Unfortunately, few victims of bullying actually report the bullying incident. One of the most troubling obstacles to combating bullying is the fact that it is still often a dark, shameful secret, kept hidden by the victims. A 2010 study by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast and Islands (REL-NEI) revealed that at least 64% of bullying incidents go unreported. We want to encourage a victim of bullying to report the offenses to his/her parents, principals, teachers, and other trusted adults, but should we pressure a bullying victim to report a bully when they are afraid and ashamed to speak about the abuses?
The REL-NEI study found that there were certain characteristics that made it more likely for a bullying victim to report bullying. Some of these include:
- Incidents that involved injury, physical threats, destruction of property, greater frequency, multiple types, more than one location, or at least one occurrence on a school bus.
- Victims involved in a fight during the school year or who were afraid of attack were more likely to report the abuse.
- Students in younger grades were more likely to report bullying than students in older grades.
The types of bullying that tended not to get reported included name calling, spreading rumors, or forcing the victim to do things they didn’t want to do.
The REL-NEI Study also indicated that further study needed to be done about whether reporting abuses resulted in reprisals or retaliation.
How do you do convince a bullying victim to report and speak up? The first step is to simply listen and focus on the child. Let them know you want to help. Work with the child to brainstorm ways to resolve the situation, such as role playing scenarios. If they are reluctant to speak out because of fear of retaliation, remind them that the behavior is even less likely to stop if they continue to say nothing.
Do not ignore a suspected bullying situation. That gives the tacit message that that type of behavior is acceptable, and lets kids think they can handle it without adult help.
Stopbullying.gov, the government’s website on prevention of bullying, has the following tips for getting a bullying victim to report:
- If you witness bullying taking place, intervene immediately.
- Separate the kids.
- Question them individually, rather than publicly, in front of each other.
- Listen to everyone without judgment.
- Insure that the incident is indeed bullying.
- Learn the back story of the individuals’ relationships: past conflicts, power imbalances, dating history, gang relationships, etc. These all require different interventions. (See www.stopbullying.gov for more details about the different types of bullying.)
Tips for Convincing a Bullying Victim to Report Bullying:
It Takes a Village
Get other adults involved. Get the child’s peers, teachers, and other community members involved. It will indeed take a village to prevent bullying. Children will feel more secure about speaking up if they know they will be taken seriously and have a support network that’s got their back. Establish safe havens for the child to go to. Assure the child that he is not alone. Show the child that she has allies who will stand up for her. Building trust is the key to getting a victim to open up and talk to someone.
The child needs to know that there will be consequences to the bully (not necessarily punitive, but the bully needs to get the clear message that their behavior is unacceptable). If the child sees that they have made the effort to come forward and the bully gets off scot-free, they may be less likely to trust the adults enough to speak up again. Ensure that the school follows up on appropriate action and takes action against any retaliation that the bully may incur on the child for being “told on.” If the school only addresses individual incidents of bullying but does nothing to alter a culture that permits abusive behavior (for instance, a “boys will be boys” attitude), it will do little to effect systemic change.
Whenever possible, keep a record of each incident. It may be too much to expect a child to understand the importance of documentation in order to create a paper trail in case of any legal action, but the school authorities should be aware of the importance of this. Keep your own documents or journals if need be.
Be vigilant. Be persistent. One intervention is unlikely to stop bullying overnight. Continue to monitor the situation.
Give the child confidence to speak up for herself. Build the child’s self-esteem. Children that carry themselves with confidence and give off an impression that they can take care of themselves are less easy targets. However, never make him feel like he is to blame for being bullied. Teach children that they are survivors, not victims. Let them know that opening up about the abuse they’ve suffered takes far more bravery than keeping their problems to themselves.
Like with many social ills of the past, such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, or discrimination, it wasn’t until the victims came forward that we really started to see a cultural shift in popular attitudes and get major changes made. All the old cliches apply: if you see something, say something; if you ignore it, it is not going to go away; sunshine is the best disinfectant. Silence towards bullying—as with so many other problems—equals consent.
So should you pressure a bullying victim to report ? Pressuring a child who already feels victimized may only increase his or her insecurities. Lead them as confidently as you can to that water, but rather than force them to drink, show them how cool and soothing a drink can be.