Should Casey Heynes Have Been Suspended For Defending Himself?
Earlier this week in my home city of Sydney, Australia, a sickening high-school bully attack was caught on camera for the world to see.
Sixteen-year-old Casey Heynes was physically and verbally taunted by a 12-year-old student at the same Western Sydney school, who punched him in the face more than once to incite a similarly violent reaction. The little tough guy got more than he asked for when Casey, understood to be a repeat victim of bullying, retaliated by viciously body-slamming him into the concrete—with his ankles heard cracking as they hit a timber bench. A bigger version of the 12-year-old is seen stepping up to Casey to avenge his mate’s crushing defeat, only to be fended off by a female student who happens to walk by as the incident is happening.
The police were called after the fight and both students were suspended from the school for four days each. According to the Daily Telegraph, Casey’s outburst was a long time coming:
Casey’s father said yesterday his son had been the victim of bullying for several years and feared for his safety if he spoke about the fight.
“There’ll be reprisals from other kids in the school and he still has to go to school somewhere,” he said. “He’s not a violent kid, it’s the first time he’s lashed out and I don’t want him to be victimised over that. He’s always been taught never to hit. Apparently other people’s parents don’t teach their kids that.”
Students said violence was a daily occurrence with fights often filmed and posted online. “The fights I have seen here, it’s horrible. It really makes me feel unsafe,” one said. A classmate added: “People pick on him every single day, they hit him around and stuff, and he just got sick of it and let out the anger.”
The fight was recorded by a student’s camera phone and the footage has spread like a virus across the Internet over the past couple days, watched by thousands of people on Facebook and YouTube who overwhelmingly support Casey, even calling for an official “Casey Heynes Anti-Bullying Day.”
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, bullying expert Professor Kenneth Rigby of the University of South Australia says suspending Casey, who reacted to the bullying, was the wrong course of action because it risked punishing the victim and feeding the unwillingness of victims to come forward. I agree with this sentiment completely—and not simply because I found myself in the same situation in high school. A young person who must continue to put on a brave face while their spirit is being torn apart on a daily basis can only take so much. Violence is never the answer, but assigning the exact same punishment to the perpetrator and the victim sends the wrong message to both.