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PHOENIX: Zugo

This week, as part of the Phoenix Campaign by ADVAS, we met Zugo. His story was told on our Facebook and Instagram feeds.

Zugo was bullied from the time he started school. A thin boy who looked and acted differently than the other kids, Zugo was often seen as peculiar. Because of this, he was targeted by people who were bullies. He was called names, threatened, isolated, chased, and hurt.

Wanting to help, Zugo’s parents encourage him to stand up for himself. They told him, like many people say in these situations, to “be a man” and to “fight back.” His father even tries to teach Zugo to fight, but fighting is not in Zugo’s nature so the lessons don’t really stick.

And, much like the Kelly Clarkson song that would echo these words to Zugo over the radio in the years that followed, his parent’s told him that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Zugo wasn’t so sure they were right.

From this article by Katie Hurley, “Bullying is a serious threat to our youth today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bullying affects 20% of high school students and cyberbullying affects 16% of high school students. Surveys compiled by the CDC also show that 33% of students ages 12-18 who reported bullying at school and 27% of students ages 12-18 who reported cyberbullying indicated that they were bullied at least once or twice a month. Middle schools reported the highest rate of bullying (25%), at least once a week.

Bullying can have negative short and long-term consequences for both the victim and the bully. While traditional intervention for bullying tends to include getting help for the victim and establishing consequences for the bully, it should be noted that both the victim and the bully benefit from psychosocial support.”

As he grew older, bullies continued to attack and hurt Zugo. He would often find himself alone in a scary situation after his friends would run away out of fear for their own safety, just like what happened in the story that Zugo shared. In that story Zugo chose to make an attempt at running away, and he pushed one his bullies. Zugo wasn’t fast enough, though, and he was beaten.

Alone, injured, afraid, and depressed, Zugo vowed to never use violence to counter violence again. As he saw it, the risks were far too much for him.

The short and long term physical, emotional and cognitive injuries from bullying can be debilitating.

If you have been hurt by bullies, help is available.

Being seen as “different” by some people didn’t stop Zugo from making good friends and finding places and spaces where he felt safe and welcomed. With a strong network of friends around him, Zugo maintained good grades and an active social life through his teen years. His bullies never went away, but he was finding it easier to ignore their words and dirty looks as time passed. “I realized that in a lot of ways, my life was getting better – I was making friends, going places, trying new things, just getting to have all of these really cool experiences with good people – and they were practically standing still. It was the same group of guys since elementary, doing the same things, picking on the same kids everyday. I actually started to feel a bit sad for them,” said Zugo.

In the twelfth grade, Zugo was with his boyfriend and some other friends at a private house party when groups of uninvited guests started arriving. Among the group were some of the people who had hurt him before, and so Zugo and some others went into a bedroom to hide. While one of the residents of the home called for police to remove the unwanted guests, who were already causing trouble with the invited guests, the bullies arrived at the door to the bedroom where Zugo was. “It felt a bit like a horror movie. My heart was pounding and my friend was more scared than I had ever seen him. Someone had cut the music when <our friend> was yelling for people to get out, so you just heard these footsteps coming down the hall. Clunk. Clunk. Clunk. And then they were there in the doorway and they saw my boyfriend. They started swearing about him being gay and saying the most awful things. I wasn’t out yet, so they didn’t say much about me that was new. You could tell they had been drinking and smoking, I could smell them from across the room.”

With the bullies who had hurt him before standing near him and yelling obscenities about his boyfriend, Zugo feels compelled to act. “I was terrified when I stood up and told him to leave. I was angry and afraid and I just wanted them to leave. I told him to stop. He didn’t.”

Hearing the raised voices, the rest of the group of uninvited guests come into the bedroom and surround Zugo. “I was looking around the room, and I saw the same faces that surrounded me in tenth grade. The same people, doing the same thing years later. For as insane as I thought that was, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I just kept thinking about what they were saying – the most awful things about my boyfriend. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

One of the bullies made a threat of a sexual nature toward Zugo’s boyfriend, and Zugo tried to punch the man. What ensued was an all-out attack that would leave Zugo unconscious and bloodied on the floor of the bedroom. His friends had also been hurt, but not to the same degree.

According to the Government of Canada, crimes motivated by bias are on the rise.

We see this in our own community, too.

If you have been the victim of a hate crime, help is available.

Severely injured, Zugo is transported to the hospital where he needs surgery to repair some of the damage done.

While he was recovering in hospital, an ADVAS Advocate who was contacted by the first police officer on scene after the attack arrived to assist Zugo. “They were really organized and asked about things that I hadn’t even thought of….. He was super human, too, though – not just strictly business with a checklist. He spent a lot of time just talking to me and understanding everything, like the whole decade, that lead up to this.”

Zugo got help with his physical and emotional recovery, and his ADVAS Advocate helped him and his family recover the costs of getting the things that were needed for Zugo to recover safely and comfortably at home. With support, Zugo had important conversations with his parents that helped him to heal emotionally.

Because Zugo’s case was complex and took time fully resolve, he maintained contact with his ADVAS Advocate for a long time. There were periods when they would speak regularly, and at other times they would not need to be in direct contact. “But I always knew that I could call if I had a question.”

Zugo notes in his story that he believes his parents were wrong when they said that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. He says that his injuries have weakened him, but that teamwork – including his ADVAS Advocate – made him stronger.

ADVAS helps victims receive restitution. You can learn about Alberta’s restitution program here.

Bullying, stalking, harassments and assault are crimes that cause injuries to people and communities. ADVAS is here for all people who are victims of these crimes.

If you or someone you know is a victim of a crime, please reach out for help.