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19 Cases of Bullying among Real and Overwhelming Youth

case study examples bullying

Table of Contents

Last Updated on April 13, 2023 by Mike Robinson

We present 19 cases of real bullying and cyberbullying characterized by their fatal outcomes and the lack of training of education professionals.  The cases and stories of bullying in schools and outside them with cyberbullying have multiplied in recent years.

Effects of Bullying in Adults and Children’s

Bullying can cause severe mental distress. The cases of adolescents and minors who take their own lives due to the different types of bullying should be alarming to educational professionals. Schools must implement immediate and decisive actions to curtail this unacceptable behavior trend. 

1-Miriam, eight years old

Miriam is an eight-year-old girl who goes to elementary school. She loves animals, so she always has pictures of them in her books. She even has a backpack shaped like a puppy.

Her companions laugh and make fun of her, comparing her with the animals on the stickers on her backpack because she is overweight. Also, since she is “fat,” they take her money and snacks at recess.

Although she has told the teachers repeatedly, they have not done much to change the situation. To try to improve the situation, Miriam stopped eating and is in the hospital for anorexia.

2-Tania: Fourteen years old.

Tania, a 14-year-old teenager, has tried to commit suicide due to her high school classmates’ continuous threats, robberies, and aggressions. The situation has not changed despite filing 20 complaints against 19 of her classmates.

In January 2014, she was admitted to the hospital for 15 days due to an overdose of Valium pills. Despite her attempted suicide, the threats are still ongoing.

3-Diego: Eleven years old

It is a recent case of school bullying in Spain; Diego, an eleven-year-old boy, was a victim of this practice in a school in Madrid.

His mother remembers that her son told her he did not want to go to school, so his mood was always very sad; once, he lost his voice because of a blow he had suffered at school from his classmates.

The day he committed suicide, his mother went to pick him up at school, and he ran frantically to the car to get out safely. Later that evening, he killed himself.

4-Jokin Z: Fourteen years old

It was one of the first cases of bullying that came to light in Spain. After being bullied for months, he decided to commit suicide. The parents felt helpless. They tried for two years to prevent this tragedy and remove the suffering of their teenage son.

As a result of his suicide, eight students had charges brought against them. The parents were also arrested. However, only one individual was convicted. 

5-Jairo: Sixteen years old

Jairo is a 16-year-old boy from a town in Seville who faced severe bullying because of his physical disability. He has a prosthetic leg due to a wrong operation. His classmates continually make fun of him and his disability.

Not only did they trip him, but they also tried to take it off in the gymnastics class. On the other hand, in the social networks, there were photos of him manipulated with computer programs with bad words that made Jairo not want to go to school.

Due to the suffering caused by this type of behavior, Jairo asked to change schools and is currently at another institute.

6-Yaiza: Seven years old

At seven years old, Yaiza suffered bullying from her classmates. They insulted her continuously, to the point that Yaiza had difficulty convincing herself that what her classmates told her was false.  Not only did they insult her, but they also stole her breakfast and even once threw a table at her.

She was fortunate to have a teacher who was involved in the issue of bullying and helped make changes at the school. The teacher brought attention to bullying to better understand why these practices occur in schools.

7-Alan: Seventeen years old

This seventeen-year-old teenager was bullied by his classmates because he was a transsexual. He took his life on December 30, 2015, after taking pills mixed with alcohol.

It was not the first time he tried since he had been receiving therapy numerous times because he had suffered for years. As in other cases, Alan was no longer in school, but that was not enough.

8-Ryan: Fourteen years old

After years of psychological aggression, in 2003, Ryan, then fourteen years old, decided to commit suicide. He did so because he was supposedly gay. It all started because a friend of his published online that he was homosexual.

Because of this, he did not stop receiving jokes, ridicule, and humiliation from his classmates. This case helped to approve the Harassment Prevention Act in Vermont of the US States months after his death.

Young girl looking at her phone.

9-Arancha: Sixteen years old

This 16-year-old girl decided to throw herself from the sixth floor. The reason was the bullying she suffered from classmates in Madrid.

Arancha suffered from motor and intellectual disabilities, which was more than enough for her class to bully her. Although her parents reported this fact to the police, it was not enough to prevent the fatal outcome.

Minutes before launching herself from the building, she said goodbye to the people closest to her by sending them a message through WhatsApp, saying, “I was tired of living.”

10-Lolita: Fifteen years old

Lolita is currently under medical treatment due to the depression she suffers, which has paralyzed her face. This young woman from Maip, Chile, was bullied by four classmates at her school.

Her classmates mocked and humiliated her in class, which seriously affected her. According to the mother, the school knew about her daughter’s mistreatment and did nothing to prevent it.

11-Rebecca: Fifteen years

The case of Rebecca from the state of Florida is an example of cyberbullying. She decided to take her own life in 2013 due to the continuous threats and humiliations suffered by colleagues on social networks.

She and her mother had informed the teachers at school of this situation. Unfortunately, they did not work to stop the attacks on her. She posted on her profile days before her death, “I’m dead. “I cannot stand it anymore.”

12-Phoebe Prince: Fifteen years old

This 15-year-old Irish immigrant girl was harassed by nine teenagers who had criminal charges brought up in 2010. She was bullied physically and psychologically, and there was cyberbullying through cell phones and the internet.

Phoebe was humiliated and assaulted for three months in high school until she ended up hanging herself. The people who harassed her continued to do so even after her death.

13-Rehtaeh: Fifteen years old

This girl from Halifax, Nova Scotia, decided to hang herself in her bathroom after suffering cyber bullying. Her schoolmates and strangers took part in the bullying. Rehtaeh got drunk at a party, where, apart from raping her, they photographed her while it happened.

This photo began circulating everywhere, so even kids she did not know asked her to sleep with them on social networks. Her classmates also insulted her and made fun of her.

14-Oscar: Thirteen years old

This minor, who is 13 years old and in the first year of secondary school, decided to ingest liquid drain cleaner for pipes for the sole purpose of not going to school. Oscar was harassed not only by his classmates but also by one of his teachers.

Oscar could not contain the urge to go to the bathroom due to a urinary problem. His teacher never let him go, so he once urinated on himself.  From that moment on, he had to deal with the treatment he received from his teacher and his classmates, who made fun of him and insulted him repeatedly.

15-Monica: Sixteen years old

Mónica lived in Ciudad Real (Spain) and was 16 years old when she decided to commit suicide because of the treatment she received at school from her classmates. They would insult her on the bus, threaten her, and publish photos and nasty comments on social networks.

She decided to commit suicide to end all the hell that her classmates made her go through. Even though her father, one day before he took his own life, complained to the head of studies about what was happening to his daughter.

16-María: Eleven years old

This girl from Madrid (Spain) suffered harassment from her classmates at a religious school. Her classmates not only made fun of her but even physically mistreated her.

Teachers disputed these claims and did not defend her or take measures to stop them from happening. Because of this, she tried to overdose on pills without success.

17-Amanda: Fifteen years old

Amanda, a Canadian-born minor, committed suicide after posting a video on social media reporting that she was suffering bullying.

It all started when he sent a topless photo of herself to a stranger on the webcam; from that moment, insults and harassment began on the internet.

This bullying lasted three years. Amanda even changed schools to rebuild her life, but it did not help. The abuse caused anxiety and acute depression that led her to consume drugs.

18-Zaira: Fifteen years old

Here is another victim of bullying from classmates. In the case of Zaira, it all started when they recorded her with a cell phone while she was in the bathroom.  These girls spread the video among all the school’s classmates and others outside her school. 

Because of these recordings, Zaira had to take the continuous teasing of her classmates and even physical abuse. Thanks to a lower-class classmate, she faced bullying, and this story had a happy ending.

19-Marco: Eleven years

This child had spent five years enduring the harassment he suffered from his classmates. They made fun of him because he was supposedly overweight, although, in reality, he was not.

They humiliated him on many occasions, and once, they even took off his clothes in gym class.  A teacher knew what was happening to him and did not take action. Marco is currently in another school after telling him everything that happened to his parents.

Conclusions About Bullying

These 19 cases are only 19 of many in our schools. These examples show the flaws that exist in education systems worldwide. The education system professionals are not doing enough to address these abuses.

Despite all we know about bullying, there still needs to be more information about its prevention and action. The schools are not prepared to face this type of situation, leading them to ignore this behavior in their students and leave the families alone with this problem.

Also Read:  11 Human Body Games for Children

To reduce the number of suicides due to school bullying in children, we must educate everyone involved. By providing adequate training, people will know what guidelines to follow in these situations to prevent adolescent suicide.

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Laura Martocci Ph.D.

Bullying: A Case Study Revisited

Cruelty and its impact, years later.

Posted April 9, 2015

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Several years ago, a teacher shared a scenario that exemplified how crafty and insidious bullying can be. I blogged about it at the time and reprinted the story here—as well as a followed up with the young victim:

From the outside, the abuse looked innocuous enough—kids around a table in the cafeteria, singing fragments of popular songs and laughing . Nothing to catch the attention of monitors—until another student bade a young teacher to listen carefully to the lyrics. Muse’s popular song was only tweaked, becoming "Far away / you can’t be far enough away / far away from the people who don’t care if you live or die." Instead of Lady Gaga’s lyrics, the kids chanted “you are so ugly / you are a disease. The boys don’t even want what you’re givin’ for free. No one wants your Love / Ew, yuck, ew / you’re such a joke.” Instead of Beyonce’s, “If you like it then you should’ve put a ring on it,” they sang “you’re a f*#% up and loser put a bag on it.” The repertoire was extensive, and new songs were added every week.

By and large, the students were careful to write lyrics that would pass censorship and not attract attention to themselves for profanity. They delighted in their own cleverness, and in their ability to get many uninvolved bystanders to sing a chorus as they waited in the food line. In other words, the humiliation of one girl became a popular bonding experience, and ad-libbing new lyrics was a way to get positive peer attention.

As they saw it, it was all just a joke. Ha Ha. Can’t she take a little joke?

Recently, I tracked down the victim (she is at a top-tier college) and she agreed to reflect on her experiences. I first asked whether she remembered the correct lyrics to those songs, all these years later. My mistake. I assumed the alternate lyrics were seared into her brain. Instead, she told me she had forgotten the revised songs, and would not have recalled the lyrics had I not transcribed them, years ago. When I asked whether she had ever gotten an apology , or if one would change anything now, she didn’t think there was any need.

Gratifying as it was to see her doing well, these were not the responses I anticipated. But as parents and educators think about bullying, it is important to keep in mind that not all incidents—not even all ongoing cruelties that clearly affect a young adult—will scar her for life. And that we may, at times, do a disservice to young people by rushing in to fix what we perceive as threatening, undermining their own abilities to handle it.

Our inability to gauge resilience is complicated by the fact that much cruelty lies in intersubjective nuances that are equally impossible to grasp, let alone gauge. However, much of the capacity for reparation lies in those nuances as well.

To my mind, singing cruelly revised songs (and encouraging others to sing along) was ongoing abuse, one that called for an intervention. However, "loud singing on the bus" was the only concrete issue that was ever addressed. The victim herself refused any involvement of school authorities, and—as she appears to be thriving—it seems this was the "right call" on her part. (Was it that she could not quite define herself as a victim? That she was handling her "victimization" in ways that adults could not see? That the teacher saw to it that ringleaders got in trouble for unrelated offenses? That—appearances to the contrary—she is burdened by insecurity and secret shame ?)

Interviewing this young woman prompted me to track down, and reconsider, something Clive Seale wrote almost two decades ago:

“in the ebb and flow of everyday interactions, as has been conveyed so effectively in the work of [Erving] Goffman, there exist numerous opportunities for small psychic losses, exclusions and humiliations, alternating with moments of repair and optimism . [Thomas] Scheff (1990) has sought to understand this quality of everyday interaction as consisting of cycles of shame and pride as the social bond is alternately damaged and repaired. The experience of loss and repair is, then, a daily event. In this sense “ bereavement ” (and recovery from it) describes the continual daily acknowledgement of the problem of human embodiment.” (1998)

To adults looking on, cruel song lyrics certainly seem a large "ebb" in the flow of this young student’s life—one requiring intervention. Her story, however, reminds us that as we forge ahead, looking for ways to protect our children against bullying, we must simultaneously enable them to negotiate the "ebbs" in life. A first step in this may simply involve helping them identify the "flow." This is not to lessen active response to bullying, or to sweep it under the rug, but to teach our children to challenge the negative self-narratives that form around bullying experiences. And—perhaps more importantly—to teach them that as bystanders, they contribute to the narratives of others (either implicitly or explicitly). At the risk of sounding Pollyannaish, the identification of counter-factual evidence may go far in challenging this negativity. It turns out, this is precisely what this young women was able to—though a group of friends outside the school environment, who not only raised awareness of, but contributed to, her flow.

Laura Martocci Ph.D.

Laura Martocci, Ph.D . is a Social Psychologist known for her work on bullying and shame. A former faculty member and dean at Wagner College, her current work centers around identity (re)construction and the transformative potential in change.

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  • v.12(1); 2003 Feb

Mental Health Sequelae Of Bullying: A Review and Case Report

This paper is a review of the effects of bullying on children and adolescents. We begin with a case report of a young male who presented at a children’s hospital emergency room after being subjected to months of bullying. We then proceed to a review of relevant literature, and focus on a definition of bullying, the incidence of this problem, and the characteristics of bullies, victims and those who both bully and are bullied. The consequences of this behaviour, both for the perpetrator and victim, are also examined. We note that all individuals who participate in bullying, whether as perpetrators, victims, or those who have been both the perpetrators and the targets of this particular form of aggression, have in some way been psychologically affected by such experiences. It is hoped that the significance of bullying behaviour, and its psychological cost on the psychological well-being of the children and adolescents involved with bullying, will be a central theme of this review.

Introduction

What is bullying? Who does it involve? Why does it happen? What are the consequences? These are questions, which often arise in the study of bullying behaviour, and highlight issues of violence in our schools and homes, and of under reported victimization and questionable parenting. The tragedy of bullying behaviour is not only that it occurs, but that its effects are long-lasting and often unappreciated (or even ignored) by those who have primary responsibility for the care and welfare of children. Rappaport (2001) pointed out regarding the school site:

The most overlooked dynamic in bullying is the role staff members may have in escalating a conflict. Often administrators, in the interest of being fair, hand out cookbook discipline that does not give students (and staff) an opportunity to be reflective about their actions but instead reinforces the coercive punitive intent of a staff member. Many times adults/staff are not held responsible for their actions in the context of a public school system that allows employment for life with limited accountability. This may contribute to our reluctance to examine in schools the parallel process, in which students act as bullies, implicitly mirroring the aggressive climate that is sometimes endorsed by teachers.

The following case presentation is a clinical account of the effect of bullying on one young teenager, and the issues identified in the case parallel those reviewed in the literature. The case acts as a springboard to examine the larger issues of bullying, its meaning, prevalence and consequences. Psychological profiles of both bullies and victims are presented, as well as the mental health sequelae for the children involved. We hope that this introduction to the topic will help to raise awareness regarding this all too-frequent behaviour, as well as to the immediate and long-term developmental costs to the children who are both its instigators and its victims.

Case Presentation – GS

GS is a thirteen year-old male and a Grade 9 student at an urban middle school. He presents at the children’s emergency room of a tertiary care hospital with his mother, having been referred by his family doctor. The emergency psychiatry service is consulted because the family doctor is concerned about suicidal ideation expressed by the boy earlier in the week.

On enquiry, the boy states that two days prior, he was working on a computer at his school, when the “class bully” and two other boys approached him. GS was alone at the time. The bully told him that he was stupid, ugly and everyone hated him. The bully added that GS was a “waste of space”, and concluded: “Why don’t you just kill yourself, everyone thinks you’re a joke”. The other boys laughed and taunted the patient for several minutes before finally leaving him alone.

On his way home from school that day, the patient became increasingly upset, as he thought about what had happened. He began to feel that he was useless, and stupid, and alone. He was also enraged at himself for not responding or defending himself. Suddenly he had the urge to throw himself in front of a city bus, and actually walked to the curb before turning away, stating: “I was too chicken”. Instead, he found a payphone and called his mother at work. She told him to go home immediately and that she will meet him there. By the time she arrives at home, the suicidal feelings had passed.

The next afternoon, there was a meeting at the school attended by the patient, his mother, the vice-principal, the guidance counsellor, and the school psychologist, who was concerned about the possibility of a major depression. As a result, the family contacted the family doctor, who recommended that the patient be brought to the emergency room.

GS told the Psychiatry emergency team that he had been bullied by this boy for the entire school year. The bullying took various forms, including insults, enlisting other boys to taunt GS, physical humiliations such as being kicked or spat on, and painful attacks such as being stabbed with a pencil or geometry compass. The patient explained that when he has complained in the past, the school had done nothing more than reprimand the other boy, which “only makes things worse for me”. GS described feeling sad, ugly and useless as a result of the bullying. He stated: “I just wither away in my own little world”. He had initially sought help from the school guidance counsellor and subsequently from the school psychologist, whom he has seen bi-monthly for five months, at the school. His family doctor initiated Sertraline at a dose of 25 mg. daily five days before he was seen at Emergency. GS denied changes in sleep, appetite or concentration, or poor school performance.

GS denied prior contact with any mental health professional (apart from the school psychologist) and insisted that he has never before had suicidal thoughts. He was generally in good health, and on no medications apart from Sertraline. There was a significant family history of mood disorders: his maternal great-uncle committed suicide while depressed, and his maternal aunt suffered from depression as well. GS also stated that two of his paternal uncles committed suicide, but noted that: “One of them was involved with drugs and alcohol.”

GS lived with his mother and his seven-year old brother. His parents had been divorced for about seven or eight years and he saw his father on weekends. He stated that his father had a gambling addiction, and used to abuse alcohol. GS denied any use of alcohol or street drugs. He stated that his interests included playing on the computer and playing games with Alex, his one friend. He denied any history of legal charges.

On examination, GS presented as a slender, 13 year-old male dressed in torn pants and a dirty jacket. He was not visibly agitated, nor was there evidence of psychomotor retardation. Although there was no notable facial dysmorphism, he did have prominent epicanthal folds and a thin upper lip, raising the question of Fetal Alcohol Effects. He made adequate eye contact throughout the assessment. Speech was normal in volume, rate and tone, and was not tangential. His mood was “sad” and his affect was somewhat flat. Thought processes were clear and logical. Thought content was notable for the absence of suicidal or homicidal ideation, and he described his brief thoughts of suicide as “a mistake, an over reaction. I don’t want to be dead”. There were no psychotic symptoms such as delusions or thought broadcasting, withdrawal or insertion. There was some evidence of depression, including endorsement of sadness, hopelessness and worthlessness. However, other neurovegetative signs and symptoms of depression were absent. There was no evidence of perceptual disturbances, and judgment and insight were both fair, with good reliability. GS was noted to be alert and oriented, and cognition appeared grossly intact.

The initial diagnostic impression was that of an adjustment disorder with features of depression and anxiety. As he was not suicidal, homicidal, psychotic nor severely depressed, he was not admitted. A referral was made to an outpatient program in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Program. Both GS and his mother (present during the latter part of the assessment) indicated that they were satisfied with this outcome.

Definitions and Incidence of Bullying

Besag (1989) described bullying as being ‘The repeated attack - physical, psychological, social or verbal - by those in a position of power, which is formally or situationally defined, on those who are powerless to resist, with the intention of causing distress for their own gain or gratification’. Olweus (1994) noted that bullying is characterized by aggressive behaviour or intentional “harm doing”, which is carried out “repeatedly and over time”, in an interpersonal relationship characterized by an imbalance of strength. He noted that there may be individual or group bullying (or victims), and that bullying may be direct or indirect. Indirect bullying includes slandering and spreading of rumours and manipulation of friendship relationships, which is more common among girls. Harassment with non-physical means (words, gestures, threats) is also the most common form of bullying among boys.

Bullying also includes name-calling. Teasing is ubiquitous in life, having both positive and negative effects. It may be playful and fun when done in sport or mischief. Important factors include individual attributional differences, social context and the relationship among participants, thus distinguishing between teasing that the recipient considers playful and teasing that is considered harmful. In addition, cultural differences may exist with respect to conduct that can be considered bullying, and thus unacceptable. For example, Boulton (1999) has found that there are significant differences between English and Swedish secondary pupils’ attitudes towards, and conception of bullying. A significantly larger percentage of English than Swedish pupils indicated that name-calling is bullying, whereas the reverse was true for leaving somebody out.

The incidence of bullying varies with the location surveyed, but this behaviour is clearly a significant problem worldwide. In Canada, the incidence of being bullied amongst school-age children in Toronto has been estimated at 20% ( Ziegler and Rosenstein-Manner, 1991 ). Fried and Fried (1997) estimated that there are 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million victims in U.S. schools and they stated that 60,000 children do not attend school each day because of fears of attack or intimidation. In Norway, Olweus (1994) found that 9% of school age children were bullied, and 7% bullied others regularly. In Australia ( Forero et al, 1999 ), a survey of nearly 4000 school children showed that 23.7% bullied other students, 12.7% were bullied, 21.5% were both bullied and bullied others, and 42.4% were neither bullied nor bullies.

A British survey ( Boulton and Underwood, 1992 ) of 8–9 year-olds and 11–12 year olds showed 21% reported being bullied, and 17% bullied others. Bullying was more common among boys than girls, and among younger than older children. The most common forms were teasing and hitting/kicking. Most boys were bullied by boys only, whereas girls were more likely to be bullied by either sex. The majority of victims had not spoken to teachers/family about being bullied. Finally, an Italian study ( Baldry and Farrington, 1999 ) of 113 girls and 125 boys aged 11–14 in a Rome middle school suggested that over half of all students had bullied others in the 3 months prior to the survey. Boys bullied more than girls, and both boys and girls tended to be bullied by boys.

Bullies and Victims

Olweus (1994) has reported that bullies are more aggressive towards both peers and adults, and have a more positive attitude towards violence, characterized by impulsivity and a strong need to dominate others. They displayed little empathy towards victims. Male bullies tend to be generally stronger than boys of their own age, and especially stronger than victims. He concluded that bullies display an aggressive reaction pattern combined with (in boys) physical strength. There was a noted increased incidence of anti-social and “rule-breaking” (conduct disordered) behaviour patterns, with increased long-term risk of criminal behaviour and alcoholism.

Attempts have been made to categorize bullies. ‘Anxious bullies’ were the least confident perpetrators, and appear to have other difficulties such as problems at home or educational failure. A second category was the ‘bully/victims’, which consisted of 6% of those who were seriously bullied, and 18% of those who were bullied occasionally. This second group was seen to be less popular than the main group of bullies, and appeared to focus on younger children as more vulnerable targets. The third category was the ‘passive bullies’ (or ‘henchmen’), who did not take the initiative for bullying activities. This was a fairly mixed group, which included some of the insecure and anxious students.

Gender differences have been noted. Olweus (1994) concluded that more boys than girls are both bullies and bullied, and that girls were more often subjected to indirect attacks (social isolation, exclusion) rather than direct physical attacks. However, boys and girls were equally exposed to indirect bullying, and boys carried out a large part of the bullying on girls. He also attempted to identify important factors which give rise to bullying behaviour, and described the development of an ‘Aggressive Reaction Pattern’ characterized by four contributory elements. The first is the emotional attitudes of the caregiver, in particular one who demonstrated a negative attitude, characterized by lack of warmth and involvement. This increased the risk of the child later showing aggressiveness and hostility to others. A second element is permissiveness towards aggressive behaviour: if there are no clear limits on aggressive behaviours towards peers, siblings and adults, aggression is likely to grow. Power-assertive child-rearing methods, such as the use of physical punishment or violent emotional outbursts increase the likelihood of aggression in children constitute the third element. Finally, the temperament of the child is considered, as an active and “hot-headed” child is more likely to develop aggression (and bullying behaviours).

Victims have also been described and categorized. Olweus (1994) expressed somewhat general conclusions that victims are more anxious and insecure, and are often cautious, sensitive and quiet. When attacked, they commonly react by crying when younger and by withdrawal at older ages. They tend to experience low self-esteem, a negative view of self and their situation, and feel that they are stupid, shameful and unattractive.

The first category of victims are the ‘passive victims’. They are ineffectual in the face of attack, avoid aggression and confrontation and lack the confidence or skill to elicit support from their peers. They are lonely and abandoned, with few friends at school. They often have a negative attitude towards violence and (if boys) are physically weaker than others. They display helpless, futile anger when attacked. Their behaviour and attitudes signal to others that they are insecure and worthless and will not retaliate if attacked. The second category, ‘provocative victims’, are much less common and have both anxious and aggressive reaction patterns. They tease and taunt, but quickly complain if others retaliate. ‘Colluding victims’ take on the role of the victim to gain acceptance and popularity. They may mask true academic ability to avoid being outcast from their group. Finally, false victims complain unnecessarily about others in the group, usually as attention-seeking behaviour.

In addition, there are “special groups”, who attract the attention of bullies due to obvious differences. In one study of bullied children in the U.K ( Leff, 1999 ), 17% had learning disabilities, 33% had physical disabilities and 33% were neglected. A survey of 28 children who stutter ( Langevin et al, 1998 ) showed that 59% were teased/bullied about speech, and 69% were teased or bullied about other things. As well, a British study ( Voss et al, 2000 ) found that short boys were more than twice as likely to be victims than age-controlled peers of normal height, and much more likely to be upset by bullies.

Finally, in a recent study of children with Asperger’s Disorder and Nonverbal Learning Disorder ( Little, 2001 ), the annual peer victimization rate was 94%. Seventy-three percent of children had been hit by peers or siblings, 75% had been bullied, 10% had been attacked by gangs, and 15% were victims of nonsexual genital assaults. Bullying remained high regardless of age, and gang attacks were the most frequent in middle and high school. Boys were at greater risk of being bullied than girls, and children with Asperger’s were at greater risk of being assaulted than those with Nonverbal Learning Disorder.

The personality dimensions of both bullies and victims have also been studied. Mynard and Joseph (1997) describe 179 children (ages 8–13), who completed a battery of psychological tests. The results showed that 11% of children identified themselves as bullies, 20% as victims, and 18% as both bully and victim. Bullies scored lower on scales that measure lying, but higher on the psychoticism scale. Victims scored lower on the extroversion scale and higher on the neuroticism scale, while mixed bully/victims were characterized by low social acceptance, high neuroticism and high psychoticism.

Finally, a British survey ( Boulton and Underwood, 1992 ) examined children, including bullies, victims and those not involved in bullying, and asked why children bully other children. According to the bullies, the most common reason given was that the victim provoked them, while one-fifth said they didn’t know, and 8% said because the victim was smaller, weaker or didn’t fight back. These results were reversed when their targets were surveyed. Victims reported that the most common reason for being victimised was that victims were smaller or weaker or didn’t fight back, while one-quarter said there was no reason, and 8% agreed that the victim provoked the bully. Of non-involved children, 32% thought that other children were bullied because they were small or weak, or because they didn’t stand up for themselves.

The Consequences Of Bullying

One Finnish study ( Kumpulainen et al, 1998 ) surveyed nearly 6,000 elementary school children, their parents and their teachers. Bullies (8.1%), victims (11.3%) and bully/victims (7.6%) were compared to each other and to controls (73.1%). It was found that bully/victims scored highest in externalizing behaviour and hyperactivity, and self-reported feelings of ineffectiveness and personal problems. Victims scored highest in internalizing behaviour and psychosomatic symptoms, anhedonia and negative self esteem (males) and negative mood (females). Bullies scored quite high in externalizing behaviour and hyperactivity. “Psychological disturbance” was found in nearly 25% of victims, using the Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI). However, it was the bullies (in particular male and female bully/victims) who were most frequently referred for psychiatric consultation. The reason for this is unclear.

An Australian survey ( Forero et al, 1999 ) of almost 4,000 students aged 12, 14 and 16 asked questions about effects of bullying, including psychosomatic symptoms (headache, stomach ache, backache, irritability, anxiety, and insomnia) and mental health (mood, loneliness, contact, self-esteem). A significant association was found between bullying behaviour, psychosomatic symptoms and smoking, with bully/victims reporting the greatest symptoms. A British survey ( Salmon et al, 1998 ) of 904 students aged 12–17 in two coeducational schools found that bullied children are more anxious, and bullies are equally or less anxious than non-bullied children. Older boys with low scores on anxiety and lying scales and high scores on depression scales were most likely to be bullies.

A Finnish report ( Kaltiala et al, 1999 ) studied 16,410 participants aged 14–16, who completed a questionnaire incorporating the Beck Depression Inventory. Researchers found an increased prevalence of depression and severe suicidal ideation amongst victims and bullies, with depression most common in bully/victims, and suicidal ideation most common in bullies. A companion study ( Kumpulainen et al, 1999 ) reviewed 1268 eight year-old children, who were assessed twice four years apart. The Rutter A-2 and B-2 Scales and the Children’s Depression Inventory (CDI) were utilized. Bully/victims were most likely to persist in bullying behaviour four years after the initial survey. The researchers concluded that children involved in bullying have significantly more psychiatric symptoms than those not involved

Our case report illustrates the effect of bullying, namely how it marginalizes and traumatizes the victims, while (in some cases) rewarding the bully with increased self-esteem and improved social status. Our patient, GS, is an outsider, alienated from many of his peers. As such, he is an easy target. He displays certain characteristics of a victim. He signals that he will not strike back, is anxious and withdrawn, and with few social supports. His appearance, while not noticeably disfigured, is sufficiently different from his peers that it sets him apart.

The bully in his case, described as a “blowhard”, appears in some ways to represent the bully/victim portrayed in the literature. He is not truly dominant, preferring to back away from those who challenge him, and identifying those who will not fight back. He enlists others in his conduct, thus increasing his own status at the expense of his victim. He does not have an independent source of popularity and he is able to identify the needs of the peer group to attack, harangue and alienate a vulnerable individual. He appears to serve a social need, acting out the collective will of the group to identify and punish a scapegoat.

The school, too, is an active participant. On the sole occasion that GS dared to respond to his attacker, both boys were punished with detention. Conversely, the unprovoked and constant harassment that GS endures is to some extent tolerated by the school. If he complains, he is a “rat” and deserving of punishment. If he doe not complain, the bullying can continue unimpeded. In either alternative, GS is potentially condemned to a continuation of his victimization.

GS presents with brief, transient suicidal ideation and evidence of an adjustment disorder. It is difficult and perhaps dangerous to ignore the psychological and physical suffering that GS does endure. A consequence of his predicament is yet further social isolation and withdrawal, the effects of which are as yet unclear. However, the effect of bullying on this boy’s personality formation, his ability to function in social settings, and his capacity to trust and form meaningful relationships is clearly described by his own words: “I just wither away in my own little world”.

From an objective distance, and through the screen of conventional psychiatric diagnostic criteria, the long-term effects of bullying are somewhat difficult to accurately assess or predict. However, in subjective proximity to those involved, the consequences of such behaviour and its covert acceptance are indeed frightening. Further study is indicated to assess the incidence of psychiatric morbidity in bullies, victims, and in those who are both perpetrators and targets. Finally, it is essential to identify temperamental and personality characteristics of the children involved, as well as to examine for dimensions of psychological distress, including depression, suicidality, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive traits, aggressive traits and psychotic symptoms. Such study will further promote development of our understanding of bullying and its sequelae at individual, interpersonal and systemic levels, and further inform our treatments of the bullies, bullying recipients and the systemic, community milieus where the bullying occurs.

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A case study with an identified bully: policy and practice implications

Affiliation.

  • 1 Georgia State University, Counseling and Psychological Services, Atlanta, GA.
  • PMID: 21731789
  • PMCID: PMC3117608

Objective: Bullying is a serious public health problem that may include verbal or physical injury as well as social isolation or exclusion. As a result, research is needed to establish a database for policies and interventions designed to prevent bullying and its negative effects. This paper presents a case study that contributes to the literature by describing an intervention for bullies that has implications for practice and related policies regarding bullying.

Methods: An individualized intervention for an identified bully was implemented using the Participatory Culture-Specific Intervention Model (PCSIM; Nastasi, Moore, & Varjas, 2004) with a seventh-grade middle school student. Ecological and culture-specific perspectives were used to develop and implement the intervention that included psychoeducational sessions with the student and consultation with the parent and school personnel. A mixed methods intervention design was used with the following informants: the target student, the mother of the student, a teacher and the school counselor. Qualitative data included semi-structured interviews with the parent, teacher and student, narrative classroom observations and evaluation/feedback forms filled out by the student and interventionist. Quantitative data included the following quantitative surveys (i.e., Child Self Report Post Traumatic Stress Reaction Index and the Behavior Assessment Scale for Children). Both qualitative and quantitative data were used to evaluate the acceptability, integrity and efficacy of this intervention.

Results: The process of intervention design, implementation and evaluation are described through an illustrative case study. Qualitative and quantitative findings indicated a decrease in internalizing, externalizing and bullying behaviors as reported by the teacher and the mother, and a high degree of acceptability and treatment integrity as reported by multiple stakeholders.

Conclusion: This case study makes important contributions by describing an intervention that is targeted to specific needs of the bully by designing culture specific interventions and working with the student's unique environmental contexts. Contributions also are made by illustrating the use of mixed methods to document acceptability, integrity and efficacy of an intervention with documented positive effects in these areas. In addition, implications for policy and practice related to the treatment of students identified as bullies and future research needs are discussed.

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Indian government initiatives on cyberbullying: A case study on cyberbullying in Indian higher education institutions

  • Published: 04 July 2022
  • Volume 28 , pages 581–615, ( 2023 )

Cite this article

  • Manpreet Kaur   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0002-7680-3075 1 &
  • Munish Saini   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4129-2591 1  

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In the digitally empowered society, increased internet utilization leads to potential harm to the youth through cyberbullying on various social networking platforms. The cyberbullying stats keep on rising each year, leading to detrimental consequences. In response to this online threat, the Indian Government launched different helplines, especially for the children and women who need assistance, various complaint boxes, cyber cells, and made strict legal provisions to curb online offenses. This research evaluates the relevant initiatives. Additionally, a survey is conducted to get insights into cyberbullying in higher education institutions, discussing multiple factors responsible for youth and adolescents being cyberbullied and a few measures to combat it in universities/colleges.

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1 Introduction

Cyberbullying is harassment done to the victim to cause harm via any electronic method, including social media resulting in defamation, public disclosure of private facts, and intentional emotional distress (Watts et al., 2017 ). It can be related to sending and posting cruel texts or images with the help of social media and other digital communication devices to harm a victim (Washington, 2015 ). It is a repeated behavior done by the individual with the help of social media, over the gaming, and messaging platforms that target mainly to lower the victims' self-esteem.

In the past decade, Cyberbullying has been an emerging phenomenon that has a socio-psychological impact on adolescents. With the advancement of digital technology, youth is more attached to social media, resulting in cyberbullying. With the increasing usage of techno-savvy gadgets, social media applications are highly prevalent among the youth, which can be advantageous and disadvantageous. It allows sharing posts, photos, and messages personally and privately among friends, while on the other hand, it involves an increase in cyberbullying by creating fake accounts on the apps (Ansary, 2020 ).

In July 2021, 4,80 billion people worldwide were on social media, that's almost 61% of the world's total population depicting an annual growth of 5.7% as 7 lac new users join per day (Digital Around the World, 2021 ). As the number of users increases, there is a surge in cyberbullying; according to a UNICEF poll, more than 33% of youngsters are reported as victims of online bullying in 30 countries worldwide (UNICEF, 2020 ). Moreover, it is seen that one in five has skipped school due to fear of cyberbullying and violence. According to NCRB, 50,035 cases of cybercrime were reported in India in the year 2020, among which 1614 cases of cyberstalking, 762 cases of cyber blackmailing, 84 cases of defamation, 247 cases of fake profiles, and 838 cases of fake news were investigated. NCRB data Footnote 1 reported that cybercrimes in India increased by 63.48% (27248 cases to 44548 cases) from 2018 to 2019, which upsurged by 12.32% in 2020 (44548 cases to 50035cases).

Multiple cases of cyberbullying were reported across the country. As per news reports, in November 2016, a 23-year-old Ooshmal Ullas, MBBS student of KMCT Medical College in Mukkam, Kerala, committed suicide by jumping due to being cyberbullied over a Facebook post and injured her spine, legs, and head. Footnote 2 One more incident was reported on 9 January 2018 where a 20 years old Hindu woman killed herself after facing harassment on WhatsApp over her friendship with a Muslim man in Karnataka. Footnote 3 Another case was witnessed, a 15-year-old boy connected with the 'Bois locker room', an Instagram group where they share photos of minor girls and exchange lewd comments, was arrested by Delhi police on 4 May 2020. Footnote 4 An incident occurred on 26 June 2014 a 17 years old girl committed suicide after Satish and Deepak, her friends, morphed her photos and posted them on Facebook along with her cell phone number. Footnote 5 Many such cases are reported every year, and this rising number of suicides due to cyberbullying is alarming and worrisome.

The primary cause of cyberbullying is anonymity, in which a bully can easily target anyone over the internet by hiding their original identity. The psychological features play an eminent role in determining whether a person is a victim or a bully. A pure bully has a high level of aggression and needs succorance, whereas the pure victim has high levels of interception, empathy, and nurturance (Watts et al., 2017 ). It has been found that various factors are responsible for becoming a cyberbully. According to Tanrikulu (Tanrikulu & Erdur-Baker, 2021 ), Personality traits are responsible for cyberbullying behavior. The primary cause is online inhibition, in which a person bullies others with the motives of harm, domination, revenge, or entertainment. Other causes are moral disengagement as the findings imply that, regardless of the contemporaneous victimization status, moral disengagement has an equal impact on bullying perpetration for those who are most engaged. Pure bullies have more moral disengagement than those bullies/victims who aren't as active in bullying (Runions et al., 2019 ). The next one is Narcissism , which means individuals consider social status and authority dominant over their human relations. The last is aggression, which refers to overcoming negativities and failures by force, triggering them to do cyberbullying for satisfaction. Similarly, there are some personality traits associated with cyberbullying participants as a study (Ngo et al., 2021 ) examined three groups of online users where the first one is the "Intervene" group which believes in uplifting the morale of victims by responding to cyberbullying acts while others are the "Ignore" group that doesn't involve in reacting to the cyberbullying acts and just ignores the victims or leave the cyberspace and the third one is "Join in" that either promote the bullying or just enjoy watching cyberbullying act without any participation. The adolescents belonging to intervene group may play a critical role in reducing cyberbullying behavior and its consequences.

Social acceptance also plays a vital role in reducing bullying. It has been observed that among students who lack socialization activity, an individual contributes a high incidence rate of bullying that leads to victimization. Yubero carried out a study that depicts individuals feeling more comfortable in online environments that are not accepted by their peers and hence are more exposed to cyberbullying victimization. Apart from this, the relationship between loneliness and cyberbullying is more prevalent because lonely youth devote quality of time to the internet hence facing cyberbullying (Yubero et al., 2017 ). In this situation, students could either defend themselves or rely on cyber bystander intervention. A cyber bystander is one offering assistance to the victim, either individually or socially, and they are more inclined to act if they feel more empathy (Wang, 2021 ). Since interfering publicly may have detrimental consequences, cyber bystanders are more worried about being retaliated against or being the next victim.

Parental support and monitoring also help to escape cyberbullying victimization. It has been observed that parents who employed autonomy-supportive measures, such as understanding the adolescent's viewpoint, providing alternatives, and giving justifications for prohibitions, had youngsters who reported lower cyberbullying than parents who used dominating measures (especially using guilt, shame, and conditional regard) (Legate et al., 2019 ).

Cyberbullying is one of the significant problems that need to be eradicated. Due to cyberbullying, youngsters face many issues related to their health like depression, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and even it leads to low academic performance, etc. Several aspects are considered responsible for cyber victimization like social media, online hours, parental monitoring, awareness, social engagement, etc. The incidences of cyberbullying are elevating day by day even after the strict crime-fighting measures by state and central authorities. But the implementation of specific rules and regulations against cyberbullying crime may alter the future scenario. The Indian Government is quite aware of the issue of cyberbullying faced on social media, and the Government carries out many remedial interventions like women and child helpline numbers. Moreover, the Government provides legal implementations and acts that are trying to curb the issues of cyberbullying.

2 Aim and objective

This study aims to evaluate the initiatives taken by the Indian Government at the forefront of this noble battle to stop cyberbullying incidences and to find out various factors that make youth more vulnerable to cyberbullying. The following objectives were expected to be accomplished:

Enunciating the problem of Cyberbullying in higher education institutions.

Assessing the initiatives of the Indian Government, legal provisions for cyberbullying, and their amendments.

Evaluate the responses of higher education students to cyberbullying questionnaire.

To examine the factors responsible for cyber victimization and a few measures to combat cyberbullying.

This study is divided into two modules, as shown in Figs. 1 and 2 , to achieve the aforementioned objectives. The first module focuses on explaining and exploring cyberbullying on various online platforms via digital devices, as well as preventative actions done by our Government and different cyberbullying legislation in India. In the second module, we conducted an online survey to access and examine the responses of University/College students.

figure 1

Module 1- Outline of Research

figure 2

Module 2-Case Study

3 Organization of paper

This paper is organized as follows, the Section  4 covers the review of research work on Cyberbullying in higher education institutions. The Section  5 highlights various merits and demerits associated with the internet, social media, and cyberbullying faced. Initiatives taken by the Indian Government in response to cyberbullying are elaborated in Section  6 . The Section  7 provides insight into the survey conducted on students of higher educational institutions. It comprises data collection, data pre-processing, methods, and algorithms employed in conducting and evaluating the responses of the participants. A detailed analysis of the results is mentioned in the "Discussion" section. In the later part of the study, measures to combat cyberbullying, major conclusions, and future recommendations are specified.

4 Related work

In the context of cyberbullying, several studies have been conducted in various countries at college and school levels, examining the different parameters responsible for cyberbullying victimization and the laws against cyberbullying. Different countries have their legal provisions to tackle the situation. A study by (Çevik et al., 2021 ) has discussed factors contributing to cyberbullying and victimization, which are problematic internet usage, school burnout, and parental monitoring. As the long hours of internet usage have resulted in the establishment of fake friendships, low academic profile, aggression, low self-esteem, and loneliness. School burnout includes students lacking interest in studies, exhaustion over studies has resulted in high usage of internet sources, increasing the risk of peer bullying. Parental monitoring plays a crucial role in the lives of adolescents, but a lack of coordination is witnessed between the adolescent and parents, leading to cyberbullying and victimization.

Yubero (Yubero et al., 2017 ) surveyed a sample of 243 Spanish university students in the social science stream, and the results confirmed Only 9.8% of higher education students experienced cyberbullying on the campus, which is much lower than reported by other studies, it may be due to the time frame selection of case study or its definition. Various parameters that may be considered a prime cause of being a victim have been examined. As a result, not much correlation was found between the loneliness of a student and cyberbullying victimization; self-esteem and cyberbullying victimization. But a negative correlation was seen between perceived acceptance by peers and cyberbullying victimization. So, it concludes that emphasis must not only be laid upon preventive measures but also on educating or training peers to help each other and building good relationships with people from whom they can seek advice. Whereas, in Ghana, 878 students took part in this study, where 83% of students have experienced cyberbullying at least once, which is much higher than the previous study result. It seems that cyberbullying is acceptable everyday behavior among Ghanaian youth, even don't feel about reporting it, and not much difference between the personality traits of victims and non-victim seen (Sam et al., 2019 ).

Students can also use a few precautionary measures to reduce cyberbullying by changing their profile settings, as blocking and deleting are considered highly used protective decisions to prevent inappropriate actions over a social networking site like Facebook. Chapin (Chapin, 2016 ), has used the precaution adoption process model to promote precautionary behavior to lower the risk associated with the health due to cyberbullying. According to Chapin, it is seen that many students are aware of the act of bullying but don't take any action.

Cyberbullying has long-term effects, and bullying behavior may continue much longer than expected. In a study, 638 Israeli undergraduate students participated, and various cyberbullying problems were evaluated. The study demonstrated that students experiencing cyberbullying face academic problems, anxiety, career problems, depression, family problems, interpersonal problems, self-esteem, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. 57.4% of participants reported that cyberbullying among the youth will enter the workplace, which will continue throughout their lifetime (Peled, 2019 ).

In educational institutions, social networking platforms are beneficial, as Alamri et al. (Alamri et al., 2020 ) surveyed 192 students of King Faisal, a Saudi Arabian University. This survey was based on the use of SMA's (Social Media Applications) for education sustainability in the higher education system. In their research, they proposed a Theory acceptance Model used in conjunction with constructivism theory. In this model, they developed 14 hypotheses for the adoption of SMA's in students' learning systems and analyzed positive assessment of students for the adoption of SMA's in their higher education. Al-Rahmi et al. also discussed the use of Social media for Collaborative learning and information sharing among the students of the higher education system, in which a survey was conducted among the 538 university students. Students gave positive outcomes towards using SM (social media) for collaboration and student learning, highlighting the perceived enjoyment and ease. But at the same time, it has been observed that it may be affected due to cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and social media addiction (Al-Rahmi et al., 2020 ).

Ho et al. depicted the relationships between social support, cyberbullying victimization, and depressive symptoms and specialized their results, particularly studying the behavior of Vietnamese students (Ho et al., 2020 ). This research revealed that those students who are cyberbullied develop a higher risk of depressive symptoms. Still, social support, for instance, parental, peer, and special person support, can be considered a significant factor that can protect learners from developing such symptoms of depression. Also, while analyzing the survey results on 606 Vietnamese University students, it was found that social support is negatively correlated with cyberbullying, and social support is the only factor that helped those students come out from depression caused by cyberbullying.

Based on a cohort study performed in Hue city, 648 students were called from different schools. Only 9% of students were reported to be cyberbullied, while 17.6% suffered school bullying (Nguyen et al., 2020 ). Parental support has shown a protective relationship promoting the well-being among youth, more understanding and accepting attitude of parents is associated with reducing the consequences of cyberbullying that are mental issues, self-harm, and suicidal behaviors, including suicidal ideation, suicidal planning, and suicidal attempts in adolescents.

To assess risk factors and their impact in Myanmar, Khine et al. (Khine et al., 2020 ) conducted a cross-sectional study at a Medical university in Myanmar. The survey included 412 students in it, and the survey was based on factors leading to cyberbullying victimization during the last 12 months. The results were analyzed based on multiple logistic regression analyses. During the research, it was found that non-resident students or students studying at university for less than three years had a greater risk of being cyberbullying victims. The work also discussed the antagonistic relation between cyberbullying and academic performance and the positive relationship between cyberbullying and substance abuse, such as smoking and drinking alcohol. The research aimed that counseling services, cyber safety educational programs, and awareness of cyberbullying are urgently needed for university students of Myanmar.

Discussing another social networking platform, Aizenkot and Kashy-Rosenbaum have done a crossectional study to detect cyberbullying victimization in WhatsApp classmate groups in which 4477 students participated to complete the questionnaire. Here they (Aizenkot & Kashy-Rosenbaum, 2020 ) concluded that 56.5% of the students reported being victimized at least once, and 30% experienced it more than twice, while 18% (approx.) were victimized due to verbal violence. Other forms of victimization observed were offensive responses, insults, group violence, selectivity, particularly forced removal, and denied entry to WhatsApp groups. It leads our attention toward social media applications that distress the students.

Even During the covid 19 pandemic, when people were very much relied on online platforms due to social distancing and strict quarantine, they were suffering from depression and behavioral and mental problems. At the same time, especially the residents of Hubei, China, were facing all these problems and excessive cyberbullying, agitation, stigma, and racism peaked due to the first case of covid being reported in the city. This online bullying has severe psychological effects, and people were opting for various coping strategies. So here, the efforts must be taken unitedly by the worldwide online media, the health care workers, and the Government to prevent the secondary disaster of the pandemic in which cyberbullying was one of the major issues of concern for China (Yang, 2021 ).

5 Social media and cyberbullying in higher education institutions

Web 2.0 has initiated social media users, especially youngsters, to inculcate their viewpoints and express their thought processes in a virtual environment. Social media is a crucial platform that has encouraged students to expand interaction and has leveled up their performance. Despite its indispensable assets, liabilities cannot be overlooked in any condition (Sarwar et al., 2019 ). Cyberbullying has expanded with the higher usage of techno-savvy gadgets. The present times have modified common bullying into the involvement of harm, cruel thinking, and blackmailing through networking sites to the victims, especially on college campuses resulting in an increasing number of dropouts and suicides (Washington, 2015 ).

Higher command of mobile phones by adolescents has resulted in easy access to social networking sites without any fear. It has been increasingly contributing to cyberbullying, which has long-term adverse effects. Very few believe that it has a positivity that students become tough and develop a tendency of resilience and self-advocacy. Furthermore, it has been visualized that students do not know whether their institutions have a cyberbullying policy, and most institutions are not even prepared for handling such situations (Luker & Curchack, 2017 ).

Nowadays as the graduates are highly active over the internet for knowledge sharing, collaborative learning, and research activities which is beneficial yet resulted in the high indulgence of youth in cyberbullying, leading to negative impacts like aggressiveness, depression, low self-esteem, and also suicidal thoughts (Rasheed et al., 2020 ). Although there have been a myriad number of profits availed by everyone in the status quo, many people still undergo the undesirable effects that may alter one's privacy, security, and emotional health status. From bygone days, it has been witnessed that Cyberbullying is an urgent issue on the social platform that can turn out either short-range, long-range, temporary, or permanent effects on one's life (Abaido, 2020 ). According to Yoshida (Yoshida, 2021 ), different kinds of online behaviors are shown by university students on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They form different communities based on their knowledge or depending upon fan following while swinging their interest from one topic to another. They share their viewpoints on these online platforms where different audiences are reading them. Also, they lack sociability skills and have less knowledge about these online communities. Consequently, this incapability may lead to cyber victimization.

Even the young social media users of color have faced a lot of racial discrimination over the online platforms leading to mental health risks resulting in depressive symptoms, anxiety, and illicit drug use (Tao & Fisher, 2022 ).

Online gaming among young adults is prevailing at a high level with time as a good source of entertainment, but it's being observed to be one of the leading causes of bullying. Hence, online games have resulted in more aggression, violence, conflicts, emotional distress, mental torture, and physical arousals where family and community can act as an inevitable source to reduce the addiction to the internet and strengthen their mental health (Huang et al., 2021 ).

Moreover, students being cyberbullied do not share such incidences with their parents because they fear losing internet access. So, parents could not be assumed as their support system. The other approach is complaining, where a shocking dimension has been observed: there are no policies or federal laws dealing with cyberbullying directly; a federal system covers only a few aspects of cyberbullying (Washington, 2015 ). Another study has also concluded that victims are unable to express any kind of violent cybercrime behavior faced them, presuming that it can result in limited access to internet sources and gadgets by their parents. The victims also perceive that adults cannot understand the issues faced by them. Hence, this depicts a huge gap between teachers, parents, and adolescents (Ngo, et al., 2021 ).

Due to Cyberbullying on-campus, students are experiencing various adverse effects, including feelings of sadness, embarrassment, humiliation, desire for vengeance, and physical and mental retaliation (Cassidy et al., 2017 ). Despite strict rules and awareness, students do not come forward to report cyberbullying. They are afraid, feel self-ashamed, cry, become depressed, suffer from anxiety, experience insomnia, or even miss school (Watts et al., 2017 ).

Cyberbullying is considered one of the potential risks of relying on online technologies and has been one of the significant technology abuse examples in the past decade due to its harmful and sometimes deadly impacts. Counseling acts as a tonic and curative approach that may aid the cyberbullying sufferers in overcoming their fears and issues faced by them. Initiating a hotline or a mobile application can also turn into a valuable perspective. To foster counseling, short seminars and discussion sessions must be taken out regularly among the scholars. Bystanders should also take some initiative to eradicate online bullying situations by breaking their silence at the very right time (Abaido, 2020 ).

6 Indian government initiatives and legal provisions

Various laws of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860 and the Information Technology Act, 2000 (IT Act) listed under legal provisions can be used to fight cyberbullies. A National Cybercrime reporting portal has been established for complaints, and a few more government initiatives are discussed.

6.1 Legal provisions

6.1.1 it act, 2000.

IT ACT, 2000 Footnote 6 came into power to provide legal identification regarding the exchange of data electronically. In computer-related offenses, up to 3 to 5 years imprisonment and rupees one lac fine or both can be charged and, in some cases, even more. Under IT Act, sections 66 A, 66 C, 66 D, and 66 E, punishment is given to the person involved in any crime of insulting or fraud or privacy violation, etc., utilizing the internet, social media, and other digital media devices. IT act, section 67, 67A, and section 67 B deal with publishing and transmitting material containing the sexually explicit act, etc., in electronic form. All these sections of IT Acts are explained in Table 8 of the Appendix.

6.1.2 The Indian penal code 1860

The Indian Penal Code (IPC) Footnote 7 is the official criminal code of India that covers all substantive aspects of criminal law, which came into existence in the year 1862 in all British Presidencies. IPC Sections 292A, 354 A, 354 D, 499, 507, and 509 punish people who indulge in blackmailing, harassment, stalking, threatening, intruding, etc. (for details of IPC laws refer to Table 8 of Appendix).

6.1.3 POCSO ACT, 2012

Protection of children from sexual offenses (POCSO) is a complete law for protecting children below 18 years from the heinous acts of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and pornography.

6.2 Government initiatives

6.2.1 the nirbhaya funds scheme.

It is an initiative of the Government of India under the Nirbhaya funds scheme for ensuring the safety of women and children. The ministry of Home affairs generated a single number (112) Footnote 8 which was under the Emergency response support system (ERSS), to cope with any emergencies where immediate assistance from police, fire, and rescue, or any other help is required. https://112.gov.in/

6.2.2 Cybercrime prevention against women and children scheme (CCPWC Scheme)

Under the CCPWA scheme, Footnote 9 for cybercrime prevention and setting up of Cyber forensic training labs grant of INR 87.12 Crore was released to states/UTs. Moreover, INR 6 crores were given to enhance police and prosecutors' training sessions. Under the CCPWA scheme, different units are established that are responsible for reporting online criminal acts and their investigations, analyzing cybercrime reports, and detecting any alarming cybercrime situation. Various components of the CCPWA scheme are given in Table 9 of the Appendix.

6.2.3 Indian cybercrime coordination centre (I4C) scheme

To prevent unnecessary use of social space, I4C acts as an essential tool to fight against cybercrime. Moreover, it is supported by fast pace technological advancements and international agencies to work on several activities. Its objective is to deal with different issues faced on online media, giving special attention to women and children victims and creating awareness among youth. Various components of the I4C scheme are mentioned in Table 10 of the Appendix .

6.3 Cybercrime reporting portals & helplines

6.3.1 national cyber crime reporting portal.

NCCR portal is an initiative of the Government of India that submits online complaints by the victims who have faced criticism, especially women and children. Footnote 10 They provide immediate action on the filed complaints with the help of local police. Since the technology has been overstepping every conventional method, it has also outrun the offline process of filing cybercrime complaints. The cybercrime complaints can be registered on the National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal, which facilitates the nationwide cybercrime complaints and makes it feasible for the victims/complainants to have access to the cybercrime cells and all the information related to cybercrimes at their fingertips. The written complaint can also be filed by registering the crime-faced victim at a nearby cyber crime cell. Cyber Crime Portal State-wise, Nodal cyber cell officers and grievance officers' contact details and e-mail IDs are provided on the website https://cybercrime.gov.in/ . Footnote 11

6.3.2 Portal for women and children

Various helpline numbers and complaint portals for women and children are listed in Table 1 .

6.4 Anti-bullying or cyberbullying laws in India for schools and colleges

With the high increase in bullying in schools, especially in boarding schools in India, the HRD ministry has launched anti-ragging committees to reduce the rate of bullying. These committees work on punishing students who are indulged in the activities along with rustication in case of high involvement in bullying. The University Grants Commission comes forward with anti-ragging rules in universities and colleges with proper UGC regulations on pulling out the rate of ragging in higher institutions. Footnote 12

6.5 Other portals & awareness campaigns

The Ministry of Home Affairs has launched a centralized online cybercrime registration portal that has helped victims to register a complaint online rather than visiting the police station. Along with that Delhi and Indore police has a cyber cell to make people aware regarding filing a complaint online by the following link:

http://www.cybercelldelhi.in/

http://www.indorepolice.org/cyber-crime.php

https://ifflab.org/how-to-file-a-cyber-crime-complaint-in-india/

Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal launched the cyber safety awareness campaign in Assam on the occasion of the foundation day of the Assam police, which joined with cyber security and formed a Cyber Peace Foundation (CPF).

Awareness Campaign on Cyber Security By DSEJ

Jammu has made an awareness campaign for up to 2 Lakh stakeholders of the School Education Department on cyber hygiene and security held on 15 January 2021 along with online as well as offline counseling sessions on a large scale covering cyber grooming, cyberbullying, phishing, safeguarding social media accounts, online banking frauds, lottery frauds, remote access scams, social media privacy policy, etc. Many such awareness campaigns are organized nationwide by the respective Governments.

7 A Case study based on a survey

In this section, to investigate the problem of Cyberbullying in higher educational institutions, a survey has been conducted among university/college-going students that provide clear insights into the data analysis and case study outcomes.

7.1 Data analysis methodology

It includes the manual about designing the questionnaire for the survey, the process of collecting data, pre-processing data, techniques used to conduct the survey, and finally, applying algorithms to the collected data for evaluating the outcomes.

7.1.1 Designing the questionnaire

An online survey was conducted to gain insights into the feedback given by students on the cyberbullying faced by students of higher education institutions in India. The survey contains a questionnaire designed to collect information on the cyberbullying experience, various issues faced by students related to cyberbullying, the dependence of cyberbullying victimization on other parameters, institutional support, and feedback from respondents to stop cyberbullying. According to Lesley Andres, while preparing for analysis, we should identify the research problem questions and locate ourselves in the research design and process for designing an effective survey questionnaire (Andres, 2012 ). The quality of data analysis through survey questions depends on various factors like topics covered in the questionnaire, wording, format, and organization (Singh et al., 2021 ), (Williams, 2003 ).

In this study, a total of 72 questions were classified into five sections: the first is about general information and computer knowledge, the second one is related to cyberbullying victimization, the third is for cyberbullying and cyber-bystander, fourth discusses the actions and effects of cyberbullying victimization, and the last one is about institutional support and suggestion. A google form was prepared, and the specific link was shared over the e-mails, and social media platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram, etc. The database was collected over three weeks, and due to the length of the questionnaire, 220 responses were received. 80% of respondents belong to the age group of 17 to 24. The general information about the participants, moreover their devices in use, and social networking sites being used most frequently are listed in Table 2 . 60% of our participants are hostellers, where most of the students are doing their bachelor's degrees. WhatsApp is the most popularly used application among the students, being used by 88% of users, and 60% (approx.) of users have observed cyberbullying at their campuses.

7.1.2 Data pre-processing

To remove the anomalies of the database collected in the survey few steps like data cleaning, filtration, removing duplicate responses, and the language translation are done (Maier et al., 2018 ). For statistically evaluating the responses, such as finding the correlation between various parameters, the Likert scale was used to convert responses to equivalent numerical values. Furthermore, the textual answers or the suggestions obtained from users are also pre-processed manually and with the help of algorithmic techniques of R package libraries for grammatical correction, removal of numbers, special characters, misleading information, and using google translator for conversion of regional language to English wherever required.

7.1.3 Outcomes of survey questions

In a survey question, it was asked to give their opinion on which gender is bullied more :

32.3% believe that females are bullied more than males, 10.5% believe that males are bullied more, 47.7% believe that both are bullied equally, and 9.5% prefer not to say. But the actual results of the survey go with the belief of the majority, where we find out that 54% of males are bullied, and approximately 51% of females are bullied. In fact not a significant difference between their bullying percentages.

Definition of cyberbullying: An understanding by respondents

To have an idea, according to the respondents' about what cyberbullying is? According to the responses received, more than 50% of the respondents were clear about it, and the majority believe that threatening someone, taking or sharing someone's embarrassing photographs, and posting something hurtful on social media are major cyberbullying acts. Table 3 depicts the rest of the percentage of the views about Cyberbullying definition.

Views on cyberbullying: Is it a normal part of the online world, and nothing could be done to stop it: Here, the views of male and female respondents do not deviate much. For both of them, it is unacceptable. 70% of the respondents disagree with the view that it is normal we can't stop it, and only 15% of the respondents take it as a normal activity, as shown in Fig. 3 .

figure 3

Cyberbullying is a normal part of the online world

Actual percentage facing bullying classified under different categories and factors:

In Table 4 , the percentage distribution of bullied and non-bullied participants is mentioned depending on various factors like gender, social media usage hours, computer proficiency, area of residence, parent's talk, and their qualification. According to the number of hours of social media usage, on average, students use it for 4 h, and respondents using it for more than 4 h are bullied more than others. In addition, more than half of the participants have good computer knowledge, but not much dependency is seen between the computer proficiency and the percentage bullied by implementing the Chi-Square test using the Likert scale in Rstudio (Mircioiu & Atkinson, 2017 ). A p-value of 0.135 has been obtained, which is insignificant for showing a relation between computer proficiency and bullying percentage (Rana & Singhal, 2015 ). A weak relation is found between parents' talk and bullying; those whose parents frequently talk about cyberbullying are bullied a little bit less as compared to those whose parents never or very rarely talk about it. No correlation is found between the area of residence, and parental qualification of the students bullied.

When you were bullied, it was related to:

Of the respondents who have been cyberbullied due to multiple reasons, the majority of victims do not know the reason, and the most prevalent reason is their physical appearance and religion. Due to their sexual orientation and race, they have also faced bullying, and disability is also one of the reasons. The percentage of various reasons is given in Fig. 4 .

figure 4

Reasons for cyberbullying

Questions related to CYBER VICTIMIZATION, CYBERBULLYING, and CYBER BYSTANDER:

Out of total female respondants, 51.30% of females faced bullying, 11.30% were unsure, and 37.39% were not bullied. In the case of males, 55.24% of males faced bullying, 14.24% were unsure, and 30.48% were not bullied at all. Among the persons with disabilities, 83% of males and 75% of females having any type of disability faced cyberbullying.

Out of the total bullies, 64.40% of bullies are male, and 35.60% of bullies are female. 18.26% of all the female participants accepted that they had bullied someone, and approximately twice the women's percentage, i.e., 36.19% of male participants have bullied someone. But in the case of the cyber bystanders, there is not much difference in their percentages. 44.34% of the female participants and 56.19% of male participants were cyber bystanders, respectively. Various questions and their response percentages related to cyber victimization, cyberbullying, and cyber bystanders are listed in Table 5 .

Actions are taken after being Cyberbullied & Effects on victims:

In the survey conducted, more than half of the students (51.8%) are not aware of cyberbullying laws, and 58.2% have no clue where to report or what action should be taken against the bully. It has been seen that among the cyber victims, 65.15% of students know the bully.

Various persons can experience cyberbullying, and according to the responses, among the students bullied, 40.20% of cyberbullying was done by their friends, 9.28% by their relatives or cousins, 31.95% was done by their peer group, 25.77% by any senior, 14.43% by a junior and 53.60% by unknown. As mentioned in Table 6 , most cyberbullying victims feel comfortable discussing the matter with their friends or with nobody, only one-quarter of the percentage discuss it with their parents.

In Table 6 , various questions related to cyberbullying victims, their reaction toward a bully, their parent's reaction, how the cyberbullying affected studies and work, and the victim's feelings are mentioned with percentages. Most of the victims felt angry and depressed, and around half of the victims asked the bully to stop this behavior.

As shown in Fig.  5 , the R studio corrplot function is used to find correlations among various parameters, and it is observed that both the work and health of the cyberbullying victim are greatly affected.

figure 5

Correlation graph

In further detailed questioning, it is observed that 62% of cyberbullying victims ignore the messages of bullies so that he/they would lose interest, whereas 25% have sent threatening messages to bullies about doing such acts. Approximately 27% seek online advice on being bullied. Due to lack of awareness, only 40% of the victims save the cyberbullying messages or images as evidence. 32.4% of victims changed their contact details like phone number, e-mail address, chat name, or profile information visibility on social networking sites. 79% of the victims have blocked the bully so that he/she could not contact more.

Institutional support

It has been observed that higher education institutions do not provide much support to the students and make them aware of this online behavior, as 68.2% of the colleges and universities are not taking any initiative to make students aware by conducting any awareness tutorial or campaign. Only 42.8% of students who were bullied have taken guidance from university. Furthermore, 68.6% of the students have no idea where to report or to find the anti-bullying policy in their institution. Approximately 69.5% think their institutions are not doing enough to tackle the problem.

7.1.4 Topic modeling to extract relevant topics

For analysis of the feedback given by students to stop cyberbullying in institutions, using the R framework, LDA has been used. To extract the optimum number of topics in the feedback database, we used Griffith's 2004 (Griffiths & Steyvers, 2004 ) and Cau Juan's 2009 (Cao et al., 2009 ) metrics for our study in the R framework. Griffith represents an approach where the number of topics is optimal when the log-likelihood for data becomes maximum, whereas Cau Juan is used for measuring the stability of the topic and the minimum value on the graph represents the optimal number of topics. As from Fig.  6 number of topics lies between 4 to 9; in the upper graph minimum value is to be selected and from the lower one maximum value is to find the range of an optimal number of topics.

figure 6

Determining the optimal number of topics

The latent Dirichlet allocation (LDA) is a statistical model that enables unidentified groups to explain why some sections of the data are related (Blei et al., 2003 ). If observations are words gathered into documents, it is assumed that each document is a mix of a small number of subjects and that each word's occurrence is due to one of the document's themes called topics. The time complexity of LDA is O(mnt  +  t 3 ) and memory requirements of O(mn  +  mt  +  nt) , where m is the number of samples, n is the number of features, and t  =  min (m,n). It is impossible to use LDA when both m and n are big (Cai et al., 2008 ). The working of LDA is shown in the Algorithm . As there does not exist any prior information on the number of topics in our corpus, we used LDAvis, which generates interactive charts where each bubble represents the topic, and topic per word distribution is represented in the bar graph plot, selection of a bubble highlights the words and bars accordingly. The prevalence of topics depends upon the bubble size. For these graphs, the "optimum" value of λ was about 0.6, which resulted in a 70% likelihood of right identification (values of λ around 0 and 1 resulted in estimated proportions of correct replies closer to 53 and 63 percent, respectively). This is evidence that ordering words according to relevance (rather than strictly in decreasing order of probability) can increase subject interpretability (Sievert & Shirley, 2014 ).

LDA has extracted the discussion topics from the set of views database submitted by students to tackle this problem, explore all the main keywords, and highlight areas that need improvement. The findings indicate the formation of five clusters, the most frequent and interdependent keywords with other clusters or topics as depicted in Fig.  7 . The number of clusters lies in the predicted range of optimal number of topics. From the topic modeling analysis, "Awareness" is the most frequent term and critical factor in curbing cyberbullying. The classification of most frequently used words and the keywords grouped according to LDA are given in Table 7 .

figure 7

LDAvis topic extraction graph

figure a

8 Discussion: Analysis of conducted survey

With the advancement of technology, social media has become a vital part of students' lives, either for their studies or entertainment. The major challenge is protecting the students from cyberbullying that can significantly affect their work and studies. Our focus is on examining cyberbullying among college/university students. For this, we divided our research into two modules. In the first one, we analyzed the Indian Government initiatives. While exploring legal provisions, it is found that so many laws, online portals and helplines are available. Strict laws implemented against cyberbullying are covered under IT Act 2000, IT Act Section 66A, IT Act Section 66 B, IT Act Section 66C, IT Act Section 66D, IT Act Section 66E, IT Act Sect. 67, IT Act Section 67A, IT Act Section 67B; under Indian Penal Code 1860, IPC Section 292 A, IPC Section 354A, IPC Section 354D, IPC Section 499, IPC Section 507, and POCSO Act 2012. Under various schemes like the Nirbhaya fund scheme, the Government launches a women and helpline number 112 for emergency response. Under CCPW Scheme, multiple labs and units have been established for cybercrime online reporting, the investigation by professional teams, and research and development. I4C scheme has also established many units for creating awareness, reporting, and inspection. MHA has established National Cybercrime reporting portals both online and offline. Moreover, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has generated a women's helpline number 118 and also a dedicated e-mail address to redress their grievances. Separate Childline 1098, NCW helpline, Mahila bol helpline, and many state government portals are available. Various awareness campaigns are launched at the state as well as international levels. In second module, a case study was performed on cyberbullying in higher education institutions.

Section-wise analyses of the conducted survey

General information: 97% of the higher education institutional students (respondents) have electronic gadgets, except the few either do not have internet connectivity or a personal device. Even in the UNICEF case study, it was found that 99 percent of both urban and rural internet users aged 12 + years used mobile phones to access the internet. Footnote 14 WhatsApp and Instagram are the most widely used social networking sites that make them more vulnerable to experience cyberbullying. The responses of the participants depict that they are not much aware of the cyberbullying term, the legal provisions, and other governmental policies against cyberbullying. At the same time, it is observed that the majority of students reacted strongly to stop this behavior.

Cyberbullying victimization and dependency of Cyberbullying on various demographic parameters: According to the survey results, more than half of the respondents have experienced cyberbullying, which is similar to the percentage obtained in a study by Aizenkot and Kashy-Rosenbaum (Aizenkot & Kashy-Rosenbaum, 2020 ). It is concluded that males are cyberbullied more than females. Moreover, the person with a disability is the most affected as 80% of them face cyberbullying. Higher hours spent on social networking sites also lead to cyberbullying victimization. This case study found that Parental awareness and discussing online issues with youngsters have played a vital role in preventing them from being bullied, which resembles the conclusion of a study conducted in Vietnam by Ho et al. (Ho et al., 2020 ). The majority of the participants are not aware of the reason for being bullied but based on physical appearance and religion, cyberbullying is most prevalent among students. Approximately half of the participants have experienced cyber defaming.

Cyberbullying and Cyber Bystander: 18.26% of the female participants accepted that they had bullied someone, and 36% of males accepted it. The survey results depict that half of the participants are cyber bystanders. The most prevalent type of cyberbullying in this survey is leaving someone without friends by either blocking or eliminating them from social groups, and similar victimization was observed in a study by Aizenkot and Kashy-Rosenbaum (Aizenkot & Kashy-Rosenbaum, 2020 ). Cyber-by-standing is more common in male students, as one-third of the students have witnessed someone posting something wrong on social media to embarrass a classmate or use abusive language. Peer bullying is commonly seen among university students.

Actions taken and the affect of cyberbullying on the victim: Only 42% of the victims report to the police, and 36% of the students get back to the bully either personally or virtually. Cyberbullying has affected both the physical and mental health of the victim, and they experience aggressiveness and depression at most times. It also affects their relationship with friends and family and their work and studies. Also, the participants said that they have stopped using various social networking sites, restricted their privacy settings, and adopted other necessary measures to avoid bullying.

Institutional support and suggestions : Cyberbullying Awareness is the need of the hour, various institutions have cyberbullying policies, but the students are not aware of that. Students need guidance, and awareness sessions and campaigns should be organized at the college/ university level. As per students' suggestive measures, there should be proper counseling sessions, teacher support, guidance to tackle online issues, a complaint portal, strict laws, and concrete action against the bully. Institutions should also teach the ethics of social media usage.

9 How to combat cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can be significantly reduced with effective interpersonal communication among the peer group, and also bystanders can play a vital role in preventing cyberbullying if they intervene immediately on behalf of victims (Rafferty & Vander Ven, 2014 ). From the case study, it has been seen that the majority of students were cyber bystanders; they should come forward and encourage reporting such issues. The students are not much aware of the cyberbulling policies, so as suggested by Watts (Watts et al., 2017 ) anonymous reporting should be introduced, and internet etiquette should be studied.

It has been analyzed that colleges/universities are not doing enough to deal with this problem. In educational institutions, policy development is a pressing need that may be addressed using focus groups to identify effective remedies for cyberbullying. In addition, institutional leaders should consider a cyberbullying policy in terms of circumstances, and aside from that, leaders may improve their workers' knowledge abilities by conducting surveys and investigative sessions on cyberbullying (Luker & Curchack, 2017 ). The study depicted that approximately 70% of the respondents feel that institutions are not doing enough to curb cyberbullying so there is a need for university professionals to effectively analyze and mitigate unfavorable internet interactions on their campuses. All students and faculty members require assistance and counseling (Cassidy et al., 2017 ).

Creating awareness is the primary need as per students' feedback. The government has launched various portals, helplines for helping women and children, cyber cells, and reporting portals for online issues but students are not much aware of these initiatives and legal provisions. There is a need to raise awareness. Insulting someone or defaming or making fun over social media are the most prevalent among educational institutions. The study findings by (Ngo et al., 2021 ) and (Hutson et al., 2018 ) have suggested several measures to curb cyberbullying. To begin, educational campaigns should be conducted to boost awareness and attitudes against cyberbullying across youth, parents, and teachers, inspiring them to become proactive in mediating and combating cyberbullying practices. Knowledge and practices on cyberbullying, communication and internet usage skills, education on digital citizenship, prosocial behaviors, empathy, and coping techniques with cyberbullying should all be included in these programs. From the case study it is observed that 70% victims feel angry, 43% depressed and one-third feel lonely and helpless. So, regular training sessions should be held to assist teenagers in developing the skills and talents necessary to actively cope with cyberbullying, assist other victims, and prevent them from being involved in cyberbullying themselves. Furthermore, institutions, healthcare providers, and leaders should promote parents' participation in suspecting and addressing cyberbullying and its implications among youngsters. This positive parent–child interaction may inspire them to seek help when confronted with adversity. In addition, Parents must exercise restraint and active mediation to raise awareness, as teenagers lack understanding of online threats and the ability to self-regulate their internet activities owing to a lack of experience (Steinfeld, 2021 ).

Also, the student Services at universities should design interventions where they concentrate not just on prophylactic work with techniques to eliminate cyberbullying but also on fostering relationships with individuals from whom victims may seek assistance with their online concerns (Yubero et al., 2017 ). Cyberbullying can be significantly reduced with effective interpersonal communication among the peer group, and also bystanders can play a vital role in preventing cyberbullying if they intervene immediately on behalf of victims (Rafferty & Vander Ven, 2014 ). As observed in cyber victimization questionnaire, cyberbullying faced by the majority is insulting someone, saying something untrue about a person or making fun of others over social media, or excluding others from online groups. Peer assistance initiatives appear to be successful in this regard where with proper training, students assist in educating their peers about using technology responsibly and cyberbullying by relating their experiences and strategies to avoid and address it.

A convenient, user-friendly, and cost-effective conversation bots (chatbots) can be used in anti-bullying programs to raise awareness regarding bullying and help change students' attitudes toward bullying problems (Oh et al., 2020 ). Moreover, to avoid consolidation and limit the impact on victims, all colleges should broaden their harassment policies, including cyberbullying; these protocols must include precise steps to be taken if such episodes are discovered. In the future, therapeutic assistance and victim protection should be included in protocols.

10 Conclusion and recommendation

With the technical advancement, and adoption of blended learning as a new paradigm in higher education, social media users are also increasing day by day, and the most significant impact is seen on the youngsters. Lack of knowledge about the ethics of using social media and the easy availability of the internet lead to cyberbullying. While the social networking sites act as a boon to the students, providing them an environment of collaborative learning even in the pandemics like covid19, at the same time, it may lead to cyberbullying victimization by exposing them to the hate and aggressive behavior on online platforms. Students have misused social media to humiliate or harass other students. So, regardless of the convenience offered by social media, the constant exposure to and communication with online technologies make the users susceptible to certain online interactions that may be beneficial at some point but put their safety and emotional and psychological well-being at risk. Over time, the Indian Government has launched various schemes (Nirbhaya Scheme, CCPW Scheme, I4C Scheme), online reporting portals (National cybercrime reporting portal), helpline numbers for women and children, and amended the required legal provisions of the IT Act and Indian Penal Code 1860 against the cyberbullying. State governments have also launched various awareness campaigns. As per UGC regulation, educational institutions have also stricken their anti-bullying policies. But the success of these initiatives depends upon the responses of the participants of the survey. It has been seen that the students are not much aware of all these laws against cyberbullying. More than half of the participants have faced cyberbullying, and many of them admitted that they had bullied others also. Cyberbullying victimization is dependent upon various factors like parents' guidance, the number of hours of social media usage, etc. Parental advice and lesser usage of social media may prevent the students from being bullied. Peer bullying is the most prevalent among college/university male students, and Cyberbullying has affected the students psychologically as well as physically; moreover, it degraded their performance at work/studies. Anger and depression are the major problems experienced by the victims. Two-thirds of the students are unaware of the cyberbullying policies and laws. After analyzing the results, it is suggested that the institutions and authorities organize seminars and counseling sessions to create awareness. They should follow strict measures to tackle cyberbullying, take appropriate actions, and establish complaint portals at the college/university level. The study covers a lot about the initiatives, provides insights into the current cyberbullying situation at higher education institutions in India, and concludes that more campaigns and seminars should be conducted to make students aware of all these legal provisions. At the same time, the study has a few limitations also: Firstly, based on popularity, only a few government initiatives and legal provisions have been listed, only national-level portals and helplines are mentioned, and State-wise programs and campaigns are not discussed. Secondly, the sample chosen may have many constraints due to the length of the survey; only limited responses are received, and the respondents may belong to the same environment and face similar problems. In the future, we will try to overcome these limitations.

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Kaur, M., Saini, M. Indian government initiatives on cyberbullying: A case study on cyberbullying in Indian higher education institutions. Educ Inf Technol 28 , 581–615 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-022-11168-4

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Bullying case studies

The following case studies provide examples of workplace bullying, its impact on an individual’s health and safety and examples of how employers failed to control the risk.

Workplace bullying is repeated, unreasonable behaviour directed at an employee or group of employees that creates a risk to health and safety.

Bullying of one employee

M started his first job as an apprentice plumber at the age of 16. Two years into his apprenticeship, M made a complaint to WorkSafe about his experiences at work, which included:

  • his boss calling him gay and using offensive language towards him
  • his boss encouraging other employees to call him names, ask inappropriate questions and make crude insinuations about his personal life
  • his boss taking his mobile phone and making him believe he had posted inappropriate comments on a female friend's page
  • having a live mouse put down the back of his shirt by another employee
  • having his work shorts ripped up by his boss
  • having liquid nails squirted into his hair and face by fellow employees
  • being beaten with plumbing pipes and having hose connectors thrown at him by his boss and fellow employees
  • being spat on by employees
  • having a rag doused with methylated spirits held over his mouth by his boss

The impact on M's physical and mental health

For a long time, M felt too afraid of losing his job to complain to his boss about the treatment he was subjected to. However, he eventually became distressed to the point that he was afraid to go to work. He began experiencing nightmares, insomnia, difficulty concentrating, getting angry for no reason, tearfulness, depression, anxiety and stress.

M was eventually diagnosed with a psychological disorder which prevented him from being able to return to work with his employer.

Risk to health and safety

The bullying behaviour that M was subjected to at work impacted his health and safety and resulted in both physical and psychological injury. The employer failed to control that risk as it did not have a bullying policy, and did not provide proper supervision, information, instruction and training to its employees on workplace bullying.

Prosecution outcome

The employer in the actual case was found guilty of offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, and was convicted and fined $12,500.

Bullying of multiple employees

S, m, l and j's story.

S, M, L and J were part of a group of employees at a commercial bakery where they were required to perform tasks including baking, sandwich preparation, general food preparation, cleaning and delivery of orders to local businesses.

They alleged they had been subjected to verbal, physical and emotional abuse by their employer over a period of two years. The abuse included:

  • being called 'pig', 'porky', 'dog' and other derogatory names by their boss
  • being sworn at, with their boss using foul and abusive language
  • their boss yelling and grunting at them for no apparent reason
  • having items such as sticks thrown at them or at their desks
  • their boss threatening them with physical harm, including being attacked by dogs and being dissolved in acid
  • having trolleys pushed into the backs of their legs
  • being labelled as 'useless' and 'a waste of space' by their boss
  • being told by their boss to 'go away and die, and make sure you die quietly'

The impact on the victims' physical and mental health

One of the women reported that as a result of the bullying, she had 'lost my friends, my life, my world and my mind'. Others reported that they suffered mental and physical distress, including depression and exacerbation of other psychological conditions. Some went on to suffer relationship breakdowns.

The treatment S, M, L and J and their colleagues were subjected to at work created a risk to their health and safety and resulted in them suffering both physical and psychological injuries. The employer had no systems or procedures in place to regulate that workplace behaviour and no policies or procedures to educate employees in respect of appropriate workplace behaviour and workplace bullying.

The employer in the actual case was found guilty of offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, and was convicted and fined $50,000.

Bullying of an employee by a manager

S is a teacher in the private sector and has 20 years of experience at the school. The school was going through a change management process. S made an application to the Fair Work Commission for an Order to Stop Bullying based on allegation which included:

  • The principal, M, allocating a business manager to conduct S's annual review despite the fact that the business manager had not conducted any other teacher's review, had no educational experience and had recently had unpleasant exchanges with S.
  • M entered a discussion between S and the pay clerk about S's long service leave request and, standing very close to S with clenched fists, said 'I have not signed off on it. You have to wait.' M was not actually dealing with the leave application.
  • On S's return from long service leave, S was directed to complete an induction program for new employees and was appointed a mentor with less experience than she had. S was the only employee to have to do the induction on return from leave and the only employee who was not new to be allocated a mentor.

The impact on S's physical and mental health

As a result of the behaviours, S felt isolated, targeted and demeaned in the workplace. S was also insulted, embarrassed and humiliated by being allocated a mentor and having to do the induction training in spite of her 20 years' experience. S felt so distressed because of the personal behaviour of the principal towards her that S saw her doctor and was given time off work.

The treatment S was subjected to at work impacted on her health and safety and resulted in her suffering a psychological injury. The employer could have prevented this from occurring by:

  • ensuring the appropriate person conducted the annual review
  • training managers in how to interact professionally with employees
  • providing appropriate training to employees based on their experience in the job

Bullying of one employee by multiple colleagues

K was a police officer and was successful in being promoted into a new team. K made a common law claim for damages alleging she suffered injuries as a result of her employer's negligence. The behaviours that led to K suffering a mental injury allegedly included:

  • being given the worst desk normally reserved for temporary staff
  • being told that her supervisor thought she had slept with the boss to get the job
  • after announcing she was pregnant, the supervisor asked her if she had slept with the boss to get the job
  • the supervisor calling HR in front of her and asking if she could be replaced because she was pregnant
  • the supervisor told K that the only way he could get rid of her was if she voluntarily relinquished the job and asked if she was willing to do so
  • being called 'the black widow' by the supervisor when she walked into the room.
  • being socially ostracised by the team
  • having difficulty getting time off to look after her child post maternity leave when other people had no trouble getting time off to play golf
  • not being invited on a social club interstate trip
  • being shouted at when she questioned being left out of the social club interstate trip

The impact on K's physical and mental health

K went from being a fit and healthy young woman to being unable to work and suffering from depression, high anxiety and panic attacks.

The treatment that K was subjected to at work impacted on her health and safety and resulted in her suffering a psychological injury. The employer could have prevented this from occurring by:

  • ensuring that appropriate supervision was provided under Section 21(2)(e) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
  • providing appropriate training to its managers on how to handle maternity leave arrangements and post-maternity leave return to work
  • providing appropriate training to all employees about acceptable workplace behaviour

Employer duties

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) requires employers to eliminate risks to health and safety, so far as reasonably practicable. If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate risks, the employer must reduce risks, so far as reasonably practicable.

The best approach to deal with risks to health and safety associated with workplace bullying is to implement appropriate measures in the workplace.

In line with their duty to eliminate and reduce risks to health, including psychological health, employers have a responsibility to identify hazards and assess associated risks that may lead to workplace bullying. As an employer, you must control any associated risks, review and, if necessary, revise risk control measures.

Related pages

This information is from 'Workplace bullying: A guide for employers'. The complete guide is available in two formats.

Website version PDF guide

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True Stories of Workplace Bullying: Case Examples to Help You Understand Your Rights

case study examples bullying

Do you think you’re being bullied at work? If so, your workplace bully could be violating California and Federal law due to their harassing behaviors. While bullying itself is not unlawful, there are anti-bullying legislative measures being brought to the forefront all across the country, including the Healthy Workplace Bill. In addition to anti-bullying legislation, the Workplace Bullying Institute is also striving to eradicate bullying on the job by dedicating their efforts to anti-bullying education, research, and consulting for individuals, professionals, employers, and organizations.

Workplace bullying comes in many forms and can be unlawful if this type of harassment is based on an employee’s national origin, age, gender, disability, or other protected characteristics. Bullies also typically engage in these unlawful behaviors more than once rather than in isolated incidents.

workplace-bullying-real-case-examples.jpg

In the spirit of the Workplace Bullying Institute’s Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week, we’ve decided to offer some insight into real workplace bullying, retaliation and discrimination cases from around the country that can help you understand your own rights when it comes to employment harassment.

Real Workplace Bullying Case Examples

Microsoft to pay $2 million in workplace bullying case.

AUSTIN, TX –  After seven years, Michael Mercieca finally saw the courts order Microsoft to pay for workplace bullying that almost led him to the breaking point.

The Texas employment labor law case judge, Tim Sulak, found Microsoft guilty of “acting with malice and reckless indifference” in an organized program of office retaliation against Mercieca.

“They (Microsoft Corporation) remain guilty today, tomorrow and in perpetuity over egregious acts against me and racist comments by their executive that led to the retaliation and vendetta resulting in my firing,” said Mercieca.

Previously, a jury, by unanimous agreement, found that Microsoft knowingly created a hostile work environment that led to Mercieca’s constructive dismissal. Mercieca was a highly regarded member of the tech giant’s sales department and had an unblemished record, but found himself trapped in a workplace conspiracy where his supervisors and coworkers undermined his work, falsely accused him of sexual harassment, and expense account fraud, marginalized him, and blocked his promotions. These harassing behaviors began when Mercieca ended a relationship with a woman who then went on to become his boss. Human relations at Microsoft did nothing to stop the bullying, either.

“Rather than do the right thing, the management team went after Michael by getting a female employee to file a sexual harassment complaint and a complaint of retaliation against him,” says Paul T. Morin. “Microsoft could have taken Mercieca’s charges seriously and disciplined the senior manager but instead it engaged in the worst kind of corporate bullying.”

Read the full story

King Soopers to Pay $80,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit

DENVER, CO –  Dillon Companies, Inc., owners of the King Soopers supermarket chain in Colorado will pay $80,000 for bullying a learning-disabled employee who worked at its Lakewood, Colorado store.

According to the EEOC’s disability discrimination lawsuit, two store supervisors repeatedly subjected Justin Stringer, an employee who worked at King Soopers for a decade, to repeated bullying and taunting in the workplace because of his learning disability. The EEOC alleged that the bullying resulted in Stringer’s termination.

“Employees with disabilities must be treated with the same dignity and respect as all other members of the work force,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill. “The EEOC will continue to enforce the ADA to protect the rights of disabled employees and applicants.”

DHL Global Forwarding Pays $201,000 to Settle EEOC National Origin Discrimination Suit

DALLAS, TX –  Air Express International, USA, Inc. and Danzas Corporation, doing business as DHL Global Forwarding, will pay $201,000 to nine employees and provide other significant relief to settle a national origin hostile environment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC charged DHL Global with subjecting a class of Hispanic employees to bullying, discrimination, and harassment due to their national origin. According to the suit, Hispanic employees at DHL’s Dallas warehouse were bullied at work by being subjected to taunts and derogatory names such as “wetback,” “beaner,” “stupid Mexican” and “Puerto Rican b-h”. The Hispanic workers, who included persons of Mexican, Salvadoran and Puerto Rican heritage, were often ridiculed by DHL personnel with demeaning slurs which included referring to the Salvadoran worker as a “salvatrucha,” a term referring to a gangster. Other workers were identified with other derogatory stereotypes.

Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office, stated, “Bullying Hispanic workers for speaking a language other than English is a distinct form of discrimination, which, when coupled with ethnic slurs, is clearly motivated by prejudice and national origin animus. Sometimes job discrimination isn’t just about hiring, firing or promotion; it’s about an employer promoting disharmony and disrespect through an unhealthy work environment.”

Wal-Mart to Pay $150,000 to Settle EEOC Age and Disability Discrimination Suit

DALLAS, TX –  Wal-Mart Stores of Texas, L.L.C. (Wal-Mart) has agreed to pay $150,000 and provide other significant relief to settle an age and disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC charged in its suit that Wal-Mart discriminated against the manager of the Keller, Texas Walmart store by subjecting him to bullying, harassment, discriminatory treatment, and discharge because of his age.

According to the EEOC, David Moorman was ridiculed with frequent bullying and taunts at work from his direct supervisor, including being called “old man” and “old food guy.” The EEOC also alleged that Wal-Mart fired Moorman because of his age.

“Mr. Moorman was subjected to taunts and bullying from his supervisor that made his working conditions intolerable,” said EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Joel Clark. “The EEOC remains committed to prosecuting the rights of workers through litigation in federal court.”

Under the terms of the two-year consent decree settling the case, Wal-Mart will pay $150,000 in relief to Moorman under the terms of the two-year consent decree. Wal-Mart also agreed to provide training for employees on the ADA and the ADEA, which will include an instruction on the kind of conduct that could constitute unlawful discrimination or harassment.

Everyone deserves to work in a safe, supportive environment and workplace bullies should be dealt with accordingly. If you are being bullied at work, contact our expert California employment lawyers today for your free consultation.

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Bullying in the Workplace – A Case Study

Dr. Sheri Jacobson

By: Chris Potter

When Susan* began working at her new job, it wasn’t long before she realised that something wasn’t right between her and her manager.

What began as feeling a bit picked on began to become a constant source of stress for her, until she knew it wasn’t in her head anymore. It turns out that Susan was the victim of a growing problem for many – bullying in the workplace. This is her story of how it happened and how she got through it, which she has chosen to share to educate others who might be suffering similar.

(Worry you too are dealing with a workplace bully? Read our guide to workplace bullying to learn more).

*name changed to protect privacy

“i was the victim of a workplace bully”.

“I had been over the moon to finally get offered a job I really wanted, as a PR and communications assistant for an environmental company. But I had only been in my my job for a few months when I realised that my line manager was becoming gradually more hostile towards me.

She started nitpicking every piece of work I did, sometimes requesting that I start large tasks again from scratch. I remember the first time, when I wrote an article and she gave it back with two small mistakes circled and a note ‘check grammar’, but not a jot of other positive or constructive feedback. I thought she must have been rushed that day, but that was generally the way it kept going. I rarely had any support or feedback from her unless she felt I’d made a mistake.

Whenever I tried to raise any ideas of my own, she would treat me in a condescending manner and refuse to take me seriously. I also started to be moved off tasks which fit my skill set to menial jobs which no one else wanted to do. Suddenly I was no longer writing press releases but doing data entry! When I tried to request that there be more time for me to focus on my strengths, I was told that it wasn’t her priority.

It got worse. She repeatedly accused me of not doing what was asked of me or of making mistakes that I hadn’t made. Even when I knew I could prove her wrong, it felt petty to have to go to such lengths to do this. And then she would do things almost as if she wanted to find ways to see me fail. She’d ask me to answer all calls for the entire office right when I was working on an assignment, and when that predictably meant the article wasn’t written by the end of the day, she’d make out I hadn’t been working hard enough!

It all conspired to make me feel really miserable and suddenly the job I had always wanted turned into me dreading going to work every morning.

Am I stressed or depressed online quiz

I felt confused as to why my manager rarely seemed to have any faith in me. Over time I lost all confidence in my ability to do anything properly; she made me feel like I was actually as useless as she was treating me.

“I tried to figure out why my manager was bullying me”

job burnout quiz - test yourself

By: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

I think she sometimes saw me as being a bit of a threat. She was particularly hostile towards me whenever I appeared to know more about something than she did. Once, when she was stuck trying to help one of my colleagues with a task, I politely offered a solution. It turned out to be correct, but I didn’t receive any thanks. She looked absolutely furious and wouldn’t speak to me for the rest of the day.

“The bullying began to affect my health and my social life”

As well as dealing with the emotional side of being bullied, there were growing physical symptoms. I was beginning to suffer with tiredness, often feeling so fatigued that I would need to go to bed as soon as I got home from work. I experienced headaches and nausea, sometimes to the point where I would throw up from feeling dizzy. It was a long time before I connected the frequency of these feelings to the things I was experiencing at work.

As for my social life, I stopped wanting to do things I used to enjoy, like going out with my friends and exercising. It was like all my confidence was gone and I was tired, so I just wanted to stay at home. My partner certainly noticed that I wasn’t well. I talked to him a lot, he was really my rock.

The truth is, I felt like I couldn’t tell my friends or family what was happening. I had spent so long trying to build up a career from almost nothing (graduating during the recession meant there were hardly any opportunities for me) and they had been so proud when I got the job, that I felt ashamed to admit that it was going so badly.

My partner began urging me to leave after I had been there for a year but I didn’t think we could afford it. It didn’t help that I started to apply for other jobs and didn’t get anything, so felt even worse. Of course now, looking back, I can see it is just the way the job market was at the time, but back then I was sure there was something wrong with me.

“Eventually I started to think I was going crazy…”

It began to get to the point where I felt like I was going crazy. I knew that my manager had a problem with me but all of her behaviour was subtle enough not to be noticed by other members of staff. We worked in a very small team and (outwardly, at least) everyone seemed to get on very well. I felt under pressure not to ‘rock the boat’ and felt that no one would believe me if I told the truth. I hoped that if I could only keep working as hard as I could, she would stop treating me so badly.

I would get angry, but the anger couldn’t go anywhere, so it just translated into more negative thoughts about myself. I was swinging between feeling like everything was all my fault then feeling furious.

When I went to see a counsellor , it was such a relief. I can’t tell you what a big help it was to have someone listen once a week and provide me with support when I decided to leave.

workplace bullying case study

By: Alan Cleaver

“I had to decide whether to stay or go”

Things didn’t improve and I finally decided my only option was to leave. The final straw came when I accidentally saw some emails between my manager and other members of staff, including the director of the company. I say accidentally, but it was more on a quick instinct. Basically, I was looking in my colleague’s email account for some information for a piece. We had each other’s passwords and often looked in each others account if we needed to see some correspondence. But something in me told me to search for my name.

I felt sick to read emails that contained personal judgements about my behaviour and attitude and gave an entirely negative impression of who I was. My manager had even accused me of lying about a dispute over holiday pay, copying in everyone on staff, can you imagine?! I realised that she had been sending these messages behind my back for some time and that everyone in the office, including some new members of staff, had had their opinions shaped by them.

It was seriously shocking, as for so long I had veered between thinking it was really going on and then thinking maybe it was in my head. But there is was, my proof. I couldn’t really admit to having seen the emails so I snuck off and called my partner for support.

I decided it was too late for me to try and undo the damage so I quit the very next day. I wrote a short letter, printed it off, and bought it the office. My manager was actually surprised. I didn’t bother to tell her why I was leaving, and a part of me thinks she was so much in denial about her behaviour she might have actually been surprised.

“Did I make the right decision?”

It wasn’t fair that I had to leave my job, and I know for many others they seek legal help, but I know that for me, I made the right decision. I guess I also didn’t look into the legal side because really, would I be able to say anything illegal happened? I just worked for a small team that had a not very nice manager who happened to single me out. Maybe because I was the most recent hired and the lowest paid, the last in the pecking order. Or because she needed someone to shift the spotlight away from her own mistakes and I was the most amenable.

What mattered was that I needed to protect my health and to seek a more rewarding job somewhere else. I feel relieved not to be working there anymore and I’m starting to regain my confidence and self-esteem through writing and voluntary work. I don’t regret leaving – unfortunately, the odds were stacked against me. I’m now trying to look forward to a role where my hard work will be valued.

My biggest regret is not that I didn’t tell off my manager when I quit, but that I didn’t know about workplace bullying sooner, and the insidious way it can operate. If I had of known, I would have felt less alone. Maybe I could have even presented my thoughts to my manager and tried to resolve something. That’s why I’m sharing my story, in the hopes others read it and it helps them make a bad workplace situation better.”

Are YOU a victim of bullying in the workplace?

Susan quit her job, but you don’t have to. Learn the signs and symptoms of bullying in the workplace, as well as how you can deal with it before it gets worse, by reading our guide to bullying in the workplace which also includes a list of useful resources. Have you you experienced bullying in the workplace and want to share your story? Or want to comment on something we’ve said? Use the box below, we love hearing your feedback. Want to know when we post more useful content like this? Sign up to our community up above!

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Home » Bullying » Stories About Bullying: Personal Accounts from Autistic Individuals

Stories About Bullying: Personal Accounts from Autistic Individuals

By   Yolande Loftus, BA, LLB

October 13, 2023

Anti-Bullying Week is a great opportunity to share stories and open conversation about a very sensitive topic. For individuals on the spectrum, bullying can be more prevalent, more severe and, due to communication challenges, even harder to talk about. This article shares personal stories about bullying to inspire change…

Wanting to raise awareness of some of the challenges faced by autistic individuals, I spoke with neurodivergent advocates for this article to hear personal stories about bullying, with the hope it will help drive positive change.

I started my journey by speaking with Dr. Emily Lovegrove (AKA “The Bullying Doctor”) during the Autism Parenting Summit (April, 2021). “Yes they are more likely to get picked on,” was the answer she gave when I asked whether autistic children are easily targeted by bullies.

She explained how we’re all conditioned to search out and identify that which is different. When we get on a bus, we’re most likely to sit next to someone not too different from how we view ourselves. Dr. Lovegrove says kids do the exact same thing. They look for difference, and they often find it in autistic kids who think differently and act differently. The way they act is not weird, wrong or offensive, but it is different from many of their peers, and therefore likely to pique the interest of a bully.

A recent study (Toseeb et al., 2020) found autistic children are more likely to be bullied both by kids at school and siblings at home. This means autistic children do not get a break from bullying once school is out for the day. The study also found autistic children are more likely to be both the bully and the victim when it comes to sibling bullying—in comparison to neurotypical children.

With all of this context in mind, let’s hear from autistic advocates who have experienced bullying during childhood and adulthood.

Autistic advocates share stories about bullying

Ron’s story.

Ron Sandison is a Professor of Theology, speaker, and author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom .

“During my middle school years, predator bullies’ sonar systems could detect me in a crowd. With autism causing me to display unusual behavior, I was easy prey. During a track meet in my freshman year of high school, a teammate stole a tarantula and placed it in a plastic bag. When another teammate ‘double-dog-dared’ me, I used a shot put to brew up tarantula soup. After the jock who stole the tarantula saw that I had smashed his prize, he struck me with his fist in the stomach. The next day, the jock’s best friend gave me a black eye,” Ron recalls.

When asked about bullying and why he felt he may have been a target, Ron shared: “My autistic quirks like carrying a stuffed prairie dog at age 15 made me an easy target for bullies. I learned to cope with bullying by reading books and running track, and cross country. During my junior year of high school, when I was one of the fastest 800 meters runners in the state of Michigan, the bullying ceased and I gained respect among my peers and fellow runners. When I experienced severe bullying in middle school, I wished my teachers and coaches would’ve noticed and prevented the bullying.”

Ron is not the only child who feels there may be a lack of support from educators. Studies (Yoon & Bauman, 2014) present evidence that teachers are not perceived to be effective at interventions when it comes to bullying. But if children don’t feel confident in their educators’ ability to intervene, how can parents help their children—particularly those on the spectrum who are unfortunately very likely to be bullied at some point in their childhood?

Ron shared some practical advice for parents who feel desperate in the battle against bullying: “My advice for parents who have a child with autism is to find a friend for their child who is a year older and will help prevent bullying, since bullies tend to pick on children who are alone. The peer friend will also help your child learn social skills .”

Angela’s story

In sharing her story, autistic self-advocate Angela Chapes bravely admits to being bullied… and being the bully. She shared insight into bullying within the home environment rather than school and recalled how she picked on her brothers, and feels she was also mean to her father. She talked about “wanting to punch her father out” on some days, but because of her mother’s influence she never did. She added: “Dad and I are fine today.”

Being a bully is hurtful not only to the victim, the perpetrator often suffers extensively too. One study (Copeland et al., 2013) suggests individuals who were both victims and bullies experience the most significant long-term effects.

It’s easy to sense the hurt when Angela shares she is on speaking terms with only one of her brothers (with whom she reconciled). She feels bullies have a lot to lose. “You lose your humanity and the other person may be psychologically affected. They may be affected for a long time.”

Angela does not shy away from talking about the hurt she caused. In her own words: “I was a bully: When I was younger I bullied my brothers. I would love to ruin their artwork and ruin their toys . If I thought my brothers were going to ruin my stuff I would cry and scream. I would pick fights with my brothers by having screaming matches. Once, my brothers did not wait for me while we were walking in our neighborhood. I was mad about it and when I got home I pushed my middle brother over in his chair. Luckily, he was not hurt.”

The issues between the siblings seemed to intensify and Angela talks of a situation where she could have, in reference to her brother, “killed him”.

“We were at a cousin’s farm and my brothers, my mom and I were on a carriage. I was being a bully and trying to get my middle brother to jump out of the carriage. Since he was not going to do it I pushed him and he got stuck in the wheels. It could have killed him but he was not hurt. I was very lucky. My mom had a long talk with me about what could have happened. If this incident went another way I could have dealt with a lot of sadness and maybe even the law.”

Angela experienced the other side of bullying too when she was a victim at work—around the time she was diagnosed with autism. She believes she got bullied because she did not stand up for herself: “I was yelled at and made to feel incompetent. I was made to feel like I was trash, strange, weird, and not normal.”

As someone with experience as both a perpetrator and victim, Angela shares her opinion about bullying: “Because of what I went through I don’t bully others or make fun of people. It is wrong. I did it. I have been through it. I don’t want others to feel how I felt when I was bullied. I felt like trash and did not want to be me.”

Angela praises her mother for never giving up on her, for being forgiving, for encouraging better behavior, and for seeing a special spark in her: “My mom never gave up on me, because she saw a spark. She saw I could change at a young age. She saw I wasn’t all terrible. She saw something in me. I was an adult when I realized that.”

In a recent study (Darjan et al., 2020) the authors mention research detailing the connection between bullying and self-esteem; the literature seems to suggest that both “faces” of bullying (the perpetrator and victim) are somehow related to low self-esteem.

Adults such as parents, teachers, and caregivers have a huge responsibility to raise self-esteem in children on the spectrum. For Angela, it was an organization that helped her realize her worth after her mom’s death: “Morning Star, Inc. is a peer recovery center for people with mental illness. People with disabilities can go there too. They taught me I had value. I found friends and peers. I found a job. I became emotionally and behaviorally mature. I gained a lot of confidence and skills.”

Angela found more support on her journey and today she advocates for individuals with autism and other conditions: “Later on, I found two parental figures who saw me for me. I gained more confidence. I can tell them anything. They encourage me. As for bullying in the past—they see who I have become. They challenge the negative views I have from bullying and they tell me I am a beautiful person. I believe them. I have never had friends like these before. I joined Toastmasters International, Autism Society – The Heartland and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). I joined them so I could become an advocate for those with autism and mental illness.”

Michelle’s story

Another autistic advocate I spoke with is Michelle Rebello, who works as Involvement and Engagement Coordinator at Dimensions (one of the UK’s largest not-for-profit support providers for people with learning disabilities, autism, and complex needs).

Michelle talked about the kind of resources which may have helped her as a child: “I wish there had been resources and education tools, such as the KS3 learning resources created by Dimensions, in place to help both students and teachers tackle bullying by recognising ableist language, discrimination, and prejudice. These resources can make life so much easier for teachers who are already so busy providing an education for our children. The ‘Fact or Myth’ exercise for example can help teachers encourage their class to think about how people with learning disabilities and autism might experience the world differently, without the teacher having to give-up their own time fighting to find the right information elsewhere.”

Michelle experienced the effects of bullying firsthand: “I always felt like I was different from the other kids in my class. I was eccentric and could be a bit of a chatter-box, but I also loved to study. My autism was undiagnosed when I was a child, so I didn’t receive any special adjustments or support,” she recalled. “To everyone else I just seemed a bit odd, and unfortunately, I was bullied for that. I am also part Indian, so I used to get bullied for the color of my skin. In the end, I had to move schools and home. It was awful. My experience was a real testimony to the importance of teaching children about difference and acceptance at school so that bullying never escalates in this way.”

The way forward: accept and celebrate difference

According to Michelle, the way forward into a bullying-free future is for people to work together: “I believe that it needs to be a collaborative effort. Our dedicated teachers and parents need to work together to ensure that autistic children are supported by small adjustments that help them to cope and thrive at school.”

Being different, and getting bullied for such differences is the common thread running through these stories about bullying. Is there a way for parents to ensure their autistic kids do not get bullied because of their differences, which are mostly out of their control?

Michelle says: “It’s important to educate children about why someone might be behaving differently to their classmates, so that children with autism don’t feel singled out. For example, if a child has to wear ear defenders, it is important that the rest of the class understands how this might create a more comfortable learning environment for them. At the end of the day, these small adjustments are the same as a child wearing glasses or a hearing aid.”

Too many children are told their traumatic experiences are not really bullying. When I asked Dr. Lovegrove whether a strict definition of bullying may be exclusionary, she spoke about concentrating on the feelings of victims rather than exact definitions. She said that, regardless of whether a situation fits the definition or not, if we feel bullied we behave differently and our emotions are affected. These feelings should be acknowledged and intervention planned accordingly; denying bullying because it doesn’t qualify according to a specific definition only perpetuates the problem.

Michelle added the following when I asked about the kind of support she would have wanted as a child: “I wish bullying had been taken more seriously in schools. I firmly believe that if we allow bullying to perpetuate or dismiss people’s experiences with unhelpful phrases (such as ‘it’s not that bad’, ‘you’ll get over it’ or ‘sticks and stones’)—then it becomes a culture and behavior that children who bully will take with them right through to adulthood.”

Parental advocacy

Katrina Hayes, a special education advocate at Speak Up! , emphasizes the importance of parents getting involved when children are bullied at school. She says: “Bullies lack self love and gravitate towards individuals they perceive as weaker. The best thing we can do is tell our children it’s not their fault. The next action would be to inform a leader (principal, school bus driver, parent of a bully, etc). If it continues to happen, contact the police and file a report.”

Bullying is not a rite of passage, or something all kids go through. It’s traumatic and it may affect the victim and the bully for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, autistic children have an even greater chance of being bullied than their neurotypical peers; research (Sreckovic et al., 2014) suggests bullying victimization rates increase between 46-94% in autism spectrum disorder.

Parents speak of the near constant worry of their kids on the spectrum being bullied; because of their kids’ communication deficits these parents are not even sure whether their children will reach out when they need help. Even at home, a child on the spectrum may bully or feel bullied by siblings; browsing such bullying statistics make it seem like getting bullied is bound to happen at some point for everyone on the spectrum. It’s time to put an end to this.

Children standing together

Dr. Lovegrove told me about an exercise she does with kids in her practice. She tells children that if you don’t agree with a situation where someone is getting picked on, the simplest thing to do is to stand with them—physically. As more children join (they don’t need to say anything) the bully loses the reward of gaining popularity by being mean. It’s hard not to be moved by the idea of children silently standing up for a victim of bullying.

Dr. Lovegrove also shared that parents are the secondary victims of bullying. We feel terrible when our kids are treated poorly, most parents feel a powerful need to swoop in and take care of the situation. Kids on the spectrum need their parents to advocate for them, but they also need self-empowering strategies. Parents can’t be with their kids all the time, most kids will face tough situations on their own at some point.

Dr. Lovegrove spoke about the success accomplished when children were equipped with self-empowering strategies. When anti-bullying toolkits were devised and kids (on the spectrum) understood the reasons behind bullying, they were much more confident in dealing with minor bullying incidents independently. They were also more likely to report serious incidents when they had exhausted their own resources and needed help. Dr. Lovegrove’s book Autism, Bullying and Me: The Really Useful Stuff You Need to Know About Coping Brilliantly with Bullying has more information about strategies to deal with bullying.

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Autism bullying.

The autistic individuals willing to talk about painful bullying episodes for this article are not only brave, they are helping to open dialogue about bullying as it relates to autism spectrum conditions. If children are educated and they begin to understand why their autistic peers act differently, if they are encouraged to stand with them when they are picked on, and if they contribute to a culture of acceptance and celebration of neurodivergence, the spectrum may cease to be a bullying hotspot.

It’s time to put a stop to bullying. Researchers, advocates, teachers, parents, organizations, and publications like Autism Parenting Magazine are sharing resources and speaking up to end bullying in all its forms for those on the spectrum. Will you join us?

References:

Copeland, W. E., Wolke, D., Angold, A., & Costello, E. J. (2013). Adult psychiatric outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence. JAMA psychiatry, 70(4), 419–426. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.504

Darjan, Ioana & Negru, Mihaela & Ilie, Dan. (2020). Self-esteem – the Decisive Difference between Bullying and Assertiveness in Adolescence?. Journal of Educational Sciences. 41. 19-34. 10.35923/JES.2020.1.02.

Lovegrove, E (2021). Autism Parenting Summit (Autism Parenting Magazine)

Saggers, B., Campbell, M., Dillon-Wallace, J., Ashburner, J., Hwang, Y., Carrington, S., & Tones, M. (2017). Understandings and Experiences of Bullying: Impact on Students on the Autism Spectrum. Australasian Journal of Special Education, 41(2), 123-140. doi:10.1017/jse.2017.6

Sreckovic, Melissa & Brunsting, Nelson & Able, Harriet. (2014). Victimization of students with autism spectrum disorder: A review of prevalence and risk factors. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 8. 1155–1172. 10.1016/j.rasd.2014.06.004.

Van Roekel, E., Scholte, R. H., & Didden, R. (2010). Bullying among adolescents with autism spectrum disorders: prevalence and perception. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 40(1), 63–73. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-009-0832-2 .

Yoon, Jina & Bauman, Sheri. (2014). Teachers: A Critical But Overlooked Component of Bullying Prevention and Intervention. Theory Into Practice. 53. 308-314. 10.1080/00405841.2014.947226.

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