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Bullying: a psycho-legal study

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Rationale of the study: In the article, “Overcoming Bullying Behaviour,” (Clore&Hibel, 1997) bullying was described as “one or more individuals inflicting physical, verbal, or emotional abuse on another-including threats of bodily harm, weapon possession, extortion, civil rights violation, assault and battery, gang activity, attempted murder, and murder.” Nowadays, students avoid going to school and create somatic symptoms because of the fear of bullying behavior. Bullying is one of these problems which appear highly prevalent yet inconspicuous enough to miss even the sharpest of the eyes, therefore, the researcher has taken up the problem of bullying for the present study.

In Global context, according to Sheras (2002), incidents of bullying are reported every two seconds of every school day yet the same is dismissed as being “tomfoolery among friends”. Students every day try to seek help but gain none which leads them to associate emotions such as fear and loath for the school environment; whereas in the Indian context, the picture is grimmer. Ethically speaking, the problem of bullying is seemingly non-existent. Reports or researches on bullying in India are a rarity and people’s awareness regarding the bully-victim relationship ubiquitous. The gravity of the situation is such that people become perpetrators of bullying yet fail to acknowledge the same given their ignorance. Hence it is imperative to spread the word and educate the society about this deadly phenomena and this paper aims to work towards the same.

Objectives of the Study:

•To understand the problem of bullying and victimization; its meaning and types and causes.

•To find out if any laws are there regarding bullying behavior.

•To reduce the ignorance and create awareness in society about bullying.

•To explore the preventive measures related to bullying.

Adolescence can be an age of both discovery and disorientation. According to World Health Organisation (1996) “Adolescence typically describes the years between ages 13 and 19 and can be considered the transitional stage from childhood to adulthood.” However, the physical and psychological changes that occur in adolescence can start earlier, during the preteen or “tween” years (ages 9 through 12). This transitional period can bring up issues of independence and self-identity.

During this phase, adolescents face a series of problems such as physical problems related to growth and development, childhood illnesses. There are various psychological problems like mental health disorders, risky or illegal behaviors, including injury, legal consequences, pregnancy, infectious diseases, and addiction. Psycho-social, cognitive repugnancy, and emotional adjustment is a hallmark of this phase of development because even adults struggle with issues of identity, autonomy, sexuality, and relationships and other related thoughts keep them preoccupied. Eating disorders, obesity, smoking, drugs abuse, irrational and violent behavior, etc. lead to acute health problems, chronic disorders, or morbidity later in life. Behavioral disorders are more prevalent during adolescence such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and bullying, as a risk factor, can play a significant role in the development of some of these disorders than during childhood, and that may lead to the development of unhealthy behavior during adolescence.

What is bullying?

The term “Bullying” can be defined as a unique and a complex form of interpersonal aggression that is manifested in different patterns of relationships. DeHaan (1997) defined bullying as ranging from teasing, to stealing lunch money, to a group of students physically abusing a classmate. He said that bullying is very similar to other forms of aggression, but there can be some distinctive features:(a)the intention of bullying behaviour is purposeful, rather than accidental, (b) the goal is to actually gain control over another child through physical or verbal aggression, (c) usually bullies make their attack without any real reason, other than they see their victim as an easy target, (d) bullies are usually more popular with their peers than children who are simply aggressive.

Bullying is a learned behavior. Ryoo, Wang, and Swearer (2014) found that students assumed different roles in bullying across school years. Indeed, youth can observe bullying (i.e., bystanders), experience bullying (i.e., victims), and perpetrate bullying (i.e., bullies) across different situations and/or over time. Across contexts, for instance, a student may be victimized by classmates at school but bully his or her siblings at home. Importantly, these distinct patterns of involvement are associated with different mental health outcomes.

Types of Bullying:

There are various types of bullying such as:

• Physical bullying: Physical bullying includes hitting, kicking, tripping, pinching and pushing or damaging property. Physical bullying causes both short-term and long-term damage.

• Verbal bullying: Verbal bullying includes name calling, insults, teasing, intimidation, homophobic or racist remarks, or verbal abuse. While verbal bullying can start off harmless, it can escalate to levels which start affecting the individual target.

• Social bullying:Social bullying is designed to harm someone’s social reputation and/or cause humiliation, lying and spreading rumours, negative facial or physical gestures, menacing or contemptuous looks, playing nasty jokes to embarrass and humiliate, mimicking unkindly, encouraging others to socially exclude someone, damaging someone’s social reputation or social acceptance.

• Cyberbullying:In Cyberbullying, a person can do harm to others through abusive or hurtful texts emails or posts, images or videos, deliberately excluding others online, nasty gossip or rumours, imitating others online or using their log-in by using digital technologies such as computers and smart-phones, social media, instant messaging, texts, websites and other online platforms. There are different kinds of Cyber-bullying: (a) Overt bullying, (b) Covert bullying, (c) Public bullying, (d) Private bullying etc.

• Sexual bullying: Sexual bullying is a serious issue that needs to be tackled. It can be said that sexual bullying is any behavior which degrades someone, singles someone out by the use of sexual language, gestures or violence, and victimizing someone for their appearance. For example: Abusive, sexualised name calling and insults, unwelcome looks and comments about someone’s appearance or looks, either face to face or behind their backs, inappropriate and uninvited touching without consent, sending the lewd image to others without consent is a form of sexual bullying, inappropriate sexual innuendo that is persistent and unwelcome, sexism in all its forms and gender stereotyping roles of male and females, graffiti with sexual content or display/circulation of inappropriate material of a sexual nature, such as pornography, badges or clothing depicting inappropriate sexual innuendo or language, etc.

Causes and factors behind bullying: Bullying behavior is not just the result of individual characteristics, but is influenced by multiple relationships with peers, families, teachers, neighbors, and interactions with societal influences. Toddlers routinely grab toys from other children, bite and push when they are angry and refuse to take turns. Much of the bullying behavior has its roots in normal childhood development. Adolescents who gang up on others are exploring similar social issues on a more sophisticated level, and those who engage in sexual bullying are often responding to a surge in hormones. Fried and Fried (1996) felt that even environmental factors can lead to the development of bullying behaviors. According to Ross (1996) social status or economic status doesn’t play a role in the qualifications of a bully. He clearly feels something deeper than economic disadvantage or lack of popularity is at work when a child feels compelled to abuse others. For instance dominating and anxious bullies frequently come from homes in which power issues dominate, and in which sibling interaction is more powerful than child-parent relationships. Also, parents who rarely talk as equals with their children and expect their demands to be met without question often encourage bullying behavior in a child. A child who gets into the habit of dominating a sibling and whose parents fail to intervene may also grow up assuming that physical, verbal, social or sexual abuse is both effective and normal. A number of studies have shown that the most common response to victimization is anger. Without adult help in channeling their anger in positive ways such as getting their abusers to stop, expressing their feelings through words or positive actions, bully-victims rid their feelings of victimization by picking on other children.

Global Prevalence Rate of Bullying: The statistics have demonstrated the daily occurrences of bullying behavior in the schools. This may occur for several reasons such as a child trying to gain a specific social status or the fear they may be bullied themselves. Studies have found the majority of bullying takes place on school property, but 50% of elementary students and 35% of high school students go to a parent for help, very few see a teacher. An estimated one-third of victims have some contact with a school counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist (Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2001). Fried & Fried (1996) also felt child bullies are at greater risk for problems in the future. He concluded that by age thirty, 25 percent of the adults who had been identified as bullies as children had a criminal record. The statistics communicate the need for parents and teachers to have a clear understanding of bullying and victim characteristics and interventions techniques, which would de-escalate the situation.

Bully-Victim Relationships: Bully-victims represent a small percentage of bullies who have been seriously bullied themselves. Bully-victims are often physically weaker than those who bully them but are almost always physically stronger than their own victims. They are easily aroused and sometimes provoke others who are clearly weaker than they are. Bully-victims are generally unpopular with their peers, and they are more likely than other types of bullies to be both anxious and depressed.

Peskin et al. (2006) identify bully-victims as those who are both bullied by others and bully others. Quite often, children may be victims at home and a bully at school. Bully-victim relationships fit well within this depiction of conflict and aggression. As bullies and victims conflict over differences resulting from perceived or real power or hierarchy, it is most likely that they will use competitive methods of conflict resolution, not collaborative ones. Bully-victim relationships will involve short-term, negative conflicts in which participants use strategies such as aggression, giving in, or withdrawing to resolve the conflict. Bullies often choose aggressive methods of conflict resolution, while their victims often use avoidance strategies. A child could have been a victim all through childhood and when emerging into adolescence or adulthood decides it is time to take control, control over others. Rigby (1993) also indicated that the predisposition to bully others and to be victimized can possibly be correlated. Bully-victim-witness relationships must be viewed within a bidirectional context. Thus, bullies impact behaviors and thoughts of victims; conversely, victim impact behaviors and thoughts of their bullies in a bi-directional fashion. Indeed, the bully-victim relationship is often composed of multiplayer interactions and is further complicated by influences such as other peers (witnesses), school personnel, and the children’s families.

Victim: It can be said that a victim is often a person who suffers from destructive acts, either emotionally or physically. They are mostly random, undeserving people that were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, researches revealed that victims quite often find themselves in the same situation over and over again. Bullies do not randomly attack their peers; instead, they target a specific subgroup of students who are often victimized over the course of several years.

Types of victims: Olweus(1996) describes three types of victim: the passive victim, the provocative victim, and bully-victims.

Passive victims do not directly provoke bullies. They face social isolation, often seem anxious, depressed, and fearful, and have very poor self-concepts. They have few friends; feel lonely and sad, and more nervous about new situations. This cluster of symptoms makes them attractive targets for bullies who are unusually competent in detecting the vulnerability. According to Swearer and colleagues (2001), “The victims’ behaviors and emotional states may make them vulnerable to bullying. The bullying behavior towards them may perpetuate their issues with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and loneliness, which may make them increasingly vulnerable to bullying.”

Provocative victims represent a small group of children who often behave in ways that arouse negative responses from those around them, such as anger, irritation, and exasperation. They possess a cluster of characteristics that are likely to disrupt a classroom and lead to social rejection by peers, including irritability, restlessness, off-task behavior, and hostility

Bully-victims represent a small percentage of bullies who have been seriously bullied themselves. Bully-victims are often physically weaker than those who bully them but are almost always physically stronger than their own victims. Bully-victims are generally unpopular with their peers, and they are more likely than other types of bullies to be both anxious and depressed.

Causes or factors behind victimization:Multiple factors contribute to a bully’s selection of victim, including the complicated interplay of a bully’s motivation, a victim’s characteristics, and the specific circumstances of the bullying situation, need to display power and to attain financial satisfaction.

Law and bullying: In the case of University of Kerala v. Council, Principal’s colleges, Kerala & others the court had opined that:

“Now the Question arises, why should the Indian penal laws not apply to a school? You may say that the schoolboys are only in late teens but do not forget that there are several crimes in various cities including murders which are committed by teenagers today”

These words raise a serious question on the safety of the youths of the country. The concept of bullying as a crime is in its nascent stage in India. In India, there is no separate legislation to deal with bullying at the school level. Bullying is prevalent at school level in India, especially in boarding schools. However, in 2015 HRD ministry directed CBSE schools to form anti-ragging committees at school level also putting severe punishments to students indulging in bullying and the punishment may vary to rustication in rarest of rare cases. There should be notice boards warning students from involving in ragging or bullying. The Raghavan committee report recommended that teachers and the principal shall be held liable if any act of bullying takes place in the school premises

Similarly, UGC has laid guidelines to all the colleges across the country to follow anti-ragging rules in their respective universities and the universities which do not abide by such rules would be brought to task and even UGC could forfeit their recognition. The government of India enacted special regulation to curb bullying at higher education institutions – “UGC Regulations on Curbing the Menace of Ragging in Higher Education Institutions, 2009”. A student may also have criminal liability under different sections of the criminal procedure code of India. Offenses of bullying, stalking, terrorism, breach of confidentiality, etc. committed in cyberspace are like similar offenses in the real world and are punishable. Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 deals with such crimes. Such crimes, under the current IT/Cyber/Criminal laws in India are punishable by up to three years with a fine.

Remedies:

•The problem of bullying should not be overlooked. It needs to be dealt with properly and effectively.

•The children should be handled sensitively with due love and care, rather than rebuking them harshly through which the problem can be curbed in its nascent stage itself.

•Children need to be counseled and encouraged to speak up and be confident enough to share their problems.

•The anti-bullying cell should be formed in government and private schools and they should be effective too.

•Therapists, counselors and life skill trainers can play an effective role to provide the best and most efficient care for the victims.

•Intervention programs for children, parents and school staff members should be designed that can be helpful in dealing with the problem of bullying.

•Encourage the children to make friends, help them to improve their social skills such as effective ways of communication etc.

•Effective laws should be there and fully implemented to treat the problem of bullying.

Conclusion: Bullying is a phenomenon which often goes unnoticed and then wrecks havoc on several lives. At a global level, bullying is often complained of but in India, this problem as seen in this paper, the problem is often swept under the carpet. It is high time that this problem was checked and curbed to the maximum extent possible. Every person has a right to live with the dignity and devoid of fear so it becomes even more essential that children are protected and guided in a correct way so that we have a good breed of humans for the next generation rather than scared under confident individuals and rampant delinquents since prevention is better than cure. Laws need to be passed and implemented effectively for the betterment of the society. Preventing bullying is imperative for a better tomorrow and a healthy future for the society.

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