Bullying at school

Bullying is never ok. At school you have the right to feel safe and protected. If you are being bullied and you want to speak to someone about what is going on, you can talk to a trusted adult, like a parent or school counsellor or you can call the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. The Kids Helpline provides free phone counselling 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (sometimes there can be a delay in getting through, so we encourage you to keep trying). You can also chat to them online here.   

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here. 

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What is bullying?

Bullying is repeated behaviour that is intended to be harmful or hurtful that targets a certain person or group of people. 

Bullying can be: 

  • verbal – for example, threats, teasing, name-calling or put-downs; 
  • physical – for example, hitting, punching, spitting or scratching;  
  • social – for example, excluding, making inappropriate gestures, alienating or spreading rumours; or  
  • online – like offensive text messages or emails, or messages sent on Facebook or in a chat room (cyberbullying).

Where can it happen?

Bullying can happen anywhere and to anyone. It can happen at home, school, and at work. It can be obvious or hidden. It can even happen in places away from school and outside of school hours, like online on social media.

Is bullying illegal?

Bullying can be illegal. It can be a crime for someone to: 

  • be physically violent towards you;
  • intimidate or threaten you;
  • stalk you (stalking includes following, watching, or contacting you repeatedly in a way that scares you);
  • damage your property or threaten to damage your property; or 
  • steal your things.

It can also be against the law for someone to harass, insult or treat you unfairly because of your: 

  • race; 
  • gender identity; 
  • sexual orientation; 
  • disability; or  
  • religion. 

You can read more about discrimination here. 

Where bullying happens online, it is called cyberbullying. You can read more about cyberbullying here. 

Bullying at school

All schools have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their staff and students. This includes taking steps to support students who are being bullied at school. Your school should teach students about bullying and make sure your school is a place where bullying is not accepted.   

Most schools will have an anti-bullying plan or policy in place, which should explain how the school responds to bullying. You might be able to find this policy or plan online on your school’s website, otherwise you can ask your school for a copy. 

I’m being bullied at school - what can I do about it?

Bullying is not ok and you don’t have to put up with it. You have the right to feel safe. You may be able to solve the problem by just ignoring the bully. But if you feel threatened, or if it doesn’t stop, there are other things you can do. 

1. Tell someone

Telling someone that you are being bullied is important. It can make you feel better because you don’t have to deal with the problem on your own. Telling somebody, even just your friends, can make you feel supported. It shares the problem, and allows you to get advice and help to stop the bullying.  

You could: 

  • Tell your friends – they can help you tell a teacher or your parents or just make you feel better. 
  • Tell your parents – tell them the who, what, when and where of what’s been happening.  
  • Tell your school – we explain more about how to do this below.  
  • Tell your teachers or the principal – tell them the who, what, when and where of what has been happening.  
  • Call the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 if you can’t talk to someone face-to-face. They provide free phone counselling 24 hours a day/7 days a week.  Sometimes there can be a delay in getting through, so we encourage you to keep trying. It’s free from all mobile phones and it doesn’t matter which provider you are with.
  • Kids Helpline online chat: You can also chat to them online at https://kidshelpline.com.au/get-help/webchat-counselling 

2. Make a complaint to your school 

Your school has a legal duty to do something if bullying is happening at school and is causing harm to any student. If telling someone is not enough to stop the bully’s behaviour, you can make a complaint to the school by meeting with the principal or writing a letter to the school. You can ask your parents or someone you trust to go with you if meet with the principal, especially if you feel scared or worried about it. Your school should work with you to try and figure out a plan to stop the bullying.   

3. Make a complaint to the Department of Education or other governing body

If you’ve complained to the school but you are not happy with their response, you can make a complaint to the governing body for your school. If you go to a public school, this will be the Department of Education. You can contact the Department of Education here 

If you go to a private or independent school, you should speak to your school and check their policies to find out how you can make a complaint about the school.  

When making a complaint, it is a good idea to give detailed information about what happened at school and explain why you think your school has failed to help stop the bullying. It is also a good idea to think about what you want to the school to do. Your school’s anti-bullying policy can be a useful place for you to start when looking at what your school should do to stop bullying.   

If you have more questions about how to make a complaint, you can contact us for free and confidential help 24/7 here. 

4. Make a report to the police  

If someone has been violent or threatening towards you or has touched you without your consent, you can report this to the police. If you ever feel like you are in immediate danger, please call 000. 

5. Apply to Court for an Intervention Order 

Courts can make an Intervention Order in some situations to protect you from a bully who has and is likely to continue to harass, assault, seriously threaten or damage your property. If the court makes an Intervention Order, it can require that the bully stops contacting you (including in person, by phone or on the internet).  

You can apply for an Intervention Order at a Magistrate’s Court if you are 18 years or older. If you are under 18, a parent, guardian or police officer can apply for the Order for you. You can’t get an Intervention Order against someone who is under 10 years old.

It’s important to know that the court can sometimes be reluctant to make these kinds of orders when the people involved go to the same school. Intervention Orders are generally only an option in very serious cases of bullying. 

You can learn more about intervention orders on our website here.   

Taking legal action

In some instances, you and your parent or guardian can take legal action against a bully or the school. This is because the school has a duty of care to take reasonable steps to make sure its students are safe at school. In simple terms, this means that the school must take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of certain harm happening as a result of bullying. But before your parent or guardian thinks about taking legal action, it is important that they speak to your school first to see if the problem can be resolved with the school’s help. This might be an appropriate option if you have suffered physical or psychological harm as a result of bullying at school. 

If you do want to take legal action, you should get legal advice before you do. You can contact us for free and confidential legal advice 24/7 here. 

Further Support

Experiencing bullying can be really upsetting. While it is the right thing to do, reporting bullying may make you feel anxious and stressed. During this time, it is important to reach out for support. You can contact the following counselling services for 24/7 support: 

  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800  
  • Lifeline: 13 11 14 
  • Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 

If you have a question about bullying that we haven’t answered above, you can contact us here for free and confidential legal advice.    

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