Words Tahlia Higgins
Artwork Taly Hamilton
“I was in grade 10 and he was my best friend. Because of that, I thought he was right about everything,” Rachael* says
“I looked up to him. So when he told me I was ugly or weird, I knew he didn’t mean it aggressively, I trusted him and tried to change myself.”
Bullying – whether you are a victim, a witness or maybe even an unintentional perpetrator – is something too many of us face. It can happen at any place, any age and any time. Whether the scars are physical or emotional, the impacts and effects of bullying do not discriminate. It can take many forms: name-calling, threats and violence, sexual harassment, as well as more subtle types such as judgement, mistreatment, belittling, and talking behind somebody’s back.
When reflecting on high school, Rachael says her friend eventually “cut off our friendship with no warning, he just suddenly stopped talking to me all together”.
“I was devastated because I had lost my best friend.”
But, in hindsight, Rachael says: “I think it’s the best thing he could have done, even if it was out of his selfishness and a reason he never explained. I know that I am better off without him”.
Bullying is a topic we’re starting to discuss more openly, following the release of American drama series 13 Reasons Why, a raw and confronting look into the issues and impact of bullying on a victim. The new ABC reality TV show Bullied, presented by Ian Thorpe, is another – exposing school bullies with hidden cameras to highlight the very real situation these students go through.
Shedding light on the issue may move us one step closer to preventing it, but most recent results in the Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study revealed that out of 20,000 students in Australian schools, approximately one in four have reported being bullied. So what happens once these bullies hit college?
Danielle*, a grade 11 student, says bullying affects everyone and for her it extended to the point of physical abuse, “I’m a fairly lonely person in school, especially in high school and primary”. It started with her receiving “a snigger here and insult there; a punctured tyre there.”
“When you are constantly berated and brought down for trying, you give up a bit of you.”
She says she experienced the worst level of bullying during year 11, with violent behaviour from students who would prod her with pencils, slip objects into the back of her shirt, and threaten to stab her.
These bullying experiences may sound extreme, but are not uncommon in the schoolground. So what happens when you swap the text books for a job? “When you’re bullied at work, it can take a bit of time before you realise that you weren’t treated well,” Sarah* says. “I worked with a boss for many years in a small environment. He used to tease me about my body in a way he felt was light and fun, but it made me feel really uncomfortable.” If she ever caught him out, Sarah’s boss would tell her she was “being too serious” and “mock me for not being able to take his jokes”.
She says he compared her body to his wife’s and would comment on her clothing – “about how it showed off my legs or made me look fat. This experience taught me that bullying often makes the victim question themselves, and wonder if they deserve what’s being given to them”.
There are also hidden forms of bullying that we may not recognise, or that we may be too scared to tell anybody about – exclusion, talking behind backs, withholding information, treating somebody differently. These seemingly little, everyday decisions can potentially have a huge impact on somebody’s life.
For Caitlin*, it occurred during a moment of feeling judged by her boss who loved personality quizzes. “It was totally fine, except he would tell me what he thought I was and go on about it – without me ever actually having done the test. While it wasn’t necessarily a put down, I remember thinking that it felt like total judgment based on someone’s assumption”. The same boss also decided she was dyslexic, based on no evidence other than believing he was himself and “could tell when someone else was”. But just because these forms of bullying may be less obvious, it doesn’t mean they’re any less hurtful. I think most of us have experienced a moment when we felt objectified, stereotyped, judged, or like somebody was exposing our weaknesses for their gain.
I know for me, personally, I have felt bullying from primary school all the way to the workplace. All forms varied greatly, but were equally as hurtful. But after going down the rabbit hole into the issue of bullying, I’ve learnt that it’s far more complex and varied than I could have ever imagined.
For anybody who has been bullied, or after reading this thinks they may have been the bully, Sarah has a word of advice: “If you feel like you’re being bullied, I would recommend speaking up before it gets too late. Stop the bully in their tracks by respectfully telling them that what they’re doing is inappropriate. They’re in the wrong and you have nothing to be afraid of. If you’re lucky, they’ll realise and apologise. If they don’t understand, at least you have let them know that you won’t put up with being treated poorly – and you’ll feel more confident in yourself in the long run”.
*names have been changed
If you or someone you know is struggling with bullying, visit headspace.org.au to find your local centre or call or contact eheadspace on 1800 650 890 or eheadspace.org.au