The 21st century saw the Irish education system finally take a dedicated and realistic approach to bullying in schools. In September 2013, the Department of Education and Skills published these Anti-Bullying Procedures for Primary and Post-Primary Schools. There are rules set down in procedure (but not law) regarding bullying between students at primary and post-primary schools and the rights of pupils and parents when bullying occurs. But, as we know, bullying can happen anywhere. The workplace, the gym, college, the internet. It is not just a kid’s problem.
But what is largely ignored in society is the stigma that a person faces as a result of being bullied. I doubt that this behaviour is only a part of Irish society but I’ve seen it many times. We assume that someone who’s suffered from bullying has something that makes them abnormal. We are not condoning the bullying or believing that the person deserves it however there’s a quiet voice in the back of our heads that wonders why they were bullied? Why were they targeted? What is different about them?
A woman was sexually harassed at work. But did she ask for it in some way? A child has been bullied in the schoolyard. But what is the child doing wrong? A teenager is getting abusive messages online. But what were they posting to receive these messages? Or maybe they just should know that the internet is a dangerous place. A man is uncomfortable with his co-workers’ behaviour towards him. But is he just being too sensitive? Does he lack a sense of humour? Doesn’t he know that they’re just being funny?
These prejudices don’t usually stop the problem from getting resolved but they do make it more difficult for the victim. Some cases of bullying go unreported for fear of these judgements. Some people don’t feel supported and find themselves wishing that they had never “made a fuss of it.” Society is able to recognise that the bully is the one to blame, but often they can’t help but place a fraction of the blame on the victim for not conforming to “normal” standards.
Do you do this? I’ll admit that I’ve done it in the past without even really realising it. Really think about it and you may find that you very subconsciously do it too. Some people are a lot better at hiding it than others but I suspect that many of us are guilty of it. We need to recognise that bullying has nothing to do with the victim. We need to release these old prejudices that still slightly linger where bullying occurs. We need to be completely supportive of victims of bullying without forcing them to face any judgement or blame.
Through repeating the mantra “the victim is never to blame” to ourselves, we can slowly change this attitude. I urge you to stand up to this attitude and to ultimately defeat it forever.