What is bullying?

Bullying is when one person or a group of people deliberately hurts another person, more than once, and it’s hard for the person on the receiving end to defend themselves.

It can help to use the acronym STOP to identify a bullying situation (Several Times on Purpose).

There is not a law against bullying in the UK, but when there is 'reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm', a bullying incident should be addressed as a child protection concern under the Children Act 1989.

Some types of bullying behaviour may also constitute a crime - such as physical and sexual harm, threats of harm and malicious communications.

Bullying includes many forms of harmful behaviour. Here are some examples:

  • Verbal abuse – name-calling, unkind comments, spreading rumours, laughing at someone, forcing someone to do or say something, encouraging someone to hurt themselves 
  • Physical abuse – hitting, kicking, shoving, spitting, burning, non-consensual touch.  
  • Emotional abuse – excluding someone from the group, forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do.  
  • Cyber/Online abuse – messages, posts, videos that are intended to hurt or cause harm, pretending to be someone else to cause them harm. 

It is often targeted at perceived ‘difference’ and can be driven by prejudice and harmful attitudes towards others. For example, a child may feel they are targeted for their race, faith, disability, sexuality, gender, age, appearance, and social background.

Child-on-child abuse

Bullying is a form of child-on-child abuse.  Keeping children safe in education makes it clear that children are capable of abusing their peers (this includes bullying, cyberbullying, prejudice-based and discriminatory bullying) and schools should have clear policies and procedures in place to minimise the risk.  Policies should detail how staff will respond, record and support those involved in any incidents. 

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