages of 14 and 18 claim to have suffered bullying during the educational stage, according to a study by the Community of Madrid on the young population in the region, published last week. In addition, 27.6% admit to having experienced suicidal tendencies in the last year.

Every year, the Ministry of Education publishes a report with the figures of school bullying in the region, always accompanied by a note. In several of the notes, the headline is similar to this one from 2022: “The Community of Madrid registers a drop of more than 50% in complaints of bullying in schools and institutes.” The information is not correct because it does not compare the percentage with respect to the previous year, but to the first course in which the protocol was applied, that of 2015-2016. Then 179 cases of bullying and that figure has not been reached again, so if the numbers are compared with it, it always goes down. However, since the 2019-2020 academic year, the episodes of harassment have increased. According to the data from the ministry itself, the number of complaints grew by 67% in the 2021-2022 academic year: from the 679 open protocols in 2020-2021 to 1,013. The cases accepted by educational inspection also increased: from 78 to 151. The figures also reflect that the majority of complaints are dismissed.

more centers

Victoria’s case is not something isolated. Irene is in 1st year of ESO at the Domenico Scarlatti Institute, in Aranjuez, and since last December several girls in her class have beaten her, stolen materials and money, threatened, thrown juices and smoothies at her and insulted her on social media, her mother says. In May, for fear that something more serious would happen to her, she stopped going to class, except for exams, and on the 15th of that month the center opened the anti-harassment protocol. During the 2021-2022 academic year, in 69% of the bullying cases accepted, the protocol was activated by a parent’s complaint, compared to 23% that was ex officio at the request of the center, according to data from the department. “The director ignores. ‘And if they hit her again?’ I asked him, but he kept quiet, ”recalls the woman.

From anxiety and panic, the girl’s face, hands and feet scaly, and she suffers from dizziness. The protocol has been open for almost a month, but the teachers in charge have informed the mother that they had not been informed of what they should do. The president of Amacae points out that “the neglect of many schools or institutes is extreme.” “The directors sometimes do not even know what protocol the parents are talking about. This year, for example, they have not yet gone to give the recommended prevention talks to Cardinal Herrera Oria. Families see that if they don’t tell it in the media, nothing is done, ”she adds.

Cristina, who is in the 4th year of ESO at IES El Olivo, in Parla, suffers bullying From the age of 13. Insults against his physique, painted on the blackboard, constant ridicule on social networks and they have even cut his hair in class. “They called her fat, son of a bitch, monster. They threw bottles, caps, papers at him. (In the center) they pass the ball to each other, the inspector says that the director has to sanction, the director says that he is the inspector, ”says the mother. As with Victoria and Irene, the protocol was opened and the result was identical: “There are no signs of harassment.”

The secrecy at the Cardenal Herrera Oria Institute is total. In the center nobody wants to offer their version and they refer to the Ministry of Education. “They don’t wear, huh. They are not going to wear, they are not going to wear. It is something that is being investigated,” says a secretary by phone. Sources from the Juvenile Prosecutor’s Office point out that the public prosecutor’s office can do nothing, because being less than 14 years old, the alleged aggressors are “unimputable”. And the Ministry indicates that “it cannot offer details.”

The Ombudsman opened an ex officio action last Friday to find out “what protection measures are being applied” to Victoria. The girl has not returned to the center and her father hopes to be able to change her to another institute for the coming academic year. The mothers of Irene and Cristina are also waiting for him. The families of the three minors do not know each other, but they all repeat the same thing: with luck, their daughters will go elsewhere next year, but the bullying will not have disappeared from their centers.

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