14 posts / 0 new
Last post
Tau
Tau's picture
Is bullying "assault"

This thought comes from a friend who's son has been experiencing problems in school over the past few months. On the most recent ocassion there was no dispute as to the event; there was indisputedly an attack as opposed to a two-way teenage fight. The recent discussion on their Facebook wall lead to another friend raising the difference between bullying and assault to which I asked "is there a difference?" 

Now, of course there are many different forms of bullying and indeed of forms and contexts of violence and so not all bullying will be assault. Furthermore bullying can manifest at almost any point in a person's life and clearly it is not appropriate to consider some types and times in a criminal way. But... 

Should bullying be looked at as a criminal act? Would (should) this affect how schools deal with it?

Anf
Anf's picture

Yes. Bullying is assault. Certainly if it's physical. I'm not sure if it's more purely psychological which is still very wrong but I have no idea on what the law says there. But physical bullying is always, without exception, assault, and should be treated as such.

If some teenagers on Facebook are debating it, they are pursuing an exercise in futility. If I hit someone (outside of the context of mutual consent for the purpose of training or larking on), I will have assaulted them. It's not banter. It's not high jinx or horse play or a bit of fun. It is assault.

Dennis Krawec
Dennis Krawec's picture

Sounds like this is a common theme throughout all countries, and schools. On our towns local Facebook discussion page someone else brought up this same issue yesterday. It also seems that there is a common reluctance by the schools and administration to deal decisively on this issue.

As to criminality that depends now on the laws where you live. In Canada “Assault” essentially is when you threaten someone (I’m in face threatening to hit you, and or, verbally berating you).  “Battery” is when you physically have contact (punch, push &etc).

When it comes to bullying, or cyberbullying there are no direct crimanal offences in Canada; though other sections of the criminal code can be applied depending on the type of bullying; such as libel, threats, inciting hatred, and etc. Below is the link to the Justice Canada webpage.

http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/cndii-cdncii/p4.html

Neil Babbage
Neil Babbage's picture

 

The crime of assault does not require physical contact. If someone is put in fear of harm and then harms themselves (e.g., jumping from a window to escape a threat of violence) then that’s as much a crime as if they were thrown from the window. 

UK Law: “Common Assault, contrary to section 39 Criminal Justice Act 1988. An offence of Common Assault is committed when a person either assaults another person or commits a battery. An assault is committed when a person intentionally or recklessly causes another to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force.”  (Guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service)

So bullying is assault if the bully causes the victim to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force “I’m going to kick your head in!”, and sounding like they mean it, or having actually done it before and therefore it is wholly believable that they intend to do it again, would make an assault.

sarflondonboydo...
sarflondonboydonewell's picture

To add to Neil's point  assault is the threat and battery the physical force. If the victim's belief is that the attacker can carry the threat out it doesnt matter if a defence is raised by the attacker of ' i didt mean it or I was only joking'.  For actual bodly harm it doesnt have to be brusing etc it includes nervous shock.  The word Bullying should be dropped regarding schools; its assault pure and simple. If the educationists used the word assault rather than bullying  it would focus the perpetrators mind and the parent(s) mind.

kodankye
kodankye's picture

I am one of those annoying “Let’s go to the dictionary” guys, so…. From the dictionary I use, the most topical definition of assault seems to be "An unlawful attempt or threat to do bodily harm" whereas the relevant definition of bully is the verb form meaning "To intimidate."  (Random House Webster's Concise Dictionary, 1993. which is the dictionary I have laying around the house)  By definition, once the interaction goes from intimidation tactics to threats of, or actual physical violence, it is an assault.  Strictly speaking though, they are not the same thing.

For example, If I am under an attempt or threat of bodily harm, (“assault”) I am justified in using physical violence to defend myself.  If we are to define "bullying" as "assault" then simply by inserting the definitions we get:  "It is justified to do bodily harm to someone who is intimidating me."  This rather ironically implies:  "It is acceptable to assault someone who is bullying me." 

Clearly they are not the equivalent.  It also seems clear that in the example given the bully assaulted the other child in addtion to bullying them.  There is no need to conflate the words, but hopefully a quick trip to the dictionary, and the other contributors to this discussion, are helpful in giving you some insight or perspective.

Anf
Anf's picture

kodankye wrote:
I am one of those annoying “Let’s go to the dictionary” guys, so…. From the dictionary I use, the most topical definition of assault seems to be "An unlawful attempt or threat to do bodily harm" whereas the relevant definition of bully is the verb form meaning "To intimidate."

If the dictionary definition of bullying is 'to intimidate' then that begs the question, is there another format of abuse that we need a new word for, for when it is neither bullying nor assault? If I were to repeatedly calmly tell someone they were stupid and worthless until they started to believe it, I've neither hot them nor threatened to so perhaps I've not assaulted them, and they were not frightened of me so they're not intimidated, and therefore not bullied. I'm skeptical of that definition.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Here is the UK’s government position on it (my highlights):

https://www.gov.uk/bullying-at-school

Some forms of bullying are illegal and should be reported to the police. These include:

violence or assault

theft

repeated harassment or intimidation, for example name calling, threats and abusive phone calls, emails or text messages

hate crimes

“Bullying” itself lacks a legal definition:

https://www.gov.uk/bullying-at-school/bullying-a-definition

There is no legal definition of bullying.

However, it’s usually defined as behaviour that is:

repeated

intended to hurt someone either physically or emotionally

often aimed at certain groups, for example because of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation

It takes many forms and can include:

physical assault

teasing

making threats

name calling

cyberbullying - bullying via mobile phone or online (for example email, social networks and instant messenger)

As Neil pointed out, the legal definition of assault would cover any inferred or actual violence. Other aspects of bullying would also be illegal in other ways i.e. hate crimes, theft, etc.

If we are talking in legal terms “bullying” has no legal definition. However, using the government’s definition, “bullying” is not always “assault”. For example, it one child were to repeatedly surreptitiously steal another’s shoes during physical education lessons that would certainly be bullying, and theft, but it would not be assault.

Tau wrote:
On the most recent occasion there was no dispute as to the event; there was undisputedly an attack as opposed to a two-way teenage fight.

Very clearly that is an assault. The government’s position on this is clear:

“Some forms of bullying are illegal and should be reported to the police. These include: violence or assault …”

Tau wrote:
Should bullying be looked at as a criminal act?

It can’t be because “bullying” lacks a legal definition … HOWEVER, many of the acts that make up bullying are crimes, of differing kinds, and therefore must be viewed as such.

In the case you describe, an assault has taken place. That’s a crime. The government is clear that should be reported to the police.

Tau wrote:
Would (should) this affect how schools deal with it?

The school already has legal obligations on bullying:

https://www.gov.uk/bullying-at-school

By law, all state (not private) schools must have a behaviour policy in place that includes measures to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils.

This policy is decided by the school. All teachers, pupils and parents must be told what it is.

In the case described, if it were me, I’d take a two-pronged approach.

1, I would be asking the school to see their anti-bullying policy – which if they are a state school they must legally have – and seeing if it has been applied. If it had not, then I would be highlighting that to local authorities. One would also expect that the policy would follow the government line in stating that all illegal forms of bullying (assault is illegal) should be reported to the police.  

2, I would report the assault to the police myself. This will make both perpetrator and school realise the seriousness of the issue.

“Assault” has a legal definition and it is clear an assault has taken place from your description of events. Writing if off as “just bullying” is both legally incorrect and at odds with stated government policy on the issue.

I hope it quickly gets sorted to a satisfactory conclusion.

All the best,

Iain

AllyWhytock
AllyWhytock's picture

Hi,

In Scotland, my family set legal precedent by obtaining legal restrictions against school bullies. As they were under 16 and my neice (the victim) was over 16,  there was reluctance on the behalf of education authority to ensure safety of the victim (my niece) and reluctance by the police to pursue assualt charges. Therefore, we worked through the civil court to obtain an interim interdict that required a distance of 500m between my neice and her bullies. The bad press and embarassment forced the school to expel the bullies. One outcome was the replacement of the school headmaster. One attack (assualt) occured in the headmaster's office in which they staddled my neice across his desk. One bully sat on her upper chest whilst another grabbed her legs. The other two then proceeded to jump on her torso and punch her torso. The headmaster was restricted by school procedures in intervening. He had to await a teacher who had received restraint training (really yes). Hence our civil case.

Everything is fine now. So snip it in the bud and treat it like assualt and if there is no movement then take it to the civil court.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/3014045.stm

https://www.scotsman.com/news/education/teenagers-take-legal-action-over...

Kindest Regards,

Ally  

PASmith
PASmith's picture

The headmaster was restricted by school procedures in intervening. He had to await a teacher who had received restraint training (really yes).

I'm not clued up enough on it but can guidance or procedures put in place by an employer supercede the law or what is lawful? I understand that from a school perspective many would prefer their teachers and pupils be assaulted rather than fight back as that is, often, easier to do the paperwork for. But to my mind the law is the law and if it would be legal for a teacher to intervene when an assault (or other crime) is occuring (as they would be legally allowed to do outside of school) then "guidance" or "procedure" can't change that? Lots of teachers are quite uninformed about what is allowed and a few years ago Gordon Brown (IIRC) had to reassure them that physical intervention was allowed.

My wife used to be a teacher and several times was involved in "hearings" when she split up fights and assaults (having to get hands on with pupils). Weeks, often months, of worry and the school taking the pupils side only for it to come out that she was within her right to act as she did. Or it's actually the parents persuing the matter while the pupils have long since shaken hands and got on with things. As her career went on she became less willing to step into fights as she knew she would not be supported in doing so. In some ways, sadly, I can see why a teacher might not intervene in a situation. Most situations will be a bloody nose or cut lip and that's just not worth the weeks of hassle. As hard as that may be for the pupils and parents involved.

Anf
Anf's picture

I think with the school situation, they surely have a legal duty to ensure the safety of the children in their care? If not, then given that school is compulsory, the law must be saying that parents must allow their children to be put at risk.

I'm not clued up on the law, but surely that can't be right?

So if the school does have a legal duty of care, then they must have a duty to prevent a pupil from being intentionally harmed by another.

I hope, as with all parents, that I never have to deal with this. But if my kids get bullied, I'll be using every legal means possible to stop it, including holding the school responsible for knowingly allowing my kids to be put in danger. I feel sure the 'guidelines' would change quite quickly if every parent of a bullied child was to start legal proceedings against the school and/or the local education authority.

Paul_D
Paul_D's picture

You haven't put in bold the most important word.  "causes another to apprehend the immediate infliction of unlawful force"

Leigh Simms posted a great article on the subject which can be found in the articles section of the forum entitled "Pre-emptive Strikes, UK Law and Karate   

Neil Babbage
Neil Babbage's picture

AllyWhytock wrote:
One bully sat on her upper chest whilst another grabbed her legs. The other two then proceeded to jump on her torso and punch her torso. The headmaster was restricted by school procedures in intervening. He had to await a teacher who had received restraint training (really yes). Hence our civil case.

The law would have supported intevention, but as we've often seen, acting lawfully can still result in being disciplined or dismissed. A very poor situation to have come to.

Iain Abernethy
Iain Abernethy's picture

Neil Babbage wrote:
The law would have supported intervention, but as we've often seen, acting lawfully can still result in being disciplined or dismissed. A very poor situation to have come to.

Indeed, it is.

As a former Union Representative / Safety Rep I feel I could make a very good case against someone being disciplined or dismissed for lawfully protecting themselves or others from harm. Away from self-defence law, the laws relating to health and safety at work and employment rights would come into play. However, not everyone has access to educated representation via a trade union, and, in England and Wales, you can’t get legal aid for tribunals (aside from criminal negligence cases). People therefore may lack the knowledge, the means, or the will to challenge unfair disciplinary action or dismissal.

In the case Ally refers to, the teacher who did nothing and stood back did so because they said they had not got the required training. The obvious question is why did they not have that training?

If the local authority recognises the need for such training, and they know that there are times where teachers are alone, and they also demand no one intervene without such training, then they have not given the staff the training they need to ensure the safety of the students under their care.

The education authority recognises the need, they have a policy in place, but they have not given all members of staff the required training. They have fialed to implement what they know they need to; as reconised by their own policies.

If that teacher had intervened – they have a duty of care to students and such action is undeniably legal – and the education authorities took disciplinary action because it was a breach of policy, you can make a very strong case that it is not the teacher that is at fault, but the education authority for not providing the training they themselves deemed necessary in order to address a recognised risk to the health and welfare of students and staff. This failing should have been recognised and addressed before it came to a head and a student was harmed.

Lots of hypothetical musings here, but the key point is that no one should lose their job, or fear losing their job, for protecting themselves or others from harm. Self-defence law, health and safety law, and employment law will all apply. Not how it always plays out in the real world of course.

Away from the hypotheticals, I am pleased the courts took the required steps to stop the bullying when the school had utterly failed to do so. It’s terrible that it was necessary to go to those lengths.

All the best,

Iain