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Forms of bullying

Bullying can take many forms. The forms we most commonly associate with bullying are physical and verbal. These direct forms of bullying include threats, teasing, taunting, pushing, hitting, kicking and other serious physical assaults. Indirect bullying involves social isolation and manipulation, and includes name-calling, spreading rumors and excluding targeted children from peer activities and groups. Abusive or threatening text messages, e-mails and websites are also forms of bullying, as are abusive or threatening letters or graffiti. Bullying may involve one child bullying another, a group of children against a single child or groups against other groups. The person or people doing the bullying may be the same age, older or younger than their victim. Both sexes bully and are bullied. Like other forms of victimization and abuse, bullying involves:

  • an imbalance of power;
  • differing emotional tones (the target will be upset while the bully is cool and in control);
  • blaming the target (by bullies and bystanders);
  • lack of compassion and concern on the part of the bully for the feelings and concerns of the victim.

The important thing is not the action but the effect on the victim. No one should ever underestimate the fear that a bullied child or youth feels.

Racist bullying: Racist bullying in schools can range from ill-considered remarks that are not intended to be hurtful to deliberate physical attacks causing serious injury. Racist bullying can be identified by the motivation of the bully, the language used and the fact that victims are singled out because of the color of their skin, their language or speech patterns, their ethnic grouping or by their religious or cultural practices. Racist bullying must be explicitly discussed in the classroom and there must be clear school guidelines for dealing with incidents.  

Homophobic bullying: Homophobic bullying may be directed at young people of any sexual orientation and at children who have not yet reached puberty. It has been reported in primary as well as middle and secondary schools. What distinguishes homophobic bullying from other forms of bullying is the language that is used. Words like “faggot,” “homo,” “punk,” “dyke” and “lesbos” have long been used and have now been joined by words (such as “gay” and “lesbian”) which were formerly descriptive but which now may be used as general insults. “That's so gay” or “They're gay” are now used as derogatory phrases to describe objects and people that may have no connection whatsoever with homosexuality. Both sexes can be involved in homophobic name-calling. Some very young children in elementary school engage in homophobic bullying, using words like “gay” pejoratively or calling classmates or adults “fag,” though they may not know what these words actually mean. The following statistics from a number of recent studies indicate both the pervasiveness of homophobic bullying in our schools and its serious and often tragic consequences:

  • 88% of 1,000 students surveyed for a nationwide study conducted by Hamilton College reported having heard classmates use “gay” as a derogatory term.
  • 4 out of 5 students in the 1999 Safe Schools Coalition survey who said they had experienced homophobic bullying identified themselves as heterosexual.
  • 91.5% of gay and lesbian students surveyed in a nationwide survey conducted by The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in 2003 reported hearing homophobic remarks frequently, and 21% reported being physically assaulted at school.
  • In the 1999 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey gay and lesbian students were over 3 times more likely to miss school than their heterosexual peers because they felt unsafe. They were also 3 times more likely to have been injured or threatened with a weapon at school than their heterosexual peers.
  • According to an article in the August 2001 American Journal of Public Health, teenagers with same-sex attractions or in gay and lesbian relationships are twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to commit suicide.
  • Even though homophobic bullying takes a tremendous toll on students and their families, teachers and principals often ignore it; 82.9% of the gay and lesbian students surveyed for the GLSEN 2001 national survey reported that faculty never or only sometimes intervened when they overheard or witnessed homophobic bullying.

Sexual harassment: Sexual harassment is generally defined as unwanted and unwelcome sexual attention. This includes a wide range of behaviors: leering, pinching, grabbing, suggestive verbal comments, pressure for sexual activity, spreading sexual rumors, making sexual or sexist jokes, pulling at another student's clothing, cornering or brushing up against a student in a sexual way, date rape, sexual graffiti about a student or engaging in other actions of a sexual manner that might create a hostile learning environment. Several studies have documented the fact that sexual harassment is pervasive in U.S. schools. The American Association of University Women's 2001 national study found that:

  • 81% of students will experience some form of sexual harassment during their school lives, and 27% will experience it often.
  • Nearly 85% of students reported that students harass other students at their schools.
  • Almost 40% of students reported that teachers and other school employees sexually harass students at their school.

It is important to keep in mind that whether sexual harassment has occurred depends on how the person on the receiving end is affected by the behavior, not on what the other person(s) may have intended or meant.