Bullying at school

The law protects you from physical violence, harassment, threats and intimidation. Schools should be safe and pleasant places for all students and for teachers too. You do not have to put up with physical or verbal abuse. It is OK to complain.

What is bullying?

Bullying is any cruel or hurtful behaviour, including physical violence, threats or harassment, by one student or a group of students, towards another student. Harassment means on-going verbal or physical attacks on another person. Bullying is serious. It can be a criminal offence if there is physical violence or threats. Common forms of bullying are verbal abuse like unkind teasing, name calling, humiliation, sexist or racist remarks or excluding people from groups or activities.

Examples of Bullying

  • pushing, hitting or being violent
  • threatening or frightening others
  • spitting or throwing things
  • humiliation, ridicule or making fun of someone
  • using offensive names, teasing or spreading rumours about someone or their family
  • making racist or sexist remarks and put downs about someone's cultural, religious or social background
  • demanding money, food or other items
  • forcing a student to do silly or dangerous things
  • interfering with another's property, by hiding or damaging or destroying it
  • belittling a person's abilities and achievements
  • writing mean or spiteful notes or graffiti about others
  • ridiculing a person's body appearance

How common is bullying?

Studies show that bullying is common in Australian schools. Research says that as many as 20% of children and students in Australian schools have been subjected to bullying and harassment. Bullying often takes place in the playground, in toilets, going to and from school and in the classroom. The New South Wales Minister of Education has expressed concern about violence in schools and has made it clear that students who are violent will be dealt with severely and may face suspension, exclusion or expulsion from school.

What can schools do about bullying?

Schools sometimes deny that there is any bullying because it may give the school a bad reputation. What teachers and principals consider to be bullying can be different from what students think. Schools should make sure that students are not bullied or harassed and that the school is safe for all students. Most schools have strategies for dealing with bullying. But you can help by working to create a caring and non-violent school environment. For example, if one of your friends or classmates has been the target of bullying or harassment, try to support him or her. Tell your friend to talk to the principal, or school counsellor. Schools are bound by the law too. If a school turns a blind eye to sexual or racial harassment, a complaint can be made against the school to the Anti- Discrimination Board or the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Bullying - things to remember

  • You have the right to feel safe! It is not your fault you are being bullied. The school must do everything they can to protect you.
  • Tell someone about what is happening to you. Tell your parents so that they can talk to the school about it. Tell your teachers so they can punish the bully.
  • If you have been physically assaulted or threatened, or your property has been damaged or stolen, a criminal offence may have been committed and you could tell the police. If the bully is 10 or older, he or she could be charged or given a warning by the police.
  • If your school is not doing anything about the bullying, complain to the Department of Education or get legal advice.
This information is of a general nature and is written by the National Children's and Youth Law Centre (NCYLC) for State schools only. The NCYLC website is www.lawstuff.org.au. If you go to a private school or you would like more detailed advice from a lawyer about any of these issues, go to the NCYLC website and use LawMail to get some advice. You can email NCYLC at admin@ncylc.org.au or call 02 9385 9588.


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