Bullying in Australia

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Bullying is a controversial topic discussed by countries all over the world. Both industrialized nations and third world countries suffer from bullying problems. Bullying in Australia can be found in people’s homes, at work and in school. At homes, children may be subjected to parental or sibling bullying, especially if they’re the youngest in the family. Employees may endure undue criticism or discrimination in the workplace from jealous colleagues or bosses. In school, bullying occurs from primary school age through university.

Young people who constantly view examples of bullying at home, work or school may eventually come to accept it as normal. After all, what family or school doesn’t have some form of teasing, hitting or backbiting? Bullying, however, should have no place in Australian society.

Bullying: Zero Tolerance

Bullying offers no positive contribution to Australian society. It’s not helpful in school, at home, in the workplace or in local communities. By definition, bullying entails the “use (of) words or actions against someone or a group of people to cause distress and risk to their wellbeing.” People who bully use their power or influence over others to make them feel bad, helpless and inferior.

Bullying is generally not a one-time event. A mild conflict between two people such as an argument or disagreement wouldn’t necessarily be classified as bullying. Bullying behavior is generally repeated and deliberate with the intent of causing harm. Bullying can be especially harmful to young tweens and teens who are just beginning to find their place in the world. Adolescence is an idealistic age where young people have high expectations for their future. The vicious taunts, threats and insults of a bully can easily burst a young person’s bubble, leaving him or her feeling defeated before he or she has a chance to get started.

In a short amount of time, bullies can completely ruin a young person’s life. Bullying in all its forms produces negative results in people’s lives, which is why it shouldn’t be tolerated in schools or homes.

 

Bullying Statistics in Australia

By collecting bullying information from different parts of the country, state and government agencies can keep the public informed about the situation with bullying in the country. School and Internet bullying are of particular interest to many parents as their children and teens are more likely to be involved in these types of bullying behavior.

Bullying research in Australia indicates that the country has a problem with bullying in schools. According to Dr. Toni Noble, member of Australia’s National Centre against Bullying, “It’s a controversial area, but with the effective communication of the message that bullying is unacceptable, it’s just now more likely to be reported.” Dr. Noble works with the federal government’s National Safe Schools Framework, a program that helps Australian schools develop practical policies for student safety and well-being. Anti-bullying strategies and policies are of great importance in helping schools combat bullying.

The following bullying facts indicate why these policies are needed in Australian schools:

  • Bullying affects one out of four students in Australia
  • Approximately 27% of students in years 4-9 said they had been bullied
  • Bullying is among the top five reasons Australian youth seek assistance from Australian children’s services
  • 83% of online bullies bully offline as well
  • 84% of online bully victims were bullied offline as well
  • Teasing and lying were the most common bullying behaviors experienced by students
  • School bullying was most prevalent among year 5 (32%) students, with year 8 (29%) students coming in second.

Understanding Bullying

A survey involving schools from 40 different countries listed primary schools in Australia as among those that rated highest in reported bullying incidences in the world. Approximately 25% of Australian children in year 4 said they were affected in some way by bullying. This figure rose to 32% among final year primary school students.

In defining school bullying, Kids Helpline in Australia described it as “the deliberate psychological, emotional and/or physical harassment of one person by another person (or group) at school or in transition between school and home.” Bullying is among the top ten reasons why children and teens call the Helpline, indicating how much this behavior has infiltrated into Australian society. In 2014 alone, one out of every 20 Helpline calls from Australian youth between the ages of 5 and 25 concerned incidents with bullying.

Whether plagued with home, school, Internet or workplace bullying, young people need help in learning how to deal with this problem. Few, if any, young people can handle situations with bullying on their own. By striving to understand bullying, where it comes from, what causes it and why people bully in the first place, teachers, counselors and parents can provide victims with the type of support they need.

Schools already know some of the main characteristics of bullying, i.e. causes intentional harm, involves an imbalance of power and generally entails repeated behavior. To tackle the problem effectively, however, Australian researchers feel teachers and parents need greater insight into the roles people play in bullying incidents and the particular behaviors of each.

Impact of Bullying in Australia

Bullying always has an impact on young people’s lives. Whether it’s a one-time offense or repeated acts, bullying can cause devastating results. Students who are bullied may lose their motivation to study, causing them to skip school or drop out before graduating. They may become social outcasts due to having trouble making friends or establishing close relationships. The long term effects of bullying in the form of verbal or physical abuse may be felt in poor health, issues with anxiety and depression or suicidal thoughts.

Studies show that kids who bully in school stand a greater chance of growing up into bullying adults. Those with a long term history of bullying have greater risk of getting involved in criminal activity by the time they turn 30 years old. Child bullies are also at greater risk of developing anti-social problems as they mature into adults.

Bystanders also suffer from bullying, although it may be to a lesser degree. Some witnesses become fearful or anxious of becoming the next target. Those who support the bully may feel guilty later on or go on to becoming bullies themselves. Bystanders who do nothing may also suffer guilt for not intervening or reporting the offense. Research shows that bystanders may suffer similar levels of stress and anxiety as victims.

How to Stop Bullying

A recent study by the University of South Australia revealed a drop in school bullying by almost 25% in the last 7 years. In 2015, approximately 20% of school age kids were involved in bullying as opposed to 27% in 2007. Over 1,600 Australian students participated in the study.

Professor Ken Rigby, co-author of the University of South Australia report, felt this decline in bullying was due to teachers spending more time discussing bullying issues with students. Despite this reduction in bullying incidents, however, bullying ratings in Australia continue to be unacceptably high for an industrialized nation.

According to the University report, bullies were more likely to target students due to their appearance, lifestyle or disability. Playgrounds, classrooms and corridors were listed as being some of the most favored bullying hotspots. The report also showed that girls were targeted more than boys, with such bullying behavior as exclusion, teasing and nasty texts being reported most often. Bullying behavior toward boys consisted mainly of physical bullying, racial bullying and sexual harassment.

Australian Anti-Bullying Policies and Campaigns

The University report further stated that each participating school had anti-bullying policies in place to help curtail bullying behavior. However, only 50% of the students who were surveyed were aware of the policies. This could be due to lack of promoting the policies among the student body. Students who are aware that their school has an anti-bullying policy are more likely to report bullying incidents that arise.

In addition to anti-bullying policies, bullying awareness campaigns can serve to stir up a school against bullying acts. According to Oscar Yildiz, an executive with the Bully Zero Australia Foundation, awareness campaigns and new anti-bullying laws were the deterrents that helped bring bullying statistics down.

Bully Zero Australia works with students from grades 2 to 12 with the goal of stamping out bullying in Australian schools. Their efforts to promote bullying awareness, prevent bullying on school grounds and educate schools in how to handle bullying have met with significant success. Mr. Yildiz feels that “(Bullies) need to understand that (they) can’t treat someone unfairly and think there are no consequences. They need to take responsibility for their actions. It’s law.”

Under Australian federal law, cyberbullying is a punishable act. The law states that individuals who utilize a ‘carriage service’ like the Internet to “harass, menace or intimidate” others can face a jail term of up to 3 years. In the state of Victoria, serious bullying and cyberbullying behavior to include stalking and harassment is a crime under “Brodie’s Law,” punishable by a jail term of up to 10 years. Police in Victoria are empowered to prosecute people who are guilty of severe bullying conduct.

The more involved schools become in anti-bullying programs, the greater success they’ll have in putting a stop to bullying abuse. A primary school in Melbourne came up with an innovative approach to primary bullying that helped turn their bullying culture completely around. Overport Primary School located in the suburb of Frankston, Melbourne, received a $5,000 Bully Stoppers grant which they invested in various projects that students could engage in during recess and lunch.

One project involved creating a sensory garden. Another involved the renovation of a caravan to use as a counseling center for students recuperating from safety issues due to bullying. The projects were designed to keep students busy and engaged during times when they were less supervised. As one teacher commented, “Rather than walking around and looking for their next target, (bullies) can get their hands dirty and engage with other students.”

Cyberbullying and Social Networking

Socializing online has become a favorite past time for young people all over the world and Australia is no exception. Unfortunately, not enough young people are educated in how to use social networking properly nor are they aware of dangers of socializing online. Improper use of social sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ask.fm and others increases a young person’s chances of being bullied online.

Many young people are guilty of sharing personal information, falsifying information, making unwise comments or posting questionable photos or videos on social sites. Such actions open the door to stalking, identity theft and slanderous attacks. Facebook bullying has become quite common in Australia as teens can lie or slander others without revealing who they are.

By practicing safe use of social sites, Australian youth can reduce their risk of cyberattacks. Online safety awareness is a must for anyone who connects regularly via social media. Tweens and teens often live under the misconception that cyberbullying couldn’t happen to them. The following news stories prove otherwise.

Cyberattacks: Claiming Australian Lives

In 2012, 14 year old Sheniz Erkan, a young school girl from Taylors Lakes Secondary College in Victoria, committed suicide, one week shy of her 15th birthday. She had been bullied both in school and online for quite some time. Her brother, Aykut Erkan, said the harassment she received on Facebook was ‘ruthless and relentless’ and simply “too much for his little sister to bear.” According to a 2012 report concerning the State of Children in Victoria, 50% of tweens between the ages of 12 and 14 had experienced bullying in some form. Even after Sheniz’s death, bullies were posting horrible comments about her online.

Two years later, on Easter Saturday 2014, 18 year old Jessica Cleland shocked her family by taking her own life. In the investigation that followed, it was discovered Jessica was being viciously attacked on Facebook. The young teen endured such offensive slurs as “f…ing sook” and other hate messages from people she thought were her friends. The messages continued right up to the time she committed suicide.

Jacqui Hawkins, the coroner who was handling Jessica’s case, pinpointed online bullying as contributing to Jessica’s death. In her report, she said, “I am satisfied that Facebook and text messaging were problematic for Jessica because easy access to the internet on her phone meant that she was exposed to potentially upsetting communications 24 hours a day … The circumstances of Jessica’s death highlight the important role that social media and other communication technologies can play in young people’s lives.”

In 2015, 15 year old Clancy Ellis went mysteriously missing one day after leaving her high school. Her failure to return home prompted her parents to open a police investigation. In the course of searching for Clancy, it was discovered she had been a victim of a malicious cyberbullying campaign on Ask.fm, a well-known young people social media site.

Unbeknownst to her family, Clancy had been receiving a number of unfavorable comments and threats from bullies who told her ‘We know where you are, we know where your school is, we’re going to set up a Facebook page about you’. Although Clancy later communicated with her family letting them know she was all right, she refused to reveal her location in order to protect her safety.

The worldwide website Ask.fm follows a question and answer pattern that encourages young people to share their thoughts and feelings about others. Apparently, quite a few young people had been abused on the site as evidenced by various links to teen suicides around the world. The site was recently sold to a new owner who was committed to seeing changes in its mode of operation. Shortly after the site’s purchase, Doug Leeds, CEO of the company, commented, “We’re not going to run a bullying site … If we can’t [fix Ask.fm] we’ll shut it down.”

Internet Bullying in Australia: Facts and Stats

Cyberbullying, aka Internet bullying, can occur at any time via social media, chat sites, emails or cell phone texts. Bullies use the technology that’s most familiar with young people today, i.e. smart phones, tablets, laptops, to get their malicious messages across. Cyberbullying may range from sharing embarrassing stories and comments to posting defamatory photos or videos that can damage people’s character or ruin their lives.

Online posts can go viral instantly to be seen by thousands of people over a long period of time. Easy access and extensive reach make online bullying a dangerous and harmful practice that can easily destroy lives.

The following facts about cyberbullying from UNSW’s Social Policy Research Center give people greater insight into the problems Australia is facing with bullying online.

  • One out of every five children in Australia ages 8-15 has had experience at some point with cyberbullying
  • 75% of Australian schools reported cyberbullying cases in 2013 – one secondary school received on average 22complaints of online bullying annually
  • Most online bullying cases in Australia occur on social media platforms, making abusive content difficult to remove due to the terms and conditions of these sites. The longer negative posts remain online, the more damage they can cause.
  • Over 50% of children surveyed ages 12-17 confessed to worrying about bullies hacking their social media accounts; 33% were concerned about personal information from their social pages falling into bullies’ hands; 40% were worried about receiving intimidating messages. These figures show kids don’t really feel safe online.
  • Research shows that cyberbullying occurs more frequently in later years of primary school or early years of high school
  • Of kids 10-14 years old, approximately 50% are likely to report online bullying; this figure reduces to 44% for teens 15-18 years of age.
  • Some studies indicate that approximately 20% of all Australian young people have experienced cyberbullying.
  • In primary school, cyberbullying focuses more on appearance; in secondary school, online bullying focuses more on behavior and relationships, with targets being those that don’t readily fit in with the norm.

According to Paul Fletcher, Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Minister for Communications, “Cyberbullying can be serious… and its consequences can be more far-reaching than bullying in the schoolyard.  If you are bullied online, the humiliation is worse because you know lots of people can be watching online… The internet – and social media in particular – can make bullying behaviours more dangerous to victims.”

How to Make Online Safety Happen

As more people connect online, Internet activities will become more commonplace in daily living. A good majority of Australian students are already using the Internet for personal, social and academic reasons. Young people can connect via their smartphones, tablets or laptops almost anytime and anywhere. This online freedom can make it difficult for parents or teachers to keep up with the risk of cyberbullying offenses.

For this reason, parents should teach their kids online safety habits that can protect them from cyberattacks. Parents should also ensure their tweens and teens know what to do if they are targeted by a bully online. Online etiquette is sorely lacking on many social sites, showing that young people need help in this area. Here are a few ways in which Australian youth can avoid trouble online.

  • Facebook makes it simple to post content 24/7 on their site, keeping young people updated on what’s happening in their friends’ lives. At the same time, Facebook posts could have a worldwide audience. As such, young people should use caution in what they place on online.
  • Young girls are often tempted to post scantily dressed photos of themselves to get more “likes”. Such photos, however, could easily attract the attention of bullies looking for someone to target. It’s best to share personal photos of a sensitive nature personally with friends rather than publicly online.
  • Most social sites come with privacy settings that give users greater control over who views the information they post online. Young people should use these settings to reduce the risk of cyberattacks.
  • When in doubt, it’s best NOT to post content people aren’t sure about. Posting questionable material could cause friction with other users or prompt others to make judgmental, critical remarks in response.
  • By accepting Facebook’s terms and conditions, young people are agreeing to giving the site total rights over the material they post. This could later work against them if photos or videos are targeted by bullies as they may have difficulties removing these from the site.
  • Teens who falsify information or photos online to attract more attention to their site run the risk of attracting stalkers or becoming victims of scams.
  • Communicating or befriending strangers online can be extremely dangerous as young people don’t know who they’re dealing with or what these people are capable of.
  • Bullying victims should avoid responding to bullying texts, emails or posts. Serious cyberattacks or cases of stalking should be reported immediately to local authorities.
  • Bullying victims should request that bullies be blocked or removed from their “friends” list. Victims can also file formal complaints of cyberbullying to website managers to have bullies suspended from the site.

What’s the Latest in Cyber Attacks?

Doctoring Photos to Humiliate Classmates

As connectivity among Australian youth rises, students can expect to see more cases of cyberbullying attacks. Unfortunately, bullies today are getting younger in age and more creative than in the past. One of the latest tactics of young bullies is to ‘doctor’ classmates’ photos to make them appear ugly and grotesque. In this way, they can humiliate students they don’t like.

According to a 2015 report from the Children’s eSafety Commission in Australia, the agency handled approximately 124 cyberbullying cases against young people over a nine month period. Over 4,000 youth were referred to Australia’s Kids Helpline to receive counseling for online harassment. Cyber bullies as young as 12 years old were reportedly downloading photos from Facebook or Instagram and altering their appearance in an obscene manner. These photos were then recirculated online to embarrass and demean the people who were in the images.

In regards to this latest online attack on innocent students, Alastair MacGibbon, eSafety commissioner, said: “We’ve dealt with cases of serious cyber-bullying, where students have victimised schoolmates, sent false rumours, or ridiculed them. We have also acted to remove harmful photographs used to bully and belittle.”

Mr. MacGibbon encouraged parents to report online abuse to the corresponding social site and request removal of doctored images. Parents were also told to keep track of malicious phone messages, texts, and emails and take screen shots of photos as evidence against perpetrators once they are caught.

Michael Haddow, a detective inspector working with the child exploitation Internet unit of the NSW Police Department suggested that parents stay abreast of their tweens and teens’ online activities, especially when it came to social media sites. Parents of young tweens should be knowledgeable about the sites their kids are using and who they are interacting with. Bullies have a tendency to move quickly once they find a target. Kids who feel uneasy about certain texts, posts or messages should communicate right away with their parents or a trustworthy adult.

Another suggestion was for parents to set limits on the time their kids spend online. Elly Robinson of the Australian Institute of Family Studies recommends that young people use devices such as computers and tablets in common areas of the home where parents can supervise them. She also feels parents should turn their Wi-Fi system off after a certain hour at night. “Vulnerable kids are vulnerable offline and online,” she explains. “Parents need to realise they can set boundaries and monitor behaviour online, in the same way they would do with any other activity their teen is involved in.”

Creating Fake Social Media Accounts

The creation of fake social media accounts is yet another tactic bullies are using today to taunt their victims, according to the eSafety Commission study. Bullies are setting up fake Facebook, Instagram or other social media accounts to launch vicious attacks on others. In some cases, kids as young as 10 years old are being victimized by classmates in this manner.

According to the eSafety report, bullies steal classmates’ identities and set up fake accounts on popular social sites. These accounts are then used to launch bullying campaigns against students they don’t like. As the account is not under their name, they can easily get away with their bullying behavior.  ESafety Commissioner MacGibbon calls it a “double violation” – i.e. falsifying an account + perpetrating cyberbullying acts.

“These accounts may not only damage the reputation of the child who has had their identity misused,” he said, “but also harms others who are targeted by the cyber bullying coming from the account.” Research reveals that imposter accounts have been used to threaten students, attack girls’ sexuality, smear students’ reputations and encourage students to commit self-harm acts or suicide. Some bullies utilize these accounts to expose classmates who are gay. Young people aged 12-14 are targeted the most on fake social media accounts.

In the 6 month period covered by this report, the eSafety Commission resolved 92 cyberbullying cases dealing with false accounts. The cases were resolved so quickly that offensive content was removed within 8 hours. Over 2,500 bullied students were referred to Kids Helpline for counseling after their ordeal. According to Tony Fitzgerald, a counseling manager at Helpline, the service receives multiple calls daily in relation to bullying online.

“(Cyberbullying) can be really distressing for kids,” noted Mr. Fitzgerald. “It is ever present and doesn’t stop when they get home from school. It can send kids into a spiral of depression and anxiety and that can have serious outcomes.”

Internet Slang

Parental supervision is key to preventing and helping kids overcome cyberattacks. Many parents, however, have difficulty understanding their kids’ communications due to their using Internet slang. To help resolve this problem, the UK government provided parents with an Internet slang decryption guide sharing definitions of some of the most common slang terms used by young people today. Terms such as “POS” (parent over shoulder), “AMA” (ask me anything), “ICYMI” (in case you missed it), IMO (in my opinion) and “IRL” (in real life) can help parents make sense of some of their kids’ missives.

Unfortunately, Internet slang is constantly changing, noted Mark McCrindle, a social researcher. “There is nothing new with youth slang,” he says, “…. but in an online environment it moves very quickly and it’s harder to decipher.” Teens today also favor visual images such as emojis in their messages and texts which can help parents better understand the meaning behind their missives.

Australian Laws Against Bullying and Cyberbullying

Not all Internet bullying is a crime. Australian laws against Internet bullying apply mainly to serious cases of harassment and bullying behavior. Australia’s Criminal Code Act 1995 makes it illegal to use the telephone, Internet or social media to “menace, harass or cause offence.” This offense comes with a maximum penalty of a 3 year jail term or fine of $30,000+.

Stalking is also a crime in all Australian states and territories. Cyber stalking entails using modern technology to harass and frighten others such as through emails, texts, phone messages, etc. By consulting their local police department, parents can get a better idea of the penalties for this online crime.

Many children and teens don’t report cyberbullying activities due to fear of losing their Internet privileges. An open line of communications between young people and their parents is essential to preventing and stopping cyberattacks. Victims should at least contact online support services such as Kids Helpline for counseling and guidance. Serious cases of Internet bullying can also be reported to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN).

Organizations that Provide Bullying Info and Services

Parents, teachers and students who need assistance with bullying matters can contact any one of the following organizations for help, counsel and support:

Kids Help Line – a free, confidential phone counseling service for Australian children and young people ages 5 to 25. (Phone: 1-800-55-1800)

Lifeline – provides free, confidential counseling services by trained staff (phone: 13-11-14)

The Australian Human Rights Commission – provides a complaint service to investigate reports of harassment, discrimination and bullying. (phone: 1-300-656-419).

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