Words by Ioanna Bagia, Harassment & Bullying Representative for The Dickson Poon School of Law.
Unfortunately there is currently no legal definition of bullying in the law of England and Wales. Quite apart from the law, bullying is a term that can be misunderstood, misinterpreted or simply not recognised as important. It is important to understand what bullying is, who the actors in bullying are and how those bullied can be affected.
What is a bully? According to the Oxford Dictionaries, a bully is: A person who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker. While there are numerous other respected definitions, the aforementioned one captures the essence of what bullying is. An act of bullying usually consists of a person or group of people that exert pressure on an individual or group with the purpose of belittling, ridiculing and/or humiliating them. There absolutely is no one typical act of bullying, however, the traits highlighted above are common features.
It is important to clarify that bullying is a diverse phenomenon, in order to be able to dismantle the illusion that bullying is simply an infantile behaviour exclusive to the school playground. Bullying can, and does, follow some people throughout their lives. It takes place in a variety of contexts, including: the school and work environments as well as on the internet and social media. Most importantly, it is not uncommon for a bully to attack their victim on integral parts of the victim’s identity, such as: sex, ethnic and cultural origin, sexual and gender orientation, socio-economic background, family status, illness and disability. Bullying can be intentional, systemic and malicious and is certainly not a phenomenon confined to certain ages, particular people, areas of life or relationships.
Who takes part in bullying? There are 3 main actors, the: bully or bullies, victim or victims and bystander or bystanders. While bullies and victims are the main actors, bystanders are part of the act, whose failure to act to stop or prevent such bullying can be a form of consent to the act.
Finally, why care about bullying? 80% of young people who completed suicide did so because of peer victimization and bullying, according to NOBullying.com. 77% of students describe themselves as being victims of bullying according to BullyingStatistics.org and 75% of employees have been affected by workplace bullying, according to Forbes. Bullying genuinely can affect anyone and everyone, both in their public and private lives with impacts which can be as serious as contemplating suicide.
In conclusion, although it ranges in seriousness, bullying always involves bullies recognising and abusing their positions of power and influence over others. Many, if not most, people have been part of a bullying act either in the position of the bully, the bystander or the victim. It can and does affect everyone in some way, and therefore should not be disregarded as an issue no longer relevant or requiring significant attention.