In Bullying Around the World

Bullying in Italy

Bullying is a threat that school age children face in almost every country of the world. Bullying victims come from all nationalities, ethnic backgrounds, gender and ages. Although some kids face greater risk of bullying due to being different, weaker, more sensitive or insecure, no child or teen is completely safe from the threat if they’re a part of their country’s school system.

Bullying in Italy has been gaining momentum for years. Not only are bullying activities occurring more frequently in Italian schools, but, sadly enough, many people consider bullying behavior ordinary occurrences within the school culture.

Children and teens who express their individuality are more likely to be targeted by bullies who disagree with their conduct, appearance or lifestyle choices. People who stand out from the crowd increase their risk of being victims due to their differences. Students who are loners, have physical or mental impairments or simply don’t fit in with their peers are also more likely to become bullying targets.

Bullies have all kinds of reasons for abusing others. Jealousy, envy and personal retribution are but a few of the many reason why people bully others in school, at work or in social environments. At the same time, bullies often feel empowered in situations where bystanders, i.e. their “audience”, do little or nothing to prevent or stop their abusive behavior. Bullying thrives in an environment where bystanders remain silent and take little action to no action against the bullying offense. By not taking quick and decisive action against bullying, schools make it easier for bullying to continue. Today bullying in Italy is considered an ordinary event with greater numbers of students bearing the brunt of abusive acts.

Bullying: An Alarming Threat In Italian Schools

By understanding more about what causes bullying and how to deal with the problem, parents and teachers are in a better position to combat this behavior in public school settings. In general, bullying follows a pattern that involves five characteristics: imbalance of power, escalation, recurrence, duration and purpose. Bullies may use different tactics to get the results they desire, but each tactic has a distinct purpose – to cause as much damage and abuse as possible to their victims.

Bullying activities may fall under the category of indirect bullying which entails spreading rumors, stories or gossip about others; verbal bullying which could include insults, teasing and threats; and physical bullying consisting of violent acts such as pushing, kicking, biting, punching or assaults with a weapon. The intent of bullies is to cause mental or physical harm to their victims. Their abusive behavior could result in short term or long term effects that endanger a person’s health and well-being both in the present and future.

Although Italy has no anti-bullying laws per se, the country’s Constitution, Rights and Duties of Citizens, Civil Code and Penal code can be used to some extent to help prevent bullying and provide a means of punishing criminal bullying behavior. After reviewing bullying statistics in the country, however, it seems that these laws aren’t sufficient to get the job done. Although schools and local police are making an effort to increase bullying awareness via anti-bullying programs and campaigns, studies reveal that school bullying in Italy is on the rise. The country is also seeing an increase in bully related depression and suicide attempts due to this abusive behavior.

The following bullying information reveals in greater detail the inroads bullying and cyberbullying have made into Italian society:

  • Approximately 80% of all bullying in Italy occurs in schools (i.e., primary bullying, middle school bullying, high school bullying). School bullying behavior includes physical violence, threats, insults, mockeries, teasing and personal embarrassments.
  • Bullying haunts all levels of education in just about every community in the country.
  • A 2014 report by Istat showed that over half of the teen population in the country had been bullied at one time or another; 20% of these victims suffered monthly attacks. Approximately 63% of kids and teens had witnessed bullying acts.
  • According to the Istat report, tweens aged 11-13 suffered more disrespectful or violent bullying acts than teens aged 14-17. Females were also bullied more frequently than males.
  • A survey conducted by Skuola.net discovered that 4 out of 5 people in Italy considered traditional and Internet bullying ordinary events.
  • When it came to cyberbullying, 1 in 4 survey participants admitted to committing a cyberattack by threatening one or more of their friends; 6% confessed to being a systematic cyber bully in the past.
  • 13% of young people admitted to having posted provocative photos and/or videos on the web; many did so for money or other lucrative gain.
  • Approximately 13% of young people surveyed used a personal photo or video for the purpose of sexting.
  • One out of four young people admitted to communicating with strangers online, despite the dangers of being targeted by a stalker or cyber bully; 23% did so on their own, without informing parents or friends.

Rise of Cyberbullying in Italy

With more young people turning to the Internet and social media for communicating and socializing with friends, it’s no surprise that bullies have chosen this medium to stage their attacks. Today’s generation of young people, aka “Gen Z,” has the reputation of being “always on” when it comes to using the Net and social sites. Members of Gen Z pass most of their time with smartphones in hand, sending and receiving texts, snapshots and emails. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram are some of their favored sites. According to bullying information gathered by the IX Italian Monitoring of ONU Convention, which deals with the rights of Italian youth, one out of every two Gen Z members has been victimized by bullying at some time.

Italy is home to over 2 million tech savvy teens between the ages of 14 and 17, most of which have a passion for Internet and social media usage. Most of these young people are owners of personal laptops, TVs and smartphones, making it easy for them to stay connected at all times. With this 24/7 connection, teens are at greater risk of being targeted by cyberbullies. Today’s youth use online connections for personal, social, academic and professional reasons, placing them at the forefront of potential bullying activities.

Gen Z’s “love affair” with the Internet and their smart devices could very well be the reason for the dramatic increase in cyberbullying. Studies show that Gen Z members use their phones up to 15.4 hours weekly – that’s slightly over 2 hours daily.  Smartphones make convenient devices for bullies to send malicious phone calls and/or texts. The anonymity of Internet bullying is a great motivator for people to commit cyberattacks without risk of being caught. In the case of high school students, many times the perpetrator is someone a victim knows from school or social event. It’s not unusual for students to target an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, for example, simply out of spite.

Unlike school or workplace bullying that often occurs face to face, Internet bullying can occur “behind the scenes” at any time, with the negative consequences appearing on social sites viewed by hundreds, if not thousands, of people online. Facebook bullying, for example, may involve posting cruel comments, unfavorable photos or even negative video clips on a person’s Facebook site. These posts can be very difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of once they’re put up online. Victims may or may not know the perpetrators of the crime, but the evidence can be very humiliating and available for people to view for quite some time.

Cyber bullies can actually do a lot of damage through online attacks as they know there’s little chance of being identified as the perpetrator of these acts. The prospect of being able to get away with such a crime may tempt young people to bully others even more. In Italy and other societies where Internet use is so rampant among youth, cyberbullying can cause serious inroads into the moral standards of an entire generation before people realize what’s happening.

In some countries, the Internet has become the number one means for communicating with others and establishing relationships. Young people today make friends, socialize, share thoughts and opinions and even develop personal relationships all online. A gradual fading away of conventional conversations and face to face relationships can cause people to be less sympathetic and understanding of each other’s needs. A lack of empathy and understanding is a feeding ground for bullying attacks.

As tweens and teens are at the forefront of much of the bullying activity happening online, parents should take greater responsibility for their kids’ Internet and social media usage. Young teens may need stricter guidelines and supervision for using the Net until they prove themselves responsible in this area. Giving teens too much online freedom before they can handle it increases their risk of being bullied or getting tricked into bullying by their peers.

The Heartbreaking Effects of Bullying

There’s no doubt that bullying in Italy is taking its toll on young lives. Bullying effects vary, depending on the type of bullying people were exposed to, extent of bullying and circumstances surrounding the event. Children, in particular, stand a greater chance of experiencing devastating long term effects, especially if they endured bullying for years in school. Indirect bullying and verbal abuse can undermine a child or teen’s self-esteem, causing them to feel inferior, fearful and unsure about their future. Many talented young people have lost faith in themselves and their future due to being the victim of consistent bullying attacks.

Bullying victims often find it difficult to speak out about their situation as they don’t know who to trust. Cyberbullying often occurs as anonymous attacks, leaving victims in the dark as to who the perpetrators are. A student’s vulnerability coupled with a feeling of helplessness after an attack makes it almost impossible for him or her to move on. The longer young people are victimized, the greater the damage on their psychological and emotional health. Some young people cut themselves off from family and friends altogether, feeling unworthy of their friendship or love. As feelings of frustration, shame and humiliation increase, young students have even attempted suicide to escape their plight.

Suicide: The Ultimate Bullying Tragedy

In the past few years, Italy has experienced an upswing in suicide attempts due to cyberbullying attacks. These tragedies have been a wakeup call to parents, teens and society at large concerning just how dangerous cyberbullying had become.

In January of 2016, a young 12 year old girl attempted suicide after being consistently abused by fellow classmates online. Before leaping out of a window in her home, the tween left a note indicating that bullying was the reason for her taking such drastic action. According to news stories from across the country, such incidents are not isolated. Italy apparently has a history of Internet bullying wherein young people seem to be the main perpetrators and targets.

Despite this threat, Italy has no explicit cyberbullying laws to counter Internet bullying acts. In fact, bullying – to include Internet bullying – isn’t considered a criminal offense in the country unless such activity takes on the nature what’s considered a crime such as physical assault or stalking. In May of 2015, Italy’s Senate initiated action to institute cyberbullying legislation in an effort to stop bullying in Italian schools. Donatella Ferranti, Chairperson of Italy’s House Judiciary Committee, corroborated the need for legislation, after taking note of the rampant increase of online threats, texts and offensive social media posts against Italy’s youth.

With new legislation comes the hope that schools will be more effective in countering the effects of bullying in all its forms. Legislation that makes certain types of school bullying a criminal offense gives teachers and school staff greater leeway to take action against bullying behavior. At the same time, youth need to be educated on the dangers of bullying and how to handle bullying attacks. Too many young people keep bullying incidents to themselves, forgoing help from teachers, parents or friends until it’s too late.

There’s also a great need for parents and teachers to reinforce the ethical and moral standard of their students in order to root out prejudice, envy, malice and any other negative attitude that could prompt bullying behavior. In the words of Petro Grasso, president of Italy’s Senate, “… in our schools we need to create a safety net for our most vulnerable children. We need to educate them on how much damage (they) can do with words and actions that might seem harmless.”

Who’s Responsible for Suicides Caused by Cyber Attacks?

In January of 2013, Carolina Picchio,  a bright and attractive 14 year old student from the city of Novara, near Milan, committed suicide due to excessive cyber harassment from an ex-boyfriend and his friends. The case made national and international news due to the tragic circumstances of her demise. Her last Facebook post related her feelings of despair: “Forgive me if I’m not strong. I cannot take it any longer.”

When investigating the incident, police discovered her former boyfriend and a group of his friends were circulating a video of the girl in a drunken state during a party. In addition, the boy had targeted Carolina with verbal abuse and threats on Facebook. At the time of her suicide, police discovered that Carolina had received over 2,000 malicious text messages on Whatsapp alone.

This incident clearly reflects the need for change in the stance schools and government agencies take against bullying offenses. The eight boys who perpetrated the cyberattacks against Carolina, ages 15-17, were later investigated for their role in instigating a suicide and placing pedo-pornographic material on the Net. One of the investigating prosecutors, Francesco Saluzzo, also considered citing Facebook for not taking action in removing the offensive posts, even after requests made by relatives and friends.

Eventually, a criminal complaint was filed against Facebook by Moige, the Italian Parent’s Association, on behalf of Carolina’s family, for their failure to take action in removing malicious material from their site that contributed to Carolina’s death. According to Antonio Affinita, director of the association, “Italian law forbids minors under 18 signing contracts, yet Facebook is effectively entering into a contract with minors regarding their privacy, without their parents knowing.”

Maria Rita Munizzi, Moige’s president, further reiterated the need for Facebook and other social sites to bear responsibility for the safety of their users. She said, “It is bad that a corporation like Facebook does not carry a watch on virtual places, which seem to have become the preferred means of pedophiles and bullies. We are angry and worried about the silence and indifference shown by those who manage these powerful means of communication, who continue to function without an adequate policy to protect minors.”

Facebook is a popular site in Italy with approximately 90% of the teen population using it on a regular basis. Many parents, however, are not unaware of their children’s involvement in Facebook or similar social sites nor have they taken time to help their kids establish safe habits online. Lack of parental involvement and supervision in this area could very well be one of the reasons why cyberbullying activities are on the rise.

Bullying facts compiled in the middle of 2013 revealed a dramatic upsurge in the number of criminal complaints filed related to Internet bullying as compared to the previous year. By mid-2013, 54 complaints had been filed as opposed to 30 complaints for the entire year of 2012.  That same year, over 25% of students participating in social media had received offensive texts or threats via social sites. Students, however, are not the only group being targeted by cyber bullies. Italian teachers and politicians have also been victims of cyberattacks.

Italy Launches New Initiatives against Bullying

In an effort to raise awareness of the dangers of bullying and put an end to its devastating effects, Italian students and adults have introduced new initiatives to support schools in their anti-bullying stance. Some initiatives were launched and executed by teens on their own. Others combined the efforts of students and adults to get their anti-bully message across. In introducing these initiatives, Italian students and adults hope to prompt changes in their schools and towns, making them a more positive environment in which to study and live.

Realty TV

The Bully Project puts bullying behavior up front and center on Italian TV. This realty TV show aired on Rai 2 captures bullying activities in progress as filmed through on site hidden cameras. Cameramen recorded the abuse received by a young victim during the course of 15 days to give viewers a graphic picture of bullying in action. The program was divided into four episodes and aired with the intent of raising public awareness of bullying in schools and denouncing discrimination that occurs daily in many teens’ lives. Transmission of the Bully Project in other countries such as Spain met with some controversy due to disturbing images and material.

‘One Kiss’ Film

The anti-bullying Italian film “One Kiss” (Un Bacio) directed by Ivan Cotroneo made its debut in Italian cinemas in March of 2016 with mixed reviews by the public. The film depicts the lives of three Italian teen friends  – two boys and a girl – who are discriminated against by their peers due to being different. One of the boys has a speech impediment that causes others to ridicule and reject him. The girl has a reputation for being “loose” sexually due to a past relationship and the other boy is gay.

Through this film, Cotroneo exposes the pain and suffering that discrimination and homophobia can cause. Cotroneo feels “it’s the responsibility of adults to make children understand that all forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, skin color, social class or people’s lifestyle choices are all stupid and very dangerous.” By helping to expose wrong mindsets and viewpoints, One Kiss could be a force for good in countering bullying behavior.

‘MaBasta! (But enough!)

MaBasta! is an Italian anti-bullying campaign created, organized and managed entirely by teenage students. The movement was initially formed by Class 1a 14-15 year old students at Galilei-Costa Institute in the city of Lecce with the purpose of uniting young people in their school against bullying. As so much bullying is done via social media, MaBasta students developed a plan to use Facebook and other Internet means to attack bullying behavior in all its forms. The students opened their own Facebook account, created an original logo for their campaign and are working on developing a MaBasta website to achieve their aims. The movement has already started posting anti-bully videos and personal selfies saying ‘enough!” on Facebook to promote their cause.

Since its inception, the MaBasta movement has captured the attention of national media with over 17,000 “likes” on social sites. The campaign has also gained the backing of four national online sites that support education to include Your Edu Action, MasterProf and Aetnanet.

Bulliziotti, Bulliziotte and Bullibox

The bulliziotti and bulliziotte characters and bullibox follow in the footsteps of the MaBasta project to continue the fight against bullying in Italian schools.  The figures of bulliziotti and bulliziotte represent student monitors selected by their local schools to observe, identify and report bullying activity committed by fellow students to teachers, administrators and police.  Students who are victimized by bullying can seek the help of school bulliziotti for the protection and support they need. Having support from their peers will help victims step forward in reporting bullying incidences as well as encourage do-nothing bystanders to take a stance against bullying acts.

At the start of every school year, schools participating in the program select a bulliziotti from the student body to represent individual classes and/or school in their anti-bullying campaign. Those chosen should be individuals known for their anti-bullying stance. The bulliziotti will act as an intermediary between bullying victims and school officials. In addition to reporting bullying behavior, the bulliziotti may be called upon to counsel victims or stop harassment in progress, depending on the need. By providing training from professional psychologists and/or police in how to handle bullying matters, schools can help bulliziotti carry out their responsibilities with greater success. Candidates for bulliziotte are to be selected from older students in the school who have earned their peers’ respect.

The “bullibox” is a closed container placed in a strategic location on school property where students can place anonymous reports of bullying or cyberbullying against their peers. These reports will be read and acted upon by a bullioziotte committee formed by the school. The bullibox provides yet another means for victims and spectators to take action against abusive behavior in their schools.

SBAM! (Stop Bullying Adopt Music)

Organized by young 3rd year students at the Galilei-Costa School, the SBAM program involves the use of music to combat bullying in Italian schools. As music plays such an important role in teens’ lives, SBAM creators felt it was the perfect medium to unify their generation against bullying. The initiative involves using music in a positive way to counter the negative effects of songs that promote violence and abusive behavior. The program’s two-fold purpose includes:

  1. Identifying songs that promote bullying attitudes and exposing these attitudes to Italian youth: As many of the songs were written in English, they would need to be translated into Italian first before students can expound on their negative impact.
  2. Encouraging Italian musicians to compose songs with an anti-bullying message, i.e. songs that have a positive message about how to stop bullying, songs that encourage young people to stand up against bullying, songs that promote acceptance and understanding, etc.

By speaking out against bullying through their music, Italian musicians have an opportunity to make a positive impact on Italian youth who need direction in their lives. Music is a popular medium by which artists can reach and influence the lives of youth in the country. Through music, Italian artists can provide students and their families with positive role models to emulate, bridging the gap of prejudice and discrimination that’s so rampant in society today.

What’s the Solution?

Bullying is the responsibility of everyone in Italian society. Although the Internet and social media play a major role in fostering bullying activity, they can’t be held responsible for the rampant growth of bullying among Italian youth. Lack of parental, teacher and school involvement also contribute to the problem.

Having felt the devastating effects of bullying firsthand, Italian families should be taking greater measures to protect their kids from bullying attacks. In some cases, this may mean instituting restrictions on social media, getting more involved in their kids’ schools and developing a closer relationship with their young people so as not to lose touch of what they’re going through in their adolescent years. It’s hard enough for youth to wade through today’s complex society without having to go at it alone.

As an educational force for good, schools can take a major stance against bullying by helping their students develop clean attitudes and mindsets towards their peers. Teachers should be the first ones to set the example for their students. Teachers who are tolerant of others, compassionate, understanding and committed in their stance against hatred and bigotry can be excellent role models for students to follow. Students need teachers whom they can look up to and trust with their thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears. A good teacher can make a tremendous difference in the life of a young student, not only academically, but in his or her moral and emotional development.

Last, but not least, government agencies can use their political influence to pass anti-bullying legislation to provide a uniform standard against bullying acts. Anti-bullying laws help regulate actions schools can take against bullying, a much needed recourse to put an end to abusive behavior. After years of collecting facts about cyberbullying and school bullying cases, government agencies are in a better position to adopt solid laws against bullying that will affect change. By combining personal and community efforts to stamp out bullying in Italy, students, parents, schools and Italian society is sure to see positive results.

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