Athens, Greece – Greeks are demonstrating in a vigil, holding candles and photos of young Greeks who have been victims of bullying outside of the Greek parliament in Syntagma Square. Many are holding the photo of 20-year-old Vangelis Giakoumakis, who’s body was found two weeks ago. He was a student who committed suicide after being bullied by his peers, an incident that shocked the whole country.
‘’Vangelis is my child!’’ was the slogan of the vigil held in his memory. The event was organized through social media and the Facebook group ‘’Friends of Vangelis Giakoumakis’’ and victims of bullying and their parents were present to honor those who have suffered from this growing problem in Greece, demanding an end to bullying. The private investigator working for Vangelis’ family, George Tsoukalis, told the Greek newspaper Mega, that the vigil ‘’concentrated not only on the case of Vangelis Giakoumakis but extends to others victims of bullying, we can not lose our children under these conditions.’’
The student went missing on February 6 and was missing for 37 days. The decomposed body was found on March 15 with injuries to the wrist and a knife by its side. The discovery of the body happened only 800 meters away from the school he attended in Ioannina in the North of Greece.
The young man suffered from physical and psychological abuse by fellow students as he was being teased in cruel ways. Along with constant verbal harassments, some incidents that have been brought to light describes how the victim was tied to a chair, and an incident where he was locked in a closet where coins were slipped inside to make him perform like a jukebox.
He was also made to wear a makeshift collar around school and be pulled around like a dog, harassed in the showers, pushed down the stairs and almost suffocated with a belt. It was reported that Giakoumakis was so scared of the group that was after him that he was too scared to go to the bathroom. A teacher at the school had warned about the bullying but no serious investigation took place.
Obscenities and hateful comments were also posted online in the time period when the man was missing. The Greek Cyber Crime Unit are looking for eight people in connection with these comments, as well as a blog that was put up with hateful content. The police are not excluding that the online perpetrators are also connected to the bullying Giakoumakis suffered from when he was alive.
The Greek authorities have said that the bullies and the school staff members who were aware of the bullying would not be left unpunished. The accused are claiming their innocence and saying that the teasing was only friendly.
The incident has shed a light on the increasing problem of bullying among young people in Greece as Giakoumakis is the country’s first official victim of bullying.
The Greek government have now released a bill saying that “Anyone who commits bullying will be punished with imprisonment of at least six months.’’ As well as a bill meant to punish people who have not tried to stop bullying where it has been apparent, with; ‘’six months imprisonment to those who maliciously neglected their duties and did not prevent the bullying.’’
According to the Greek government, bullying is ‘’repeatedly cruel behavior against a their party, causing bodily harm or other harm to the physical or mental health of the victim.’’
The laws were pushed after legal experts stressed that Greece didn’t have any proper laws and regulations on bullying and that they feared that Giakoumakis’ death could go unpunished.
The Smile of the Child is a Greek organisation that ‘’develops actions and undertakes initiatives addressing the phenomenon of Bullying in Greece and Europe.’’
According to them, Greece is the 4th worst country in Europe for student bullying, only superseded by Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. In Greece 55% of students are claiming that they are suffering from depression because of bullying. As many as one in three children have self harmed or had suicidal thoughts.
The President of The Smile of the Child and The European Anti-bullying Network, Costas Yannopoulos explains how he believes the problem of bullying in Greece could be solved:
”It is really important that children and young people involved in bullying either as bullies, bullied or by-standers speak out and seek support. It is also important for them to know that in their struggle against bullying they’re not alone. They have their parents, teachers, and friends as well as dedicated and highly knowledgeable professionals who are by their side in order to hear them, empower them and give them support as needed” he explains.
The organisation coordinated the initiative of ‘’Europe’s Antibullying Campaign’’ which ‘’ has as main goal to study bullying in depth, to raise the public awareness with regards to the phenomenon and its dimensions and most of all to intervene directly through the school community.’’ 18 European organizations from 13 EU countries have welcomed the initiative with Greece as the coordinator.