Bullying and Harassment

“…bullying is not about anger or conflict; it is about contempt — a powerful feeling of dislike toward someone considered to be worthless, inferior, or undeserving of respect”.

Barbara Coloroso

“We might like to think that colleges and universities are democratic, inclusive, and fair-minded institutions. but we ignore at our peril the reality that they tend to confer power and privilege to certain groups and to marginalize others, creating a chilly climate for some”.

Marilyn Noble

Bullying and harassment in schools have become an increasingly serious concern. These two forms of violence are related: bullying has been defined as behaviors that repeatedly and over time intentionally inflict injury on another, while harassment refers to biased behaviors, intentional or unintentional, that can, but need not be, targeted at a specific individual. These behaviors overlap and can involve verbal, psychological or physical abuse and be perpetrated through direct face-to-face contact, through third parties and by cyberbullying.

Bullying is still often dismissed as simply a part of growing up and something that will make the victim stronger. But bullying does not build resilience, but instead tends to increase the vulnerabilities of victims. Children and youth who face bullying or harassment are at risk for a range of emotional, behavior and relationship problems, including low self-concept, school absenteeism, anxiety and loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts, stress-related health problems, and aggressive behavior. Many of the psychological problems associated with having been victimized can persist in later life. For the bulllies, they are at risk of engaging in other risky behaviours, such as drug and alcohol abuse, and in other forms of violence, such as sexual harassment and dating aggression. A significant number of the bullied become bullies, and these individuals are seen as most at risk.

  • On the World Health Organization’s Health Behaviours in School-aged Children (HSBC) survey, Canada ranked a dismal 26th and 27th out of 35 countries on measures of bullying and victimization, respectively (Craig and Harel 2004). (To see the results of the 35 countries, click here.)
  • Approximately 12% of girls and 18% of boys reported bullying others at least twice in previous months, whereas 15% of girls and 18% of boys reported being victimized at least twice over the same time period (Craig & Harel 2004)
  • In a survey of 43,000 high schools students in the US, 47% had been bullied, teased or tainted, while 50% admitted to being bullies themselves (John Cloud, “The Myths of Bullying,” Time 12 March 2012 ).
  • Individuals who engage in bullying are more likely to engage in sexual harassment and dating violence and the acceptance of such behaviours can start early. The US Center for Disease Control found that more than 1/2 of girls and 1/4 of boys in grade 6 thought that is was fine to hit a boyfriend or girlfriend, and a significant number who had dated admitted that they had been aggressive towards their date (Shannon Proudfoot, “Dating Violence Starts Early,” The Montreal Gazette 3 May 2009).
  • A 2008 survey of Ontario secondary schools found that 43% of students reported sexual harassment in grade 9. Although the rates were similar for girls and boys, the types of harassment differed: the girls were more likely than boys to be recipients of sexual jokes, comments and unwanted touching, while boys were more likely to be subjected to homosexual slurs. Essentially, girls are harassed for being girls, while boys because they don’t conform to perceptions of ideal masculinity (Jaffe and Hughes, “Preventing Violence against Girls,” Education Forum 34.3).
  • In Gay and Lesbian Education Network’s 2001 National School Climate Survey, 84% of GLBT youth report being verbally harassed in school and 64.3% report feeling unsafe, while 83% of GLBT youth said that their teachers rarely or never intervene when hearing homophobic remarks (Elizabeth Meyer, “A Feminist Reframing of Bullying and Harassment,” McGill Journal of Education 43.1).
  • While openly racial slurs are less common in Ontario high schools, minority students are more likely to be bullied based on other gender-based criteria; thus racism endures but is hidden. (See Liz Meyer’s video on bullying and queer pedagogy by clicking here.)
  • Institutions of higher education typically downplay the levels of harassment faced by their student body: it is estimated that in the US 1 out of 5 to 1 to out of 4 female college students are assaulted in the course of their college career. In a study of the rates of violence among social science students attending 31 universities across 16 countries, 29% of the students engaged in physical dating violence in the past year and about 9.4% of college students engaged in severe forms of physical dating violence (Sudderth, Leisring, and Bronson, “If They Don’t Tell Us, It Never Happened,” Canadian Women’s Studies 28.1)
  • While primary and secondary schools have implemented anti-bullying programs, research on the effectiveness of these programs is quite recent. The most common approach currently is a whole-schools appoach that targets all students, parents and adults and is based on the assumption that bullying is a systematic problem. Two recent meta-analyses of research on antibullying programs, however, suggest that the effects are modest at best with only a third of the intervention suggesting that bullying declined following the program’s implementation (Sandra Graham, “What Educators Need to Know about Bullying Behaviors,” Phi Delta Kappen 92.1).
  • Anti-bullying expert and psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Twemlow emphasizes that, in anti-bullying programs, it is often not what you do, but how you do it that determines success, pointing out that discussions about violence in schools rarely mention that teachers can also bully students. In his 2005 study, Twemlow found that 45% of teachers admitted that they had bullied a student at some point in their career. (Twemlow, et al., in International Journal of Social Psychiatry 52.3).

Bullying and harassment remain serious problems on college campuses. Take a look at these documents by workplace bullying expert Marilyn Noble that addresses how to spot bullying on college campuses, and how to tame it: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

For more information on bullying, see the resource materials available at PREVNet, a national network of Canadian researchers, NGOs and governments working to reduce bullying by clicking here.

For a thorough look at the complexities of cyberbullying and ways to respond, see www.definetheline.ca.

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