Bullying can happen anywhere, at any age: in a residential environment, on the bus, at the gym, at the office, in cyberspace, etc. Small acts that look trivial can become bullying if they are repeated.
Have you witnessed bullying acts? You can play an important role in changing things. Sometimes it is enough for only one person to speak up or show compassion for the person targeted by bullying to break the cycle of bullying. However, if you fear for your safety, it may be more appropriate to look for help, band together with other witnesses or people around you to intervene, or opt to report the bullying to a competent authority.
The important thing is to act. Inaction makes you the bully's accomplice. Some bullies draw power from the fact that an audience is present for their actions.
Examples of actions you can accomplish as a witness:
- approach the targeted person so that he or she and the bully understand that you are supporting the person who has been victimized;
- express your verbal disagreement with the perpetrator, if you feel capable of doing so;
- ask the other witnesses to act with you;
- offer your assistance to the victimized person after the event;
- notify someone in authority;
- avoid laughing at acts of bullying.
When they laugh, when they support or repeat the acts of bullying, for example, by spreading a rumour, forwarding a humiliating text or clicking "Like" to support certain statements denigrating a person), the witnesses contribute to and aggravate the consequences for the victimized persons.
As a witness, you may also need help. Various resources can support you; don't hesitate to rely on their advice. These resources can also enlighten you about the conduct to adopt in order to choose the right intervention that will give the victim the most suitable help. Indeed, other problems (e.g. conjugal or domestic violence, elder abuse) sometimes are commingled with bullying and these situations may require delicate action to avoid accentuating the problem experienced by the person who has been victimized. Specialized workers can tell you the best approach to take.
You can recognize a bullying situation when:
- the perpetrators seek to gain power or profit from their superiority (numerical, physical, based on age or related to social status in the group, etc.) to hurt or humiliate (power imbalance);
- the perpetrators intend to hurt or harm the other person. For example, this may involve spreading a rumour with the aim of discrediting someone;
- the acts have harmful consequences for the victims. These people may feel anxiety, come to have low self-esteem or suffer major psychological distress;
- the acts are generally repetitive. In most cases, it is the repetition of words and actions that creates the target person distress. The actions may be committed repetitively by the same person or by a group of persons who repeat the same action in turn (for example: removing the victim's cap, pushing the victim, calling the victim a "slut"). Some serious acts or gestures can also be considered bullying without being repetitive.
Bullying must be reported, and you can act to put an end to it. Witnesses have the power to contribute successfully to stop bullying situations. You must act even if you are not the person targeted by the bullying behaviours.
People targeted by bullying have rights. By acting in the manner you consider most appropriate, you can help them enforce these rights.
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