What Is Bullying?

Bullying is conduct that cannot be objectively justified by a reasonable code of conduct, and whose likely or actual cumulative effect is to threaten, undermine, constrain, humiliate or harm another person or their property, reputation, self-esteem, self-confidence or ability to perform.

Context is everything. Accusing someone of wrongdoing whilst knowing there are no grounds to do so is not fair and cannot be done in good faith, undermines a person's reputation and self confidence and is therefore, by the above definition, bullying. Conversely, making a complaint, holding someone to account for substandard work or conduct, reporting malpractice etc, done with honest justification, fairly and in good faith, is not "bullying".

What's the difference between bullying, harassment and assault?

Bullying differs from harassment and assault in that the latter can result from a small number of fairly serious incidents - which everybody recognises as harassment or assault - whereas bullying tends to be an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time. Each incident tends to be trivial, and on its own and out of context does not constitute an offence or grounds for disciplinary or grievance action.

Where are people bullied?

  • in long term jobs, by managers, co-workers or subordinates, or by clients (bullying, workplace bullying, mobbing, work abuse, harassment, discrimination)
  • in short term jobs such as the performing arts, agriculture or construction, where the engager, gangmaster or supervisor has complete power over workers.(bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault)
  • in the armed forces, religious organisations and the media by "untouchable" characters (bullying, harassment, discrimination, assault, paedophilia, rape)
  • at home by partner, parent, uncle, sibling (bullying, assault, domestic violence, abuse, verbal abuse, rape)
  • at home by landlords, their agents, debt collectors (bullying, harassment)
  • at home by neighbours (bullying, harassment)
  • at school (bullying, harassment, assault)
  • in hospitals, convalescent homes, care homes, residential homes (bullying, harassment, assault)
  • in public by strangers (harassment, stalking, assault, sexual assault, rape, grievous bodily harm, murder)

This is not an exhaustive list: Bullying transcends all social boundaries and can occur wherever there are human beings.

The purpose of bullying is to hide inadequacy, and usually involves an abuse of power. Power can come in many forms, such as physical stature, a position of authority or a position of trust. Using such power to harm or unreasonably control people is a sign of weakness, a quick and cheap way to gain obedience or something that might feel like respect, but obedience through duress and respect motivated by fear are fake or, at best, half-hearted, and they only last until the victim is able to escape from the bully's influence.

Some people project their inadequacy onto others:

  • to avoid facing up to and doing something about it;
  • to avoid accepting responsibility for their behaviour and the effect it has; and
  • to dilute their fear of being seen as weak, inadequate and possibly incompetent; and
  • to divert attention away from the same: In badly run workplaces, bullying is the way that inadequate, incompetent and aggressive employees keep their jobs and obtain promotion.

Bullying behaviours are behind all forms of harassment, discrimination, prejudice, abuse, persecution, terrorism, conflict and violence. Understanding bullying gives a person the opportunity to understand that which underpins almost all forms of reprehensible behaviour. Because of that, bullying remains the single most important social issue of today.

Bullying happens under the noses of those who should care enough to stop it but who don't, either because they simply cannot believe it could happen, or because they fear the consequences (for them) of doing something about it or because they don't in fact care. Thus, targets of bullying and abuse are often not listened to or believed when they do report it.

  • Horrendous scandals emerge from time to time, involving bullying, typically of children by adults. In the case of catholic priests in Ireland, some abused children were too frightened to complain, whilst those who had the courage to speak out were not believed, with the effect that the abusers continued destroying the lives of children in their "care". Where the church authorities knew that a given priest had been abusing children, the most severe punishment was a move to a different location, where they could start afresh.
  • On the 26th August 2014, Professor Alexis Jay’s independent report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, England, revealed that at least 1,400 children in the town had been raped and sexually abused. During the period in which the abuse occurred, the council was found to have been ‘suppressing’ the issue, and over a third of victims were known to social services.
  • Following the death in 2011 of UK TV and radio presenter Jimmy Savile, stories of his abuse started to emerge from hundreds of adults, claiming to have been abused by Savile as children. Much of Savile's career involved working with children and young people, including visiting schools and hospital wards. He spent 20 years presenting BBC's Top of the Pops before a teenage audience, and another 20 years presenting "Jim'll Fix It", in which he helped the wishes of viewers, mainly children, come true. He was renowned for his charitable work. In October 2012, when the police were pursuing 400 separate lines of inquiry relating to Savile, John Cameron of the NSPCC said Savile was "a well-organised prolific sex offender, who's used his power, his authority, his influence to procure children and offend against them." The Savile situation demonstrated the propensity among victims of abuse by a popular figure to remain silent, probably because, among other things, of a fear of not being believed. That fear may well be justified: There were police inquiries while Savile was alive, but none led to any charges being brought, because there was "insufficient evidence".
  • Sir Robert Francis' 2015 report into the NHS following the Staffordshire Hospital scandal identified bullying as a significant problem, with these comments:
    • “Bullying in the NHS cannot be allowed to continue. Quite apart from the unacceptable impact on victims, bullying is a safety issue if it deters people from speaking up. It also has implications for staff morale and for attendance and retention. We heard many examples of unacceptable behaviour and lack of respect by individuals. This has a significant impact on whether people feel able to speak up, particularly in a hierarchical culture such as the NHS.”
    • “The effect of the experiences has in some cases been truly shocking. We heard all too frequently of jobs being lost, but also of serious psychological damage, even to the extent of suicidal depression. In some, sad, cases, it is clear that the toll of continual battles has been to consume lives and cause dedicated people to behave out of character. Just as patients whose complaints are ignored can become mistrustful of all, even those trying to help them, staff who have been badly treated can become isolated, and disadvantaged in their ability to obtain appropriate alternative employment. In short, lives can be ruined by poor handling of staff who have raised concerns.”

One good thing to emerge from these scandals is a greater public awareness of the possibility, and an increased likelihood that abuse victims will be listened to. Bullying is a choice for the perpetrator, and it is not a choice for the target. If you're being bullied, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. No further explanation is needed.

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