Eva Vitali and her family decided to speak out for the first time after being attacked at Orewa College earlier this year.
On May 5, a group of girls approached Eva, 13, on the school grounds before two of them threw her to the ground, pulled her hair and punched her and foot.
Speaking to 1News, Eva said several incidents preceded the attack, including being pushed down the stairs at the school.
“I was pushed down the stairs by this girl that I didn’t even know. I didn’t really know her name or anything, and I was just confused, like I thought maybe it was by accident.”
Eva’s attack was filmed by bystanders and shared online.
When asked what role social media played when she was bullied, Eva says phones make it “easy” for people to be bullies.
“Social media is how people can bully people, it’s easy for people to bully people.”
Even after the attack, Eva received messages from students at other schools online saying they wanted to beat her up too.
But the 13-year-old says she is walking away from the vicious assault and wants others who have been bullied to “have hope”.
“You’re going to get out of it, tell people about it because it was really important, I wish I had talked to my mum more about what’s going on.
“People can be really mean sometimes, but that’s not your problem, it’s theirs,” Eva said.
She wants people to know how bullying can impact children’s mental health and that no one is alone.
“I guess bullies just don’t understand that.
“It’s very emotional, you have to deal with a lot of things and it’s really hard to get through.”
Mike and Kirsten Vitali were heartbroken to learn that their daughter had been assaulted.
Kirsten initially told 1News that she didn’t want to watch the video of her daughter being beaten because it was too traumatic.
She said when she picked up Eva from school, the dean told her to take her to the emergency room.
“It’s really surreal, I never imagined this would happen to our daughter, she was always so happy at school.
“We moved schools thinking it would be fine, it’s just another school, and yeah, I think it was after a full term of what happened and it was just such a shock. “
Eva moved from Whangaparaoa College to Orewa College in early 2022. She left Orewa College a few weeks ago and will start at a new school next year.
Kirsten also said that social media played a big role in bullying Eva and bullying in general.
“There’s no escape for them now with the phones, when we were at school it happened at school or they should have called the landline.
“But now they’re going home and it’s like Snapchat, it’s endless and people are making up these rumors which are totally untrue and it’s spreading and these kids believe everything they hear, everything they read and it’s so sad.
“And then she was getting messages from kids at other schools saying this video was going around our whole school and we’d like to beat you up too.”
Her father Mike says bullying in New Zealand schools is a much bigger problem than people realize.
“It’s just the beginning of what we’re really seeing with this generation coming in and sadly Eva has just been caught in the crossfire.”
He says there just isn’t enough support in schools for these kinds of situations.
“There’s not enough support because they’re facing something they’ve never had to do on this scale before.
“It really is an epidemic and my personal prediction is that it will spiral out of control in the years to come.”
He said the two girls who assaulted Eva were the “end result” of a group of people planning and filming the attack.
“Culturally, as a community, we’re looking at something prevalent, you know what I mean.
“So I guess what we’re saying is the online stuff, it just continued like weeks after and actually we had to take Snapchat and these different apps out of Eva and ostracize her from the whole situation. just to protect her because the school might not.”
Mike says every school should have a dean or teacher who deals directly with bullying and works to prevent it.
“If they had an anti-bullying role in schools where they had a direct person to go to, you know they would fix the problem.”
Kirsten says the system needs to change to help other students experience something similar.
“There are a lot of children, it’s really heartbreaking to think that it’s not just Eva, there are so many children who suffer like this and feel like they can’t not talk about it because they’re scared, it’s so sad.”
But Vaughan Couillault of the Association of Secondary School Principals says there are no “prescriptive” guidelines for dealing with bullying in schools.
“What there is is all sorts of comments and guidance on best practice that could come from the New Zealand Association of Counselors or the Department of Education.
“It’s a whole panoply of information and tools that are at our disposal to help us take the right approach because none of these situations are alike.
“What might happen in a young person’s life may be very different from another person’s later on.
“Some of them could be localized and physical, another lot could be quite remote and sort of digital or cyber-based,” he said.
Couillault says he encourages students to speak up and be brave.
“You have to have the courage to go to an adult you trust and trust them to do things for you.”
He said there are things teachers can do right away, but getting a bully to change their behavior can take time.
“Members of the education system are all committed to doing their best to ensure that it is safe and accessible to all students in terms of learning and the social side of school.”
The Department for Education has also said there is no “one size fits all” response to bullying in schools.
“There are no specific guidelines for reintroducing victims of bullying to the classroom, however, information on resolution approaches when dealing with incidents of bullying is provided.
“The mix of approaches the school chooses will reflect its culture and values, the values of the community, and the nature of the bullying incident.”
The ministry also said secondary schools have the right to employ counsellors, career guidance and pastoral care.
“211 large secondary schools received an additional 0.40 FTE in 2022, to enable them to employ more guidance counsellors. This means that schools can have dedicated staff working in roles to support their youngsters, including in times of bullying.
The school’s response
Orewa College Principal Greg Pierce told 1News the school does not condone what happened to Eva.
“There was an incident that happened earlier this school year where a student was assaulted by two other students.
“The University of Orewa does not condone acts of physical aggression that stand in stark contrast to the university’s core Manaaki values.”
The two students who attacked Eva have now been expelled from Orewa College.
Pierce said that at the time, the Vitalis attended a community meeting where ideas and strategies for resolving issues were discussed.
“The college, student and parents have all worked collectively to ensure a safe and supportive return to college,” he said.