What is bullying?
Bullying can take place in any setting. It can happen in school hallways, in classrooms, on playgrounds, in the street or at the mall.
Bullying can involve gestures, interaction or comments that are intended to harm, humiliate or upset another person.
Bullying aims to make the victim feel distressed.
Bullying is based on behaviour that is intentionally harmful. It is underpinned by an unequal power relationship between two people and is repeated over time. It is called harassment.
Bullying is not a spat between friends, a one-off event or teasing where everyone is having fun.
Bullying can transform simple things like a walk to school or a lunch in the cafeteria into nightmares that can make the victims physically ill.
Bullying is a form of violence. Just like other forms of violence, it must not be tolerated: it must be exposed. Something must be done about bullying.
Bullying can be indirect, such as:
- Excluding someone from a group.
- Isolating someone, making the person less popular by spreading a rumour about him or her.
- Telling secrets, talking behind someone’s back or writing hurtful graffiti about someone.
Bullying can also take place in cyberspace (cell phone, texting, messaging, email, Internet, etc.) This is known as cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is especially harmful and may take different forms:
- Threats, insults, disparaging or defaming someone, spreading rumours
- Identity theft
- Flaming (sending a harmful message, photo or video via a cell phone)
- Video lynching (filming someone without their knowledge while they are carrying out a questionable activity, often after having been provoked, then sharing the video online in order to make them look ridiculous).
Cyberbullying has particular features depending on the medium used:
- The bully can remain anonymous.
- The bully can pretend to be someone else.
- The bullying can take place anytime, anywhere.
- The bullying can take on several forms within cyberspace.
- Words and pictures can be spread instantly and endlessly.
- Because the bully is in front of a screen, he or she might behave worse than if he or she were face to face with the victim.
- The victim is powerless and the harm done is enormous.
- The harm done to the victim never ends, because it remains online.
- The number of witnesses is unlimited and difficult to measure.
What can happen to bullies?
All forms of bullying and violence are unacceptable. Consequences generally depend on the severity of the incident(s) and the school’s policy on bullying (ex.: removal from the classroom, making amends with the victim, internal or external suspension, expulsion from school, or even the school board).
Bullying and cyberbullying may also be punishable by the law. The Canadian Criminal Code considers that communicating with someone repeatedly so as to make that person fear for his or her safety is a criminal act, as well as publishing or sharing false information about someone or information that can harm his or her reputation, expose the person to hatred, contempt or ridicule.
Cyberbullying may also violate the Canadian Human Rights Act if it spreads hatred or discrimination based on national or ethnic background, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, family situation and physical or mental disability. Individuals found guilty of bullying or cyberbullying could face a prison sentence.