Bullying in the UK has been around for centuries. Until probably the 1960s it was tolerated and often a part of commonplace life. Economically, the frequency of the problem occurred more often among blue collar class levels, but even well-to-do classes were not immune, with many realizing and experiencing bullying physical in boarding schools. Today, bullying has finally gained attention from school administrations, law enforcement, and the government. It has been a target of attention from victims’ groups for years, but the problem continues to be an uphill battle. This is because a long-rooted attitude that only those who can’t stand up for themselves get bullied, so if someone just gets a spine and pushes back, the problem goes away. This is frequently not true, and with today’s technology bullying has actually become far more damaging and pervasive, including physical bullying.
Physical Bullying Definition
Physical bullying generally involves harmful physical contact by one person with another. This could include hitting, slapping, pushing, kicking, biting, punching, throwing things at a person, or some other physical contact action that causes harm or fear repeatedly. Physical bullying can be based on a particular attribute of a person or a general sentiment that the victim is weaker and can’t effectively defend or fight back. Particular attributes can be based on gender, race, religion, background, physical appearance, culture, or perceived sexual orientation. For example, many children and persons who are disabled have experienced physical bullying by those who are not disabled. The disability makes the victim appear weak to those who think it is funny or amusing to pick on the disabled person. This condition is exacerbated by the fact that the disabled person may have significant difficulty in fighting back in defense, so the bullying seems easy to do since it has little or no negative ramification on the bully at the time.
In early development years, boys are more likely to be victims of physical bullying than girls. Where boys tend to assert their pecking order dominance on the playground with physical strength, girls do so with groups and power in numbers. As a result, small girl bullying can seem to be far more vicious with mental tools that adults use frequently whereas boys just resort to pushing, punching and kicking. This is why the common refrain to kids when faced with a bully is to just punch him hard in the nose; boys respect a force that can hurt them more than they can dole out, or seems to. However, as boys grow older and generally learn to control themselves, the amount of physical bullying seems to even out a bit more. Teen boys will still be more prone to physical contact with a victim, but teen girls can be just as prone or even more so, as if they have to prove themselves amongst a group of bully conspirators. At the adult level, however, the physical bullying figures often revert back to original levels, with men clearly the high majority of physical contact instigators and women rarely using physical violence to bully someone.
The Law With Regards to Physical Bullying
Unlike mental bullying, physical bullying goes well into a criminal area with distinct and very specific criminal definitions. However, these crimes are not titled “bullying” per se. The most common are assault and battery. Assault is the crime of approaching a person in such a way that he or she fears imminent harm. Contact is not necessary to commit the crime of assault. Battery is the crime of actually contacting someone in a harmful manner or perceived to be harmful by the victim. Contact is necessary but the victim doesn’t need to be physical damaged. For example, restraining or holding someone from escaping is battery but it doesn’t cause damage per se unless the grip is crushing and bruising.
Unfortunately, contact attacks become a verbal bout of accusations between the attacker and the victim unless there is more than just a story. Witnesses, videos, contact evidence and more help collaborate that an attack did occur and contact was made. Where damage was done, it’s often the case that the attacker has evidence on his person, but this is temporary. So if a complaint is not made timely to the police, the evidence can be lost.
Further, an assault or battery is only one instance. So imagine having to pull together evidence every time there is a contact, as well as defending one’s self. The law clearly doesn’t work well in practice for a victim of physical bullying. It’s more likely that witnesses or video will capture the incident and report it than the victim will.
Secondly, if the physical harm is just a scuffle, authorities aren’t likely to react much. If the harm done puts someone in the hospital, then it’s another story. In many cases the police will at least make an initial effort to gather evidence, witness statements and video if available to track down and make an arrest of a bully attacker. With the amount of surveillance equipment in place in urban areas and schools, this is far more likely than not today, but it’s not a panacea to stopping physical bullying.
Stalking is another law on the UK books that can a very powerful tool for stopping physical bullying. The key aspect of evidence is for the victim to document as much as possible every contact or sign of presence of a bully. The goal is to establish a pattern of stalking and pursuit by a bully of a victim. It’s often the case in stalking that the physical contact won’t occur until the pursuits gets really close and the bully thinks he or she is unstoppable. However, a victim can use the documentation and evidence to provide the police a case for arrest long before that occurs. Data, times, photos, video and communication records are all key in establishing a stalking pattern. When a case comes together, it can put a bully away in prison in serious cases.
While the average adult must rely on the local police office for response, students in large metropolitan areas can rely on a local Safer Schools Officer assigned to the given school for response. In both cases, the officer is a sworn police employee with the ability to investigate and pursue a criminal act.
Modern Physical Bullying
At a basic level physical bullying isn’t much different today than it was years ago. The act basically involves using a threatening physical contact, or a contact that a victim fears will cause or be connected to personal harm, to force a desired behavior or omission. Another common aspect is that the physical attacks are chronic versus just being one-time instances that never happen again. This repeat and periodic bullying makes the effect worse because the repeat harm and fear compounds the stress to the victim. He or she begins to fear going to certain locations, being in places at certain times, or being near certain people, anticipating another instance of the bullying occurring again.
Physical bullying can range in damage from simple restraint and pushing a person around to actual impact contact such as punching, kicking, hitting or slapping. In extreme cases physical bullying will involve an item used as a weapon to inflict more damage on a victim. This could be whatever happens to be available, like a book or a container, to an actual weapon that is used to cause serious physical harm, like a knife, a bat or even a gun. Again, in every case, the bully is harming or threatening the victim repeatedly with contact that causes fear, harm or both.
Effects and Physical Bullying Statistics
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children tracks the effects of bullying on children and estimates the following:
- 45,000 made contact in 2013 with help lines on how to deal with bullying situations they were facing.
- Of the above figure, 1,400 were facing racism-based bullying.
- In 2012 50 percent of alternative orientation children (gay, lesbian or bisexual) experienced bullying in school.
- And in the previous year 16,000 children skipped days in school, affecting their education, because of bullying they were experiencing.
The physical effects of bullying goes are not the only damage; other consequences go far beyond the immediate physical harm. Again, while unwanted physical contact can range from irritation and restraint to outright battery and serious harm, the physical injuries heal fairly quickly. Unfortunately, a physical attack, even a slight one, can trigger mental harm that can last for far longer. As mentioned earlier, fear and stress are the first two mental effects of physical bullying. Additional effects can include long-term impacts such as loneliness, alienation, chronic stress and related health conditions caused by it, anxiety, irrational fears of things or concepts associated with a bullying experience, depression and even self-harm or suicide.
Why Technology and Social Media Create a Bigger Physical Bullying Problem
The very aspect that makes mobile technology and social media so valuable and beneficial also makes it a harmful tool for enhanced physical bullying. The ability to communicate quickly among conspirators who are working together to bully a victim is enhanced greatly. Details, information, strategy and coordination can be affected through social media tools and mobile devices, making a victim seem outnumbered and outmaneuvered at every turn. It’s often the case that a gang-up on a victim is previously coordinated by mobile device before the action occurs. The place, timing, and conspirators are all determined before making contact with the victim.
Fortunately, many of these devices and tools also leave footprint with past messages and records in the digital files as well through the systems they use. That then allows police to not only reconstruct the conspiracy to harm the victim but to also identify who was involved, the extent of involvement, when it occurred, how it occurred, and the degree to which crimes were committed. All of these digital details can be extremely powerful in achieving convictions against bullies who regularly gang up on victims with digital tools.
As long as people believe they can physically hurt someone or cause fear without ramifications and that there is no real problem in doing so, physical bullying will continue to exist and occur. A constant awareness and reaction program needs to be applied to make it clear to all generations that physical bullying is not acceptable in modern society and will end with negative ramifications for the bully. When the price becomes too expensive, deterrence is often successful.