Premiere in Romania: Bullying punished by the court with detention. How will the aggressor of only 16 years be reeducated

A 16-year-old student was sentenced to a year and a half in prison after shoving two of his classmates headfirst into the toilet. We are talking about a case of bullying of extreme cruelty, which horrified even the judges. Their verdict is the first sign that the authorities are finally taking a stand and punishing violence in a real, tangible way, beyond laws and sanctions written only on paper.

Bullying in schools has become a national sport. Photo source: archive

These days we are witnessing a first in Romanian justice: a 16-year-old student from the “Dumitru Mangeron” Technological High School in Bacău, who assaulted two of his classmates last year, was sentenced to one year and six months in prison in a re-education center. It is the sign that the authorities are finally reacting promptly and charging cases of school bullying and assault. We can say that a precedent has been created that should give thought to all those who practice bullying: the next ones sent behind bars could be them.

The story, in short: A 16-year-old student from Bacău forced two of his classmates, children with special needs, to follow him on all fours, kiss his hand, shine his shoes, buy them various foods from the kiosk. The committed acts, which were known to the school management, culminated in January last year, with a physical assault in the toilet. The two children were hit, pushed, dragged into the school bathroom and pushed headfirst into the toilet. Even worse is the fact that the horrific scene took place in front of several students who filmed with their mobile phones and then uploaded the images on social media. The film went viral and scandalized the entire public opinion. As expected, the authorities were notified soon after. Within a few days of the terrible act, the aggressor was found by the police, detained for 24 hours, and then placed under house arrest. After a year of investigations and trials, the final verdict came: the judges, who considered that the aggressor committed the acts out of pure pleasure, decided to intern him in the Târgu Ocna educational center.

Aggression and bullying are the order of the day in almost all schools in the country. We are facing an extremely serious situation, which requires the involvement of the whole society, but especially of the authorities.

In this context, yesterday at the Palace of the Parliament, a debate was held with the theme “Safety in the educational environment and legal responsibility” which was attended by, among others, the Minister of Education, Ligia Deca, Monica Anisie, the president of the Commission for Education in the Senate, and Alina Gorghiu, Minister of Justice. During the event, a series of proposals were launched for the prevention of violence, but also for sanctioning these acts. The authorities, therefore, rallied their ranks, thought of a battle plan, put it on paper, and in some cases even implemented it. I was also looking forward to the effects. So that there are no more cases of rape in schools, cases of students who beat their teachers until they bleed, with fists and feet, students who humiliate and terrorize their colleagues.

“We need legal education”

Monica Anisie, the president of the Education Committee in the Senate, stated during the debate that, in addition to the school counselors that already exist, schools also need psychologists. “There was a supplement for school counselors. But those school counselors must be doubled by psychologists, We must do something to support the children, but also the parents“, said the official.

Another proposal comes from the Minister of Justice, Alina Gorghiu, who advocates the introduction of the “Legal Education” subject in schools. “For students to know the difference between a banal joke and a criminal act“, explained the official. In other words, children need to know the boundaries beyond which they are not allowed to cross and what punishments they risk if they do. “Legal education is not a fad, a trend, it is not done because it is good. On the other hand, legal education must be taught to students by professionals“, Alina Gorghiu also specified. It is about prevention, the minister also said. “I think that if we focus on prevention, things will go in a good direction”.

Alina Gorghiu also referred to the law on the extension of the protection order to any type of violence, against any type of aggressor “not only against the husband or the father, but also against the aggressive students. Against the one who injures you, affects your health, against the one who is in the 9th grade but threatens you with beatings, death, blackmail. There is the possibility of requesting the protection order“. This includes harassment, the official explained. “In schools in Romania, this type of criminal act also happens to exist: bullying. It is important that parents take their children to school safely, the educational environment must ensure peace of mind for families“. The law, the Minister of Justice also said, will enter into force and produce its effects this year on August 31.

Minister Deca went even further and called for these behaviors to be sanctioned. “We need to sanction antisocial acts, whether we're talking about violence, whether we're talking about bullying, the use of prohibited substances. Schools must be safe spaces for everyone inside them: both students and teachers. I have seen a number of very serious cases of violation of the law. Students, children should feel safe and teachers should be able to do their duty without being afraid to be inside a school. I have zero tolerance for violence”, said Ligia Deca.

It is also the reason why the Ministry of Education decided to introduce video and audio surveillance cameras in all schools and classrooms without the need for parental consent. “If there is a report of violence, the police, the prosecutor's office, the school director based on a reasoned written request can access the recording and clearly establish what was and what was not. This also protects us all from possible abusive reports. But in serious cases, we no longer have an endless stream of conflicting statements from the parties involved in the conflict“, stated the Minister of Education.

On punishment and rehabilitation

The bottom line? We have laws, we will have more. The important thing is that it works and produces effects. Until then, however, we face the harsh reality: the first child admitted to a re-education center for humiliating others at school. What real chances of rehabilitation will he have? “It's hard to say“, the psychologist Ovidiu Telegescu told us. “It depends on many factors. Let's not forget that he is entering a hostile environment. Regardless of how much the system has changed over time, we must recognize that the aggressor will not be welcomed there as at a hotel. However, there are recovery programs for minors. How well they are made is another story. However, it is very important that this child has support, psychological counseling, they must work with him in such a way that he has a real chance at rehabilitation. Even if he is an aggressor, even if he is emotionally flattened, let's not forget that he is flattened in relation to others. In relation to himself, he is very sensitive“, explained the psychologist. “If not, let's not imagine that, once out of there, he will regret what he did. He goes out, but he will go out laden with an even heavier burden“. And if we are talking about a pathological case, says the psychologist, this child must be monitored and treated. “Such conditions never go away on their own. On the contrary. It's getting worse”.

I also discussed the aggressor's situation with Magdalena Andrei, the director of the Târgu Ocna Educational Center, where the student from Bacău will spend a year and a half. She explained to us what the rehabilitation procedure consists of in order to avoid the situation that he, once free, starts all over again. “According to the protocol, after being brought to the prison facilities, the inmates enter a period of quarantine and observation for 21 days. They are evaluated, their needs for personal development and the risks associated with the act with which they came to us are identified. Then, an activity plan specific to the identified needs and risks is drawn up“, the director of the center explained to “Adevărul”. “After six months, this activity plan is reevaluated“, she also said. It is ascertained whether there has been progress, whether the initially set objectives have been achieved”.

Concretely, rehabilitation in such a center consists of individual and group psychological counseling, various activities and schooling. Because the minors admitted here must continue their schooling. Then, in addition to all this, prisoners who wish can work in various sectors of activity: in cleaning, in the greenhouse, in the kitchen, etc.