Information for students being bullied at university Anti-Bullying Network
Back
We are grateful to Katie Greengrass, a student at Leeds University, for sending the following article to the Anti-Bullying Network. Katie's message to the Network can be read here.

Back Bullying in the 21st Century
By Katie Greengrass

According to a recent government survey, instances of bullying occur every seven minutes in the U.K. Many of us were teased and bullied as children and now we are older it all seems like a distant memory. Or does it? Bullying doesn't always begin and end inside the four walls of your childhood playground…

Bullying is a negative internal behavior; physical, verbal or psychological, displayed by one or more persons towards another. Bullying occurs in all professions, amongst all ages and in all social groups and it can lead to psychological trauma, illness and even death.

The emotional scars from childhood bullying last a lifetime, and often resurface in later years, to cause new problems. University is a period of life when unpleasant past memories can come flooding back to haunt you. For some students, it is the first time that they have had to meet new people, make new friends or even live away from home. University student counselor, Liz Oxley, explains: "Even in circumstances where bullying has been dealt with in the past, when students arrive at University they are thrust into a variety of new situations. This period of change can be particularly destabilizing." Past emotional distress can cause students all sorts of difficulties. These include illnesses such as depression and the use of harmful coping mechanisms, such as drug taking, excessive drinking and eating disorders.

Kate, a second year Language student at Leeds University, was severely bullied in her early teens. It wasn't until she arrived at University that her past experiences re-emerged; she explains: "It started on the first day of University when I arrived at my halls. People were ganging together, chatting and making friends. I felt helpless and scared to talk to people; I didn't want them to reject me like my other friends had. My feelings of insecurity were overwhelming. Upset and depressed, my eating pattern became disturbed and I started to lose weight. Soon I began to get attention from men and I realized that this was how I could finally make relationships and friendships and be accepted. So I starved and binged and exercised, and turned to alcohol to suppress my wild cravings for food. In less than a year, I'd lost three stone, the last took just a month."

Eating disorders aren't the only way students try to mask their painful memories. Depression, which can affect up to 1 in 3 students, is often triggered by past bullying ordeals. As Professor Helen Cowie, a psychologist at The Roehampton institute explains: "Longer term effects of bullying can be very negative on the self-esteem and self-worth. In some places people can become clinically depressed." BBC news recently reported the shocking statistic that adults who were bullied at school, are up to seven times more likely to attempt suicide than those who weren't.

Its not just childhood bullying experiences that affect students today, bullying happens in all walks of life, University is no exception. Electronic bullying is a newly emerging phenomenon threatening all age groups, but students in particular. Electronic bullies use the popular student mediums of email, mobile phone and text messaging to harass, abuse and scare others. According to charity campaigners, this kind bullying is escalating at a worrying rate with around half a million young people experiencing it.

Anne, a Biology undergraduate, was bullied at University via her mobile phone last year and is still recovering. Threats such as: "I have ultimate control over whether you live or die", left her feeling on edge. She says: "At the time it was happening my mobile seemed like a weapon being used to hurt me. I would switch it off but then I felt too alone. It was a no win situation."

Threats are not always verbally abusive but physically and sexually threatening. Alison, who is studying Linguistics at University, received unwanted sexual text and mobile harassment for two months. She received phone calls from an older man who knew her name, age and phone number but who would not reveal his identity. Alison explains: "That was the scary thing, I didn't have any idea how he knew me. I began to feel as if he was watching me and he was therefore able to manipulate the way I felt."

Another form of electronic bullying is cyber stalking via computers, when unwanted threats, abuse or comments are posted via the Internet. According to website, Wired Teens, at least 15 percent of new Internet users have received messages that made them feel uncomfortable.

University Internet chat rooms provide an easy forum for cyber stalkers. University student Julie, used Internet chat rooms as a non-confrontational way to meet new people and perhaps find romance. One of her Internet 'buddies,' who she thought was a fellow student, turned out to be forty years old and married with children. Julie only found out when his angry wife tracked her down via her contact details posted on the Internet.

Frighteningly, many students have given out intimate details via the Internet, Wired Teens estimating 45 percent of chat room users give personal information to people they meet online.

University accommodation is a further area where bullying can occur. In halls and flats, students share intimate spaces with people they don't know well and may not get along with. If a bullying situation arises, it can be difficult to escape from. Wil and Tom, both students, admit to bullying a boy in their University Halls last year. The boy was removed from the accommodation due to his experiences. As Wil explains: "At first he started out as Mr Popular, but after a few days he became irritating, he was too loud and tried too hard. He became a scapegoat for our banter." As Tom goes on: "Unfortunately it didn't stop there, one boy started a 'tongue and cheek' hate campaign against him, he spent hours persuading housemates to sign petitions against him and wrote messages on the wall in black marker saying we all hated him and wanted him to leave. He even left abusive messages on his mobile phone." Wil says: "Looking back, we should have tried to stop it but when you're a lad, you want to join in and look cool. You're just supposed to laugh it off."

Bullying may not affect you during your student years, but the danger of bullying is very much lurking in your future. As a student, you will now be addressing a future home, job, community or even partner, and you will need to be aware that bullying could be a part of these areas of your adult life.

Bullying can often occur in a working environment. Industries such as the I.T Industry have suffered its affects. In 1999, a system analyst with Schroders Bank shot himself after becoming the target of a workplace bullying campaign. Bullying even occurs in the caring professions, such as nursing. Last year, a survey by the Royal College of Nursing, revealed that one in six nurses had experienced bullying in the workplace and a third of these are now planning to leave the industry as a result of it.

Bullying is present not simply in the workplace but in all areas of the community, in institutions such as the police and army and even the media. Media attention comes part and parcel with celebrity yet every day we see celebrities teased, ridiculed and targeted as a result of their appearance, status and even sexuality. The Spice Girls, five sexy young women were scrutinized by the media regarding their image and body shape. Vicky Haigh, a journalist with celebrity magazine Now, attributes Sporty Spice's battle with booze and depression to media bullying. She explains: "She was attacked by the media for being fat and ended up on the anti-depressant Prozac."

For male students especially, it may be comforting to know that bullying is a huge problem in the world of professional football, where pressure is put on young men to maintain a hard image and 'laugh off' threats and jibes. Pat Lalley, who works for the Footballers Training Society, was recently involved in sacking two players from Bradford City Football Club due to bullying. He explains: "You can't get away from the danger of bullying in any industry. We are trying to educate clubs and young people that this behavior is totally unacceptable."

So how can we combat bullying in our lives? University Counselor, Liz Oxley advises: "In terms of bullying in University there is so much that can be done. Procedures are in place for dealing with it and Universities do take it seriously." Many Universities have support services available and people who can be a source of confidential listening or advise.

Liz Carnell, who runs Internet charity, Bullying Online, says: "I would advise students to seek help through their doctor or University counselor if they are still experiencing trauma. In terms of adult bullying, things are being taken more seriously than ever before. There is now a great deal of openness in the workplace which costs firms a great deal of money at Industrial Tribunals when it hasn't been dealt with properly."

So the message to students and anyone else victim to bullies is loud and clear. Do not stand for bullying, help is always available. Whoever you are and whatever the circumstances, you are definitely not alone.

Box Offs

Bullying causes…

Stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, fatigue, trauma, fear, anger, pain, irritability, poor concentration and memory, panic attacks, shame, guilt, embarrassment, isolation, shattered self confidence, fear.

Bullying myths, common myths and misperceptions of bullying…

  • There is no bullying here
  • Bullying toughens you up
  • Stand up for yourself
  • Ignore it and it will go away
  • It is part of life and do you just have to accept it

Where to get help - nationwide

Bullying Online: www.bullying.co.uk
Wired Teens: www.wiredteens.org
Young Voice: 020 8979 4991
The Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90

The Law

There is no direct clause in the law regarding bullying, but under 'The Equal Opportunities Policy', the law demands fair and equal treatment through the following:

The Equal Pay Act 1970
The Sex Discrimination Act 1975
The Race Relations Act 1976
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995
The Protection from Harassment Act 1997