Bullied find voice on the web

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Award for boy left 'broken' by bullying who fought back by putting his story on the internet. Adi Bloom reports

It is a familiar situation: an angry father berates his teenage child for having run up an excessively high telephone bill.

But when Oli Watts found himself on the receiving end of parental ire for having amassed pound;900 in internet call charges, he had not, unlike most teenagers, been chatting to friends or surfing online chatrooms.

For six months, the 16-year-old had been bullied remorselessly by classmates at his Suffolk school. He had been scouring the internet for a website which would enable him to communicate with other young people in the same situation.

"I was an outsider, because I wasn't born locally," he said. "There was name-calling and psychological abuse. I didn't have many friends and the school wouldn't help.

"Bullying is still taboo. You feel as though you're on a desert island. I was left with a broken character. I was an empty shell."

Then Mr Watts, now 19, decided to publish his own story on the internet.

The resulting website, Pupilline, generated enormous public interest, receiving thousands of hits within a few months. Children began to contribute their own stories and to offer advice.

"I did this to help myself," he said. "I had no idea anyone would read it.

But helping other people is the best thing I could have done to resolve my own problems."

Pupilline has won a number of internet awards, and has received plaudits from Prime Minister Tony Blair and children's charity ChildLine.

Since leaving school, Oli Watts has set up an educational-consulting firm, advising schools, local authorities and government officials on effective anti-bullying policies.

And, on November 11, he will be among 20 nominees gathered in London for the Anne Frank awards for moral courage.

The Anne Frank awards were established last year to recognise the achievements of members of the public who have overcome extraordinary challenges or demonstrated impressive moral integrity. Judges included actors Ben Kingsley and Janet Suzman, and Mary Marsh, director of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Gillian Walnes, director of the Anne Frank Trust, said: "People have strong beliefs and principles, but sometimes peer pressure is stronger.

"We want people to understand why it is important to speak out. If they think something isn't right, they should put their head above the parapet."

This year's other nominees include Burmese freedom fighter Aung San Suu Kyi, a family of Kosovan refugees, and a girl who stood up to racists during a school trip to Alton Towers theme park.

But for Oli Watts, the award is merely public recognition for a very personal achievement. "Being associated with Anne Frank, who had to deal with more trauma than I could ever imagine, is just staggering," he said.

"But I've already won in my own mind. I've moved on, and am doing what I want to do now."

www.pupilline.net and www.annefrank.org.uk

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