What is Bullying?
Bullying is when someone says or does things to have power over another person, making that person feel afraid or uncomfortable. It includes name calling and put downs, practical jokes, saying and writing nasty things, excluding or ignoring others, threats, damaging property, physical abuse and forcing others to do things which they do not want to do.
How Does Bullying Affect Me?
Everyone reacts to bullying in different ways. You may feel sad, angry, anxious, worried or scared. You may have difficulty sleeping, or may not feel like eating or hanging out with friends. You may even feel that you do not want to go to school anymore.
Whatever the case, if you feel that something is wrong, you should check the matter out with someone you can help you.
What Can I Do?
It takes courage to make a stand against bullying. But remember, everyone is better off when it stops – especially you.
It is really important to tell an adult, as not telling simply allows the bullying to continue. Try to find someone you trust and feel comfortable with. This person might be a parent, teacher, school counsellor, family member or principal. Remember, you have done nothing wrong by asking for help and it is your right to be left in peace.
If you do not want to talk about the bullying to someone you know, there are a number of people you can get in contact with. They include:
- Youthline: 0800 37 66 33 or free text 234 – free telephone counselling for young people
- Kidsline: 0800 53 47 54 – telephone support for nine to 13-year-olds
- YouthLaw: 08000 UTHLAW (0800 88 45 29) – free legal advice for under 25s
How do I complain to my school?
Good schools will often have a complaints policy which will tell you how complaints can be made and how they will be investigated.
If your school does not have a complaints policy, you should first tell your teacher. Usually a teacher will talk to you and the bully to find out what happened. A teacher might give the bully a detention, or in particularly serious cases, refer the matter to the Principal who has the power to stand-down or suspend a student. If the bully is suspended, once he/she is allowed back at school, the teachers will probably keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t start bullying again.
If you feel uncomfortable talking to a teacher straight away, it might help to talk to your School Guidance Counsellor. A counsellor is someone you can talk with about what has happened, and help you understand and deal with your feelings. Although the counsellor cannot punish the bully, he or she can pass the matter on to people who can.
Will my teacher or school counsellor tell anyone else about the bullying?
When you confide in your teacher or school counsellor they may tell someone else, even if you ask them not to. It may be the case that they think it is important for your overall well-being and safety to report the matter to Child, Youth and Family or the Police.
However, many counsellors believe that a young person has a right to make their own decisions in their own time, and may have agreed to a professional code of ethics which states that they will not breach your confidentiality unless you or others are in clear and immediate danger. If you are particularly concerned, you should ask them what they will keep private at the beginning of the meeting.
What should I do if I am unhappy about what the school is doing?
Your Board of Trustees is obligated to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for you at school. A student cannot learn properly if they are fearful and stressed, and the Board has a responsibility to deal with this if the cause of it is within the school, as well as any complaints there may be about this.
The Office of the Children’s Commissioner Report on Schools and the Right to Discipline makes five recommendations on how schools should respond to reports of bullying. Parents and students should expect:
- To be heard and responded to sensitively without being dismissed out of hand;
- To be told all forms of violence are against school policy and be reminded what the policy is;
- To be told that the report will be investigated and that there will be a response to receive feedback on the situation report and to have the incident responded to in a way that is appropriate to its nature;
- To be provided with protection from negative consequences of their reporting;
- That the school will intervene and support victims and respond to bullies;
If you are still not happy with the way the Board of Trustees deals with your complaint you can complain to the Education Review Office, the Ministry of Education, or the Commissioner for Children.
Should I go to the Police?
The Police rarely get involved in cases of bullying, as the most common examples of bullying – name-calling, exclusions and so forth – are not considered to be criminal offences. However, it will be a criminal offence to physically abuse and assault another person. Where this has happened, and the school fails to act, you might want to refer the matter to your local YouthAid Officer.
A Police Officer may arrange to see you and take a statement from you about what has happened. Before you meet, it will help if you have written down a description of the person who has bullied you, whether anyone else saw what happened, and anything else which you think might be important. Once the Police Officer has finished investigating the matter, they will inform you of their decision of whether or not to charge the bully.
Can my school be held legally responsible for failing to stop bullies?
In cases where there is long term, systematic bullying, it is possible that a school could be held liable under civil law for negligence and nuisance. However, these types of action are very expensive and highly unlikely to succeed. As any compensation for physical injuries you have suffered will be covered by ACC, you will only be able to recover ‘exemplary damages’ – money which is designed to punish the offender as opposed to compensating you for any loss. This will be an extremely high bar to meet, requiring that there be an “outrageous and flagrant” disregard for safety on the part of the school.
It may also be possible for a school to be held liable under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. The Act requires that every employer shall take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee at work harms any other person. This means that the Board of Trustees must make sure that no inaction by teachers or principals harms its students. However, no case like this has yet been brought to court, due to a limited number of labour inspectors and legal uncertainty over whether a school may be liable under the Act.