A Jersey student, who says bullies once drove him to contemplate suicide, has shared his experience of “sick and twisted” online homophobia, ahead of a major Police campaign to clamp down on hateful behaviour.
In a series of screenshots posted to his personal profile before being picked up by the 6,500-strong ‘Not the Jersey Police’ Facebook page, Peter – who went to school in Jersey but is now at university – revealed how former classmates had written insulting comments about him in a group chat to which he was later added.
Amid their abusive remarks were slights about his appearance and weight, and suggestions that his sexuality was a front to appear “cool”.
Pictured: Pete has called out his former classmates for their homophobic behaviour.
More worryingly, the group of five males – whose identities are obscured by colour blocks in the screenshots – also made threats of physical violence, with one going so far as to say he would “sort out Pete by killing him”.
One then suggested adding Peter to the group, which, following some discussion over whether he would tell, they did.
After doing so, two members of the group then messaged Peter to apologise and urge him to share the messages no further.
Describing the chat’s contents as “just a joke”, one said: “This was a stupid mistake that we r all sorry for but please don’t take this further. It could literally ruin some of our lives.”
Another pleaded: “Bro let’s talk it out.”
Pictured: After adding him to the group, two of its members pleaded with him not to share the messages any further.
In response, Peter shared the messages online, in a move that garnered hundreds of likes and dozens of comments and shares on Facebook.
"Mad that in 2019, people who I haven't spoken to for over a year still feel the need to target. Yes, I am gay but to feel the need to degrade me for it is sick and twisted. Saying it's not malicious is a complete lie, it 100 percent is and to deny it makes you a coward,” he commented.
“I'm happy, love life, have an amazing set of friends, many of whom are boys; everything said here is completely inaccurate and laughable.
“When I was in secondary school, the same people would bully me before I was even out and because of them I attempted suicide four times, unsuccessful luckily, and I couldn't be happier with where I am now, even if I went through hell for nigh on seven years.”
Facebook users have since slammed the anonymous bullies for behaviour they described as “wrong”, “disgusting” and a “horrendous display of immaturity”.
“It’s interesting that the bullies stated that reporting it could affect their lives, yet what they were doing has affected Pete’s life and what they have done in the past almost ended his life,” John June observed.
Others praised Peter for speaking out, with Jaime Boylan said: “Wow! Pete, fair play to you for sharing… Shame on the lads that think it’s ok to talk about someone this way. Gay, straight, blue, purple or pink! It’s 2019 for god’s sake! Pete, you just be you. The people that matter will always be there regardless of others’ opinions!”
Pictured: Pete shared the screenshots online and blasted his bullies' behaviour as "sick and twisted".
Many suggested that the student report the abuse, but Peter instead took the view: “Good luck boys, I won’t waste my time trying to get you expelled from university, but I’m sure if you carry on like this you’ll end up with nothing.”
Another commenter added: “You’re right Pete, these people will go nowhere. They’ll be eaten up by all that hate and bitterness and have the last laugh. Keep on being beautiful.”
The incident comes during Pride month, as well as ahead of a major campaign on hate crime due to be launched next week by Jersey Police.
Their awareness drive will aim to show that hate crime, which they define as “an incident where there is an act of violence or hostility directed at a group or individual based on race, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity”, comes in many forms – and can be prosecuted.
A spokesperson told Express: “The States of Jersey Police treat hate crime very seriously, prosecuting offenders where appropriate and offering support and guidance to the victims… Offences shown to have a ‘hate’ element will incur more severe sentences from the court than those of a similar nature, without a hate component.
“Millions of messages and posts are sent everyday on social media and finding something offensive does not automatically mean that something is criminal. However, posts that are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or of a menacing character could well meet the threshold for a prosecution.”
A specific hate crime law is currently being drafted, although the government declined to state its expected completion date.
Nonetheless, incidents of social media abuse can be prosecuted via the Telecoms Law. In 2017, a man was fined over £1,000 for making violent comments about Syrian refugees visiting Jersey for a performance.
Pictured: Incidents of social media abuse can be prosecuted under the Telecoms Law.
On a school level, statistics show that more than half of 11 to 18-year-olds in Jersey have been called nasty names or been made fun of at least once, with a quarter saying this has happened to them more than three times.
Meanwhile, a recent survey by not-for-profit organisation Internet Matters showed that eight in 10 UK parents believed group chats to be a hotbed for cyberbullying.
While local schools do have bullying policies in place, the island’s young people told the Children’s Commissioner, Deborah McMillan, in a major review last year that more could be done to help, particularly in the cyber domain.
One young person described social media as having a “frightening impact on the lives of young people”, while another called for “better protection from online bullying”.
As a result, the Children’s Commissioner designated bullying one of her focus areas.
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