Bullying, Diana and her sister

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This article is published in issue 6 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until February 9, 2021

Phrases not to say to Diletta: are you thirsty? Help me, chew, close your arms, stay soft, breathe, study, that’s enough. For those who break the law: either give a jewel to Diletta or she will never talk to you again. Phrases to say to Diletta: I love you very much, I like you very much, you are good and kind, you don’t treat people badly, you are beautiful. For those who don’t say it: he goes to punishment where he will have to create jewels for Diletta.

In Diana’s Instagram stories, a poster appears with these instructions. «It was Diletta who asked me to do it», she explains, «to help others understand how to behave with her: she fixes herself with certain words, she is very touchy». Since she was 5 years old (“I went to school early”) Diana, who is now 16, takes care of her sister Diletta, who is 22, and has been since birth a dystonic spastic quadriplegic with severe cognitive retardation, which forces her into a wheelchair. “She had severe crying fits when she was in fifth grade, the support teacher could not calm her down and they called me, who was in first class, to go and calm her down.”

It was very small.
«Diletta would return calmly only with me or with my mother. I did it willingly ».

When did the persecution of bullies start?
“Right in first, and it went on up to fifth. They told me that if I had a disabled sister, surely I was not “normal” either. I use these words but the insults were quite different. I was also overweight, so they told me I was a pig, that I blocked the view from others. In the canteen they spit on my plate ».

Did he talk to his mother about it?
“Sure, and she talked about it with the teachers, but they said I was going to look for them or that I was shy. A teacher collected the cookie cards that I ate in a closet and then took them out at the end of the month and showed me “how much I had eaten” ».

How is it possible for a teacher to do this?
“I think there is a lot of misinformation on disability and a lot of gratuitous malice on the rest.”

Has anyone at school ever stood up for her?
“Nobody. They were all afraid of becoming victims themselves. “

How did he feel?
«I cried, and I consoled myself by eating. I was overweight in the third stage, one step away from obesity ».

Then came the middle school.
“I had chosen a school far from my neighborhood, to change attendance. Yet the situation has definitely worsened. I did not hide the fact that I have a disabled sister, so the teasing about Diletta and also about my body continued. I had no friends, I became bulimic, and I developed a contact trauma: I could not touch anyone, except my mother, because as soon as I did I felt like throwing up. Because the physical threats had come from the insults: shoving, tripping, they even locked me in the bathroom ».

Did you go to a psychologist?
«Yes, for two and a half years I did psychotherapy with a specialist who helped me a lot. Each time he put his hand on the table, bringing it closer and closer. After years I managed to embrace her ».

Was her mother always aware of what was going on at school?
«I didn’t really tell her everything, also not to be a burden. Then I was used to it, for me the norm was being teased, I was almost anesthetized. In the meantime, the persecutions had also become virtual, tormenting my old and new comrades. They made WhatsApp groups in which they showed photomontages with my edited photos, or photomontages with the faces of pigs or cows. Sometimes they hacked my Instagram profile and posted these images on my feed or in stories ».

How did you react?
“It hurt me, but I didn’t do anything. Often my mom called the parents of the bullies and showed them the chats, but even in the face of the evidence they always denied everyone. In my experience, no parent has ever been able to admit that their child does certain things. “

Did she not have a friend there, even someone outside the school, to support her?
“No, also because I didn’t do much. Apart from going to ballet for almost ten years, where there were the same ones that haunted me ».

How long did this situation last?
«Until January 25, 2017: three girls blocked me in the bathroom and one of them took out a knife and pointed it to my throat and said ‘I’ll kill you’. I was terrified, I had a panic attack and then I started crying without being able to stop. I went back to class, I couldn’t explain anything to the teacher. At the end of the day I found my coat completely cut with that cutter: at the exit I told my mom everything, and we went back immediately to talk to the teacher. Finally we had a “proof”, something tangible to show. The answer was: “I’m not a sewing expert, what do I know if a person made those cuts with a cutter or if his daughter simply broke it?”. My mother kept a cool head, she wanted to give me strength: she asked for permission that same day, and two days later she forced me to start my second life in another middle school ».

Why “obligated”?
«There were four months to the end of middle school, I wanted to finish, leaving it seemed to me that the bullies would win. But it is not enduring violence that proves strength, I understood this later. In the new school they welcomed me very well immediately. I couldn’t believe they greeted me, spoke to me, smiled at me, didn’t insult me. “Normality” was something else ».

So he started getting better.
“Yes, even if the real recovery began when I started talking about what had happened to me, opening up, which I had never done with anyone in practice. After a few weeks the religion teacher gave us a theme in which we had to describe the person who had changed our life. I chose my story of bullying and my bulla, that of the cutter: she was the one who made me stronger, and she taught me not to be who she was. Then we talked about it in class and my classmates showed solidarity. It was there that I felt that talking about it was very important to me. I started to love myself, I also managed to lose weight ».

Writing a theme in which he thanks the bulla shows that he had elaborated his story, it is very mature.
“I have a strong character, maybe that’s why I survived all that violence. I suffered, but bullies have always made me sorry: I would never want to be in their place. They are not bad people but people who feel unwell, maybe they don’t have enough attention in the family and are looking for a way to feel strong ».

Have you ever met your bulla again, in your second life?
“Yes, once, on the street. I was with a friend and she too, approached me and tried to make jokes about me. I laughed in her face. Since that time it has never bothered me again. ‘

In mid-2017, law 71 against cyberbullying came into force, the first in Europe, much desired by Paolo Picchio, father of Carolina, the girl victim of bullying who committed suicide in 2013. Do you think it helped to change things?
“Ten years ago, when it happened to me, not many things were known. Today there is certainly more talk of it, and social platforms have started to hinder offensive content. It is true that the law provides for sanctions for those who stalk and insult others on social media, but perhaps the high school kids are sensitive to these, certainly not the younger, uninformed ones. Education on these issues should start from elementary school. In my reality I have seen only one teacher sensitive to the topic who has taken care to use part of her schedule to address these issues. The law would provide for teacher training and a contact person for each school. In reality, in my institute they called me, informally, as an “expert” to help out in a case that had been identified ».

How did she become an expert?
“By chance. I sent my story to the ScuolaZoo portal which decided to publish it and then I became a member of the Provincial Council of Students, a kind of school representative on equal opportunities. Today many contact me on Instagram to tell me their bullying stories, often they just want to talk. For me it is very important to be able to be useful to someone who suffers as I suffered, and to show that it is possible to get out of it ».

Who turns to you?
«Especially girls, between 13 and 15 years old, victims of peers. It is a moment in life in which the body counts a lot and bullying almost always arises by making fun of someone for alleged defects, bodyshaming is daily bread. Many young people then exaggerate with substances, alcohol, sexting and many do not speak also because they are ashamed ».

Didn’t distance learning cool these phenomena?
“No, they moved online. With the lockdown, cyberbullying has increased, more and more people write to me: during remote lessons on Zoom, parallel chats are activated where anything happens, humiliation, insults, blackmail. The most trivial is to photograph the screen and start making fun of someone ».

Have you ever come to know of cases in which the victim risked harming himself?
“Yes, there was a seventh-grade kid who was beaten almost every day. Fortunately, he has now changed schools and is much better, we are still in contact, even with his parents, who thanked me later ».

What are your dreams today?
«I really like studying, paper books and writing in notebooks, they are old style. I have a great passion for politics, I would like to take care of young people, they are the only ones who still believe in it today. Meanwhile, I volunteer, and after school (he attended a chemical-biological technical institute, ed) I would like to enroll in Law or Political Science ».

Has there ever been a moment when, perhaps as a child, she turned her frustration towards her sister Diletta?
«Never, I love her enormously and even if I had to suffer a thousand times that I immediately would continue to defend her. And then she has always been my great strength: when I saw that she was fine, she smiled, she was happy, despite her disability, I repeated to myself: I can certainly be too ».

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