#parent | #kids | Girl at centre of Orewa College assault speaks for first time

Eva Vitali and her family have decided to speak out for the first time after she was assaulted at Orewa College earlier this year.

On May 5, a group of girls approached 13-year-old Eva on the school field before two of them shoved her to the ground, pulling her hair and punching and kicking her.

Speaking to 1News, Eva said there were several incidents leading up to the attack, including being pushed down the stairs at school.

“I got shoved 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 that maybe it was by accident.”

Eva’s attack was filmed by onlookers and shared online.

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 assault, Eva received messages from students at other schools online telling her they also wanted to beat her up.

But the 13-year-old says she is moving on from the vicious assault and wants others who have experienced bullying to “have hope”.

“You’ll get through it, talk to people about it because that was really important, I wish I had talked my mum more about what’s going on.

“People can be really mean sometimes, but it’s not your problem, it’s theirs” Eva said.

She wants people to know how big of an impact bullying can have on kids’ mental health and that no one is alone.

“I guess the bullies just don’t understand that.

“It’s very emotional, you need to deal with a lot of things and it’s really hard to go through.”

Eva’s parents

Mike and Kirsten Vitali were heartbroken to hear their daughter had been assaulted.

Mike and Kirsten Vitali.

Kirsten told 1News initially she didn’t want to watch the video of her daughter being beaten because it was too traumatic.

She said when she picked Eva up from school, the dean told her to take her to the emergency department.

“It feels really surreal, I never would have imagined this happening to our girl, she’s always been so happy at school.

“We moved schools thinking it would be fine, it’s just another school, and yeah I think it was after one full term of this happening and it was just such a shock.”

Eva moved from Whangaparaoa College to Orewa College at the beginning of 2022. She left Orewa College a few weeks ago and will start at a new school next year.

Kirsten also said social media played a significant role in people bullying Eva, and bullying in general.

“There’s no escape for them now with phones, when we were at school it happened at school or they’d have to call on the actual landline.

“But now they go home and it’s like Snapchat, it’s endless and people make up these rumours that are totally fake and it just spreads and these kids just 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’s going round our whole school and we’d like to beat you up too.”

Her dad Mike says bullying in New Zealand schools is a much larger issue than people think.

“This is just the start of what we’re seeing really with this generation coming through and unfortunately Eva’s just been caught in the crossfire of that.”

He says there simply isn’t enough support in schools for these kinds of situations.

“There’s not enough support because they’re dealing with something they’ve just never had to deal with on this scale before.

“It’s really an epidemic and my prediction personally is that it will spiral out of control in the in the coming years.”

He said the two girls who assaulted Eva were the “end result” of a group of people planning and filming the attack.

“Culturally, we as a community are looking at something rife, you know what I mean.

“So I guess what we’re saying is, the online stuff, it continued like weeks after and in actual fact we had to take Snapchat and these different apps off Eva and ostracise her from the whole situation just to protect her because the school couldn’t do it.”

A solution

Mike says every school should have a dean or teacher who deals directly with bullying cases and works to prevent it.

“If they had an anti-bullying role within schools where they had a direct person to go to, you know they’ll sort that out.”

Kirsten says the system needs to change to help other students going through something similar.

“There are many kids, it’s really heartbreaking to think it’s not just Eva, there are so many kids who are suffering like this and feel like they can’t talk about it because they’re afraid, it’s so sad.”

But Secondary Principals’​ Association’s Vaughan Couillault says there are no “prescriptive” guidelines for dealing with bullying in schools.

“What there is, is all sorts of best practice commentary and guidelines that could come from New Zealand Association of Counsellors or could come from the Ministry of Education.

“It’s a whole range of information and tools that are available to help us to take the right approach because none of these situations are ever the same.

“What might be occurring in one young person’s life might be quite different from another person down the road.

“Some of it might be localised and physical, another a lot might be quite distanced and sort of digital or cyber based,” he said.

Couillault says he encourages students to speak up and be brave.

“You need to have the courage to to go to an adult that you trust and trust them to do things for you.”

He said there are things teachers can do immediately, but getting a bully to change their behaviour can take time.

“Those in the education system are all committed to doing the very best they can in terms of making sure it’s safe and accessible for all students in terms of learning and and the social side of school.”

The Ministry of Education also said there is no “one size fits all” response to bullying in schools.

“There are no guidelines specific to reintroducing bullying victims into the classroom, however, information on resolution approaches when resolving bullying incidents is provided.

“The combination of approaches that the school chooses will reflect its culture and values, the community’s values, and the nature of the bullying incident.”

The ministry also said secondary schools receive an entitlement to employ counsellors, careers guidance and pastoral care.

“211 large secondary schools received an additional 0.40 FTE in 2022, to allow them to employ more guidance counsellor support. This means schools can have dedicated staff working in roles to support their young people, including with bullying.”

The school’s response

Orewa College Principal Greg Pierce told 1News the school does not tolerate what happened to Eva.

Orewa Collage.

“There was an incident which occurred earlier this school year where a student was assaulted by two other students.

“Orewa college does not condone acts of physical aggression which are in stark contrast to the core Manaaki values of the college.”

The two students who attacked Eva have now been expelled from Orewa College.

Pierce said at the time the Vitali’s attended a community meeting where ideas and strategies to address the issues were discussed.

“The college and the student and the parents all worked collectively to ensure that a safe and supportive return to the college occurred,” he said.

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