Harassment, violence, and bullying in schools
Harassment in schools is a problem that is more or less visible from the outside, yet that affects youth greatly. When faced with this type of bullying, it is important to adopt assertive approaches rather than aggressive reactions. Accompaniment is the key to this problem on all levels. It is essential to act in order to help both victims and perpetrators find a balance.
Harassment in schools is seen as a repetitive and deliberate act that relies on an imbalance in power. It lies on 3 characteristics :
- The violence is often continuous and repetitive.
- The victim is unable to defend themselves alone against the bullying, thus creating an unequal balance of power conducive to relationships of domination and abuse of power or force. This can take place between a person who is stronger and a person who is weaker, or between a group of people and an isolated person.
- The actions are voluntary and deliberate with harmful intentions.
Bullying can take the following forms :
- Verbal : mockery, injury, humiliation, insults, menace, inappropriate name-calling and acts,
- Psychological : voluntary exclusion, creating or spreading of rumors or other acts that can lead to the victim’s social isolation,
- Physical : injury, kick, pushing, extortion, and theft,
- Sexual : non-desired acts/gestures done without consent and comments of inappropriate nature
Harassment is not always visible; not when it happens nor in its consequences. Above physical injuries that can occur, this type of bullying can also take place in the form of manipulation, through forcing the victim into doing things they do not wish to do.
There is no specific criterion that legitimizes harassment in schools, as it usually starts from deep-rooted insecurities found in the bullies themselves. It is founded on the rejection of difference and the stigmatization of certain characteristics. In fact, anything can become a pretext for violence depending on the active agents and the context.
This can be:
- Physical appearance : weight, height, color or hair type,
- Sexual identity : a boy considered to be « too effeminate », a girl considered to be « too masculine », sexism, or assumptions of sexual orientation,
- A physical, psychological, or mental disability,
- The belonging to a specific social or cultural group,
- Different interests
This being said, this type of harassment is developed in the general context of an educational establishment. If the climate of the establishment deteriorates or if the instances of violence are misidentified, unpunished, or dismissed, the harassment will possibly worsen.
The seriousness of the scars left by school harassment can depend on the intensity of the violence, and can cause permanent trauma that are not easily visible. It is important to note that both the victim and the bully can both be subjected to damages.
In the short term, and while still dealing with the harassment, the victim will struggle to deal with emotional breakdowns which can lead to behaviors of isolation or sporadic fits of anger. In more serious cases, victims can turn violent against others or against themselves, possibly with suicidal intents.
In the longer term, harassment can have huge impacts on psychological development, social development, but especially in self-growth and the development of a healthy self-esteem. These repercussions can continue to impact a victim for many years if they are not taken care of.
There are many signs of harassment in schools and they should not be confused with an adolescent crisis:
- Low self-esteem and depression
- Persistent negative feelings (fear, horror, anger, guilt, embarrassment, anxiety)
- Intense reactions for no reason and irritability
- Loss of interest in school or dropping out, lowering grades, unexplained absences
- Loss of interest for any type of activity
- Psychosomatic troubles or illness
- Social isolation and avoidance
- Dangerous of self-destructive behaviour
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
On the side of the bully, violence and instability in their familial realm are often to blame, as well as difficulty following in school. Repercussions on the mental health of the bully can subsidize and transform into delinquent behaviors in their adulthood.