“Cruelty Might Be Very Human… But It’s Not Acceptable” (Jodie Foster, Best Actress Oscar Winner for The Accused, 1989)
Bullying is a well-defined, well-researched, yet complex form of violence. It entails any abuse of actual or perceived power, in the form of unwanted aggressive (usually repeated) behaviour using force, emotional mistreatment, physical attacks, coercion, hurtful teasing, spreading false rumours, purposeful alienation, humiliation, verbal abuse or threat, aimed at abusing, dominating, or intimidating someone. When a bully targets someone because of their biological sex or gender identity, it also constitutes gender-based violence.
Bullying can happen anywhere that people interact. Bullying can happen in learning environments (e.g., schools and universities), workplaces, and online (cyber-bullying). Some research indicates that as many as 57% of South African learners have been bullied at some time during their high-school careers. However, both children and adults can be bullied. For example, the International Bar Association reported in 2019 that 73% of South African female legal professionals say they have been bullied.
Bullying causes physical, psychological, or social harm. Children (and adults) who are bullied are made to feel hurt, angry, afraid, helpless, hopeless, isolated, lonely, ashamed, and guilty. They are at risk of developing mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem, and some become suicidal. Their physical health and academic or workplace performance are also likely to suffer.
Bullying is against the law. South African law acknowledges that bullying cases can contain a criminal element. Bullying of children can be addressed in terms of several South African laws, including The South African Schools Act 84 of 1996, The Children’s Act 38 of 2005, The Child Justice Act 75 of 2008, and The Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011. Every South African child has the right to bring a case of bullying to court, for restorative justice, and rehabilitation of the bully and to prevent repeat offending. Any child can apply for a protection order against a bully, even without the assistance of his or her parents. Schools are required to have and enforce a code of conduct, and should have specific procedures in place to deal with bullying, including disciplinary processes and punishment such as suspension. The state and the school can be held liable for damage, injury or loss suffered by a learner in a public school due to bullying. If a bully is under the age of 10, they cannot be arrested. A bully who is 10 years old or older can be arrested.
Bullies get away with it because of…
- The bystander effect, where the presence of others inhibits a person’s willingness to help someone in need, even in an emergency.
- The pervasiveness of bullying in a specific context, where it is the norm.
- A lack of awareness about bullying, or not knowing what to do when someone is being bullied.
- The social status of the bully, which could stop others from acting against the bully.
- Others fearing the repercussions of intervening in or reporting bullying.
- Lack of rules, policies, and procedures to deal with bullying, or ambiguous rules, policies and procedures.
- Parental denial, and poor parental role-modelling.
Why do bullies bully? Those who bully have likely experienced a stressful or traumatic situation (e.g., a new brother or sister, a death in the family), defaulting to bullying as a coping mechanism because they don’t have the skills to respond positively. Aggressive behaviour is learnt, and it is often a result of not being able to share or talk about emotions and that which affects one’s well-being. When someone has low-esteem, bullying avoids negative attention and deflects away from the feelings of the bully. Those who have been bullied are twice as likely to bully others, and tend to believe that by becoming a bully, they will become less vulnerable to being bullied. For about a third of bullies, their home circumstances are difficult, including rejection, neglect, and violence. Furthermore, feelings of insecurity in friendships and family relationships make bullies vulnerable to peer pressure, and leave them feeling that those close to them are not supportive.
Preventing bullying in schools: Dr. Saths Cooper – YouTube https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=BbaDgSUZgto