Bullying is a serious issue: It is a crime!

Phillip Slee
David Ford

Australian research into school bullying has increased our understanding of issues such as:

  1. its frequency;
  2. its nature
  3. its impact on those involved and
  4. the effects of intervention programs.

In the light of this research, it has become apparent that those bullied have various legal remedies. As a background to considering, in particular, the tort liability of school authorities, Australian research (Rigby & Slee,1999) - based on surveys of over 25000 students from more than 60 schools around the country is presented - in this article( Rigby,1997 has reported more fully on analysis of this data and his work in making the statistics available is gratefully acknowledged). The research indicates that approximately one in six students reported being bullied on a weekly basis. Various developmental trends and gender differences are identifiable as part of the bullying experience. A range of Australian studies has identified the deleterious sequelae to bullying. The most recent research indicates a link with poor health and suicide. The social impact of bullying is reflected in its association with poor quality peer relations. In terms of psychological well-being it has significant negative associations with depression, loneliness and anxiety. In this article it is argued that bullying is an identifiable form of aggressive behaviour. The research clearly indicates that bullying is physically harmful, psychologically damaging, socially isolating and associated with poor school adjustment. Evidence is presented that interventions programmes have been shown to be effective in reducing, if not eliminating school bullying. Further, literature is reviewed which strongly suggests that in the face of such evidence schools are under considerable pressure to take steps to address the issue of bullying. The article concludes by noting that failure to take such measures may be considered as a failure to fully discharge a school authority's duty of care.

Rigby, K (1997). What children tell us about bullying in schools. Children Australia, 22 (2), 28-34.

Rigby, K & Slee. P.T. (1999). Bullying in Australian schools. In P.K. Smith, . Y. Morita., J. Junger-Tas., D.Olweus, R. Catalano., P. Slee. (eds.) The Nature of School Bullying. A Cross National Perspective. Routledge: London.

Full article:
Slee P.T. and Ford D. (1999) Bullying is a serious issue - it is a crime! Australia and New Zealand Journal of Law and Education, 4 (1), 23-39.

Further Reading

Butler ,D, Kift, S ,Campbell, M, Slee, P.T. & Spears, B. (2011). School Policy responses to cyberbullying:An Australian legal perspective. International Journal of Law & Education. 16, ( 2), 7-28.

Abstract: The use of electronic means of contact to support repeated aggressive behaviour by an individual or group, that is intended to harm others – or 'cyberbullying' as it is now known - is increasingly becoming a problem for modern students, teachers, parents and schools. Increasingly victims of face to face bullying are looking to the law as a means of recourse, not only against bullies but also school authorities who have the legal responsibility to provide a safe environment for learning. It is likely that victims of cyberbullying will be inclined to do the same. This article examines a survey of the anti-bullying policies of a small sample of Australian schools to gauge their readiness to respond to the challenge of cyberbullying, particularly in the context of the potential liability they may face. It then uses that examination as a basis for identifying implications for the future design of school anti-bullying policies.