Editorial: Creating a haven when there's nowhere to hide

It is a shocking statistic: one in three Scottish schoolchildren have been bullied in the past school year, according to a survey released this week.

Bullying is not new, as those marking National Anti-Bullying Week, which ends today, will be well aware. It has taken place in our classrooms and playgrounds for as long as schools have existed. But recently a new type of bullying has been made possible by the arrival of mobile technology and social networking. Cyberbullying is a phenomenon that strikes fear into young people and adults alike. It does not stop at the victim's front door and can reach them day or night, wherever they are.

Anyone who has been bullied knows how terrifying, soul-destroying and isolating the experience can be. So the thought of having no place to go that is safe, nowhere to hide and little chance of disguising the fact that you are being bullied from the world - because it is out there on the internet for everyone to see - is horrifying.

According to the survey by anti-bullying service Respectme, 40 per cent of bullying incidents now contain an online element. To make matters worse, it can be difficult to trace the culprits of online bullying, who often hide behind false identities.

But is cyberbullying, in its essence, harder to tackle than its real-world equivalent? Covering your tracks is probably more tricky online than offline as it is not easy to delete something that has been posted without leaving a trace. Although this can make it more difficult for victims of online bullying to move on, it also makes it harder for their bullies to hide.

In addition, the Respectme survey shows that bullying takes place exclusively on the internet in only 19 per cent of cases. Perhaps surprisingly, almost two-thirds of bullying is offline only, and in another 21 per cent of cases victims are exposed to a combination of online and offline bullying.

The figures also reveal that the bully is unknown to their victim in only a very small minority of cases. And 81 per cent of respondents to the survey said their online friends were mostly the same people they interacted with in "real" life.

So bullying is essentially the same wherever it takes place. The key to tackling it, therefore, is also closer to hand than one might imagine. We need to create an atmosphere in our schools which focuses on respecting children and young people for who they are, with all their differences, and which leaves nobody in any doubt that bullying is entirely unacceptable.

Of course, tackling bullying is far from easy wherever it takes place. It requires the victims to trust the adults around them, and for those adults to deal with it in a way that allows all parties to continue to coexist in the school environment. But anyone who has ever seen how a personality can be crushed by the experience of being bullied knows we should never shy away from that challenge. Online or offline.


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