Time to Flush Away Prejudice and Tackle Bullying

04/05/2016 10:28

From the playground to the boardroom, bullying is a corrupt will to hold power over others. Awakening fear in people who are different occurs when they are undermined by the dispossessed intent on taking control. It often provides the perpetrator with a short cut to exerting influence not previously experienced, which can lead them to the very top. It isn't strength, but weakness - with the perpetrator often an earlier victim.

It is very concerning that 1.5 million young people (50%) have been bullied within the past year. Twice as many boys as girls bully and those who have been victims are almost twice as likely to be perpetrators in the future. Some 44% of young people who have been bullied experience depression, 41% have social anxiety, 31% self harm and an alarming 33% have suicidal thoughts. This is the stark evidence Gathered by Ditch the Label in its 2016 Bullying Survey.

Bullying seems to have become more prevalent and complicated with the onset of social media. That's why the investigation into sexual harassment and violence in schools launched by The Commons' Women and Equalities Committee is so important.

It is staggering that young people are regularly excluded from both primary and secondary education for inappropriate conduct. However, schools don't teach young people about unacceptable behaviour, boundaries and safeguards. So if parents don't fill in the gaps, how are young people supposed to know what is right and wrong?

Shocking certainly, but perhaps not surprising in these circumstances, that 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools between 2012 and 2015. Surely children are being put at risk by continuing to neglect their informed awareness.

So with sexting and inappropriate behaviour on the increase, there is good reasons for mandatory personal, social and health education (PSHE), including sex and relationship issues, in schools. It is time to legislate.

Diversity needs to be central to PSHE in order to encourage greater tolerance and understanding. All forms of bullying are serious, but the impact of bullying against young LGBT people is particularly harmful. It is difficult enough to struggle with understanding your sexuality or gender without fear of being bullied and harassed.

Society must become more accepting of difference, whether young people academically achieve, irrespective of their sexuality, have impairments or whatever perceived gender identity. It isn't for any of us to judge or take advantage of other people's vulnerability. When you are isolated by a bully or amidst a negative storm of hostility, your confidence is rock bottom and the likelihood of standing up to the perpetrator feels beyond reach.

However, there are pathways through this torment. Support is provided by the Anti-Bullying Alliance and its multi-various partners. The victims are not alone, even though they feel isolated. They win through by maintaining dignity, as actor and author Michael J Fox said:

"One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered."

It isn't good enough to simply dismiss perpetrators, as we can best tackle such destructive behaviour of this kind by understanding the self doubt and isolation experienced by those who bully. That means accepting geeks, those who don't walk or talk like us and the non-conforming. That will help stop bullying and the corrosive effects of it. Consequently, tackling the bully and supporting the bullied will help reduce self harm, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and drug and alcohol abuse. That is surely worthwhile.

People with influence - politicians and newspaper columnist alike - need to be more mindful of the tone they set. Whipping up prejudice through social media, interview or column inches stirs prejudice and can fuel hatred. So when Ken Livingstone blunders into a debate on what constitutes anti-Semitism or Rod Liddle denies the very existence of trans people by equating a sense of self with a wish to be an otter, I am dismayed by the ignorance and lack of tolerance. So Ken Livingstone should know better than to whip up ill feeling and Rod Liddle would do better to flush away such prejudice. Instead of creating an atmosphere of division and dominance with their interventions, opinion formers need to think of the consequences of their words.

Livingstone and Liddle may be poles apart in character, with different motives and diverging styles, but equally provoke devastating consequences by feeding the oppressors and thus generating even more fear. It becomes a vicious circle - one that must be broken. With freedom of speech comes responsibility, not a justification to encourage nations or individuals to bully.