Beating the Bullies - Woman's Own Magazine, 24th November 2003

When Gemma Lang confronted her tormentors, she discovered her mission.  By Wendy Horton.

On a few Occasions, I've planned to take my life....'  The chilling words flashed up on Gemma Lang's computer sccreen.  She felt her blood run cold as she stared at the desperate cry for help from an anonymous bullying victim.  Moving her A level revision to one side, Gemma began counselling the distraught youngster over the Internet.

Three hours later, Gemma said goodnight and turned her computer off, confident her new friend would stop planning suicide and seek help.

Gemma knew she could help because she, too, had suffered at the hands of bullies.

'It started just a few weeks into infant school,' says 18 year old Gemma, who lives in Caerphilly, Wales.  'There was one girl who started glaring at me.  Then came the odd kick or punch, and afterwards she began to steal my lunches.'

As her confidence dwindled, so did Gemma's outgoing personality.  She became quiet and would beg her teacher to let her help clean the classrooms instead of going out to play and face the bullying.

Eventually, Gemma broke down in tears and told her mother, Chris, who took the matter up with the school.  But the bullying persisted, following Gemma into junior school and then on to senior school, where she encountered a more sinister set of bullies.

On one occasion, Gemma was pushed in front of a moving car as a 'joke', and on another, threatened with the point of a compass.  She would often come home bruised after being 'tackled' in netball or 'hit by the netball post' as she helped to put the sports equipment away.

But Gemma refused to give in to them.  And luckily, she found a friend, a neighbour her own age, called Tara.

Gemma's confidence grew, and on the first day in the sixth form, she asked her school to support the setting up of an anti-bullying campaign, called Full Stop 2 Bullying.

The school agreed and so Gemma got up on stage every morning for a week, in front of her schoolmates and tormentors, to outline her plans to eradicate bullying in the school.  'I asked how many people were being bullied,' she says.  'At first only a small nuumber of pupils put up their hands, but each day the numbers grew.'

Over the months, dozens of children piled into a 'safe haven' classroom that Gemma had set up for bullying victims during break times.  'Some would walk in sheepishly, while at other times there'd be a knock on the door and when I'd open it, there'd be no one there.  It was pitiful to see them cowering because I knew exactly how they felt.'

Alongside studying for four A-levels, Gemma recieved training from the NSPCC to counsel bullying victims.  With the campaign in full flow, Gemma placed boxes at the school where pupils could post letters, opening their hearts about bullying.  The letters flooded in, some from victims and some from the bullies themselves.  Each one had a heartbreaking story to tell.

Gemma then extended her campaign.  Using her computer, she set up an anti-bullying website and Internet chat room, which she manned for several hours each night.  It became an immediate success, recieving hits from victims, their parents, and bullies all over the world.

'I'd chat to anyone who needed me,' she says.  'At first they'd be quite nervous, but once I gained their trust they felt a bit better and we'd talk about everything and anything.'

Then came one of the worst tragedies of Gemma's life.  Her best friend, Tara, died in a road traffic accident.  'It was an awful time because Tara had always been there for me.  But it made me even more determined to carry on, for her sake,' she says.

As a tribute, Gemma dedicated her anti-bullying website to Tara, and her work has sinced been recognised with a Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Award in 2002.

Last July, she was made an ambassador for Childline Cymru - the Welsh arm of the children's charity.

Now studying for a law degree, Gemma plans to launch her Full Stop 2 Bullying campaign nationwide.  'I beat my bullies a long time ago,' she says.  'But the problem hasn't disappeared nd that's why I'm still fighting.'

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