Research shows that the majority of the Dutch want bullying to be punishable; that is, they want bullying to be illegal, so that bullies risk prosecution. And that seems reasonable – to a certain extent at least. Bullying is after all terrible. Besides the fact that those who are bullied experience a terrible time, the consequences of bullying can continue until many years after the bullying took place. Amanda Todd‘s case shows what bullying might cause people to do. But also the documentary ‘Bully‘, which follows a boy who – while causing harm to absolutely no-one – gets bullied, shows the evil world of bullying.
But in case you want to make bullying illegal, you should answer a couple of difficult questions. For instance: where is the boundary between bullying and teasing? If I would say that someone’s backpack is ‘super gay’, would I then be bullying? And if so, who decides that? The person who gets bullied, or someone else? The person who gets bullied is likely to say that he experiences my remark as an act of bullying. Hence, if we would listen to him, I would be a bully. But I could say that I don’t find it an act of bullying; it was merely teasing. And certainly, if we would listen to my plea, I am not a bully anymore. In other words: who decides whether or not something is bullying? This question requires an answer, for otherwise we would get stuck in useless yes-no-discussions.
After settling on this question, we encounter a next problem. For while some cases of bullying are obvious, others are not. For instance: what if the person who gets ‘bullied’ is just extremely annoying? If I look at my time at high school, then – I believe – I have not bullied anyone. But there was a guy who everyone disliked. Why? Not because we wanted to bully him. Just because he was always unkind to everyone else. And well, if someone is unkind to anyone, then anyone is unkind to that person. And then suddenly it seems like he gets bullied.
But even though it might be difficult to decide what is bullying and what is not, I still believe we should make bullying punishable. For if you look at the consequences of bullying, then you’ll see that these are, sometimes, just as severe as for instance the consequences of sexual assault: victims get insecure, lose all faith in the other people, and get isolated. Sexual assault is illegal, so why not bullying? We managed quite well to decide what is sexual assault, and what is not. It might not always have been very clear, but we managed to do so. And that’s ten times better than just leaving the perpetrators unpunished, right?
So it is possible. Therefore it might be worthwhile to make the effort to make bullying legal; even though it might not be easy.
But what do you think?
Read Teaching Anti-Bully Classes at School for another view on attacking bullying.