What You Can Do About Harassment & Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and while most of us associate this type of harassment with school-age children, bullies aren’t limited to the schoolyard. You can find this behavior, defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior…that involves a real or perceived power imbalance,” in classrooms, courtrooms, intimate relationships, and even online.

In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, let’s break down some of the lesser-known facets of bullying.

Bullying; Bully Prevention; Adult; Child; Student; Teacher; Harassment

Affects Children & Adults Alike

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2016) estimates close to half of all children will experience school bulling at some point during their school years. Bullying presents as either physical or verbal, or digital (through e-mail and social networking). Experiencing this behavior often interferes with emotional and social development, as well as school performance. In the most tragic cases, some victims have attempted suicide as a direct result of the schoolyard harassment.

As I mentioned previously, bullying is not limited to the school years. While adults are more likely to use verbal bullying instead of physical bullying, the goal remains the same from the schoolyard to the workplace: to gain power over another person, and make him- or herself the dominant person (BullyingStatistics.org).

Types of Bullies & People Who Harass

There are several different types of bullies, and all of them can make life both difficult and downright miserable (BullyingStatistics.org):

  • Narcissistic: self-centered, displays little empathy for others, and shows little anxiety about consequences of his or her actions.
  • Impulsive: more spontaneous in their bullying acts; has a difficult time restraining his or her behavior, and most bullying results from his or her personal stress.
  • Physical: often does no actual physical harm to the victim, but uses the threat of harm; additionally, he or she may damage or steal the victim’s property.
  • Verbal: these bullies start rumors, use sarcastic or demeaning language to dominate and/or humiliate another person; this type of bullying is more subtle but can potentially result in severe emotional and psychological damage to the victim.
  • Secondary: this is the bystander – the person who doesn’t initiate the bullying but joins in to save him- or herself from being the victim at a later date. They’re more concerned with protecting themselves than the victim.

Bullies in Various Situations

I’ve seen bullying play out in a multitude of situations in my legal career. Read on for a few key areas where bullying plays a role–or scroll to the end for a great list of resources for what you can do about it.

Bullying among Juveniles

Let’s start with the most well-known situation: juveniles. As a juvenile prosecutor, I saw schoolyard bullying get turned on its head when the victim’s self-defense results in him or her being charged, even when they were not the initiator (for more, check out my post about proving a self-defense defense). In my current work with Project Safeguard, I’ve seen the same bullying techniques in domestic violence, with abusers using both physical and verbal forms of bullying on their victims (for more on DV dynamics see this post on power and control).

Digital Harassment

And on that note – bullying is no longer limited to in-person contact. With the evolution of social media, email, and text messaging, bullying has literally gone viral! Officially titled cyberbullying, this form of bullying is defined as “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets…includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else.” This type of bullying occurs anywhere people can view, participate in, or share content – text messages, email, social media, gaming, etc. School-age kids have taken to social media when bullying their classmates, and abusers in domestic violence relationships will often utilize this tactic. Cyberbullying is effective, too, as the behavior is very difficult to prove once the harasser goes digital.

Workplace Harassment

These are circumstances in which a lot of people might expect bullying behavior, but let’s talk about a couple lesser-known situations. As a female attorney, whether in prosecution or criminal defense, I have firsthand experience with bullying in the workplace. As a female litigator, I know women are subject to implicit bias in the judicial system. I’ve been actively bullied by opposing counsel, sitting judges, and even my own bosses!

But, as is true with everything, there is a lesson to be learned, so here it is: how you respond to these actions is critical! As a young lawyer, I caved because I needed the work. Now, as an experienced attorney, I won’t stand for it – and I openly advocate for those around me when they’re facing the same kind of bullying behavior.

Don’t let bullying and harassment go unaddressed – get help!

So now, what can you do about bullying? Glad you asked! Whether you’re a parent, student, or an adult dealing with bullies in the workplace, here are some resources that might help:

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