Friday, 30 July 2010

Are There Bullies in Your School, at Work and at Home?

Does bullying stop if we make anti-bullying laws?

Or does it stop when the bully realizes the importance of “Do to others only what you want them to do to you”?

Almost everyone has some experience of bullying – either they have been bullied, they have witnessed bullying or been a bully. Bullying is very close to sexual harassment. Few “victims” would like to talk about it. In both cases, it is mostly about power abuse.

Bullies are everywhere. Look around and you’ll find a bully in kindergartens and day-care, in school and college, in church, at work, in the neighbourhood, on the political scene. Even people working in the UK Prime Minister’s office suffered from bullying and officially complained.

Why People Bully?

Bullying is a psychological mechanism to deal with an inner problem by acting it out. A bully typically needs to dominate and feel on top. A bully typically tries
  • To compensate for their inadequacy and reduce their fear of being seen as weak, inadequate and often incompetent individuals
  • To avoid accepting responsibility for their behaviour and the harmful effect it has on others
  • To divert attention away from the fact that they are not doing anything to remedy the inadequacies

Definition of workplace bullying by Amicus-MSF trade union
"Persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating or insulting behaviour, abuse of power or unfair penal sanctions which makes the recipient feel upset, threatened, humiliated or vulnerable, which undermines their self-confidence and which may cause them to suffer stress"MSF Union, 1994 
How to Confront a Bully

If bullying is not dealt with, the bully can destroy another person’s life.

If you let a bully come in your front yard, he'll be on your porch the next day and the day after that he'll rape your wife in your own bed.” US President Lyndon B. Johnson

There are basically four strategies for dealing with bullies.
  1. Suffer in silence – This is exactly what most bullies want the victim to do. The sight of the tortured and bullied intimidated, grovelling in fear typically makes bullies feel stronger and more powerful. Most of the bullied persons just hope that avoiding the bully and hoping that the bully will find a new victim, just solves the problem. This happens rarely and many people suffer irreparable damage to their personalities and many are driven to suicide in desperation. Bullies typically expect a docile reaction, so if the victim reciprocates with the docile and groveling response, the problem will continue.
  2. Confront the bully – Stand up to the bully and directly challenge the bully. This requires immense courage and taking huge risks. Bullies are usually smart and pick on people “weaker” than them to minimise the chances of being directly challenged. Direct challenge is very risky as things can go badly if a small kid would challenge a big bully and get beaten up badly. Twelve-year-old Debbie Shaw at a UK school died from injuries received from fighting a bully.
  3. Develop a buddy system - Bullies rarely strike groups. If your child is being bullied, make sure he or she walks around school with a friend, or is within earshot of a teacher or responsible adult. If someone bullies your kid, have them look the bully in the eye and say, "I don't like your bullying me. Stop it right now."
  4. Marshall resources to confront the bully – Take stock of the situation by noting exactly how the abuse or bullying is happening. Then find out where you can get help in confronting the bully. In case of school bullying, if talking to the parents or the teacher doesn’t help, talk to the student counsellor, school nurse or any adult who understands and is ready to intervene. At the workplace, if talking to the supervisor doesn’t help, go to the HR people or the union rep or be prepared to take legal action. The case is made stronger if a link can be found between bullying and discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age or physical disability etc.
The key to dealing successfully with bullying is awareness – the bully should be made aware of the actions, effects of bullying and the limits.

More details about how to deal with bullies and bullying at work in this article and in this blog dedicated to bullying and how to fight it.

Many Devious Ways of Bullying

Bullies are very resourceful and can adopt multiple tactics and improvise.

Verbal bullying - Name-calling, harping on mistakes, incessant mocking, shouting at and laughing at the other person’s expense.

Physical bullying - may accompany verbal bullying with kicking, hitting, biting, pinching, hair pulling, or threats of physical harm for kids.

Emotional bullying - more subtle psychological tactics. Spreading baseless rumours, not telling information the other person needs to know or isolating or excluding a person from activities (i.e., shunning the victim in the lunchroom or on group activities). This kind of bullying is especially common among girls.

Cyber bullying — Bullies use modern technology and social media to harass victims publicly through email, instant messaging, Internet chat rooms, and electronic gadgets like camera cell phones, cyber bullies forward and spread hurtful images and/or messages. About one in ten or 12% of parents claim that their child experienced cyberbullying, and 24% know of someone in their community who has been bullied, according to a poll by IPSOS, an independent global market research company.

Sexual bullying - involves unwanted physical contact or sexually abusive or inappropriate comments or spreading untrue rumours. In an UK study by Young Voice, 28 out of 273 young people (aged 11-19) said that they had been forced to do something sexual they did not want to.

Hazing is another form of sexual bullying. This has been made popular by porn sites and torture scenes at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Racist bullying – alluding to the other person’s race or ethnicity constantly, making derogatory remarks or showing “facts” to support biased attitude against the victim.

Deadly Consequences of Bullying

Bullying can kill. Bullycide is the term that describes suicide by a person who is a victim of bullying.

This site documents lots of cases, where bullying has led to deaths.
  • A high school coach in Georgia knocked a student's eyeball out of its socket to punish the student for fighting with another student. 
  • In Texas, a 230 lbs teacher tried to restrain a student by placing a14-year-old autistic special education student face down on the floor, by sitting on his shoulders and suffocated him to death because the student did not stay seated in class. 
  •  In a Florida public school, a teacher’s aide, on probation for burglary and cocaine possession, gagged and duct-taped children for misbehaving. 
  • Thirteen-year-old Jared High, who was brutally assaulted by a known schoolyard bully reported the bullying. Both he and the bully got suspended. Jared became depressed, and committed suicide. 
  • 12-year-old Natalie Ruddick, in UK, pretended to be ill and stayed home so she wouldn't have to face school bullies. A burglar who broke into their house that day murdered her. 
  • A boy in Ireland was running away from a bully and was hit by a passing lorry, which killed him.

Do Anti-Laws Prevent Bullying?

Photo source: Wikipedia

Currently about 120 countries have some kind of law against bullying, mostly against school bullying. Governments expect this to radically stop bullying at schools and at the workplace, but this is not happening. This article takes a very critical approach to anti-bullying laws. 

Hazing, a form of bullying or initiation rite has a very strong sexual component. Here is a site from Singapore giving explicit details about a hazing or ragging “ceremony”, where the participant voluntarily gets naked and subjects himself to physical/sexual “activities” to prove that he is a real man. Note the smile on the “victim’s” face!

Does hazing support the idea “Do to others what you want them to do to you”? Secretly perhaps?


Apprentice said...

I have a bully as a boss, but we can't do anything as he owns the company. But, he's not that bad compared to some stories we hear. Nice post.

Kathy said...

If we don't stop it in schools (catch it early on),we will continue to raise generations of new bosses and husbands that bully.
This is a serious problem and I thank you so much for this post. My heart goes out to all who continue to suffer. This form of violence is a chain we can break.

Mary Beth said...

I agree with the post and with Kathy that bullying behaviour should be diagnosed and stopped in childhood, otherwise we have real trouble.

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