Bullying and hate crime

What is bullying?

“Bullying is the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power. Bullying can be physical, verbal or psychological. It can happen face-to-face or online.” Anti-Bullying Alliance (ABA)

Bullying can happen at school or college or in the community. We focus in this section on bullying linked to school or college and how to deal with that. Bullying that is about or because someone is disabled may be a hate crime and we explain how to report and to seek help with that.

Bullying is different from not getting along well or falling out with someone. If a child is left out of a game that is not bullying. If they are always excluded from groups and told they are unwelcome, that could be bullying.

Children and young people with SEND may not always understand that they are being bullied. Sometimes they may experience “false friendships” where someone pretends to be their friend, but actually uses that to bully or exploit them.

Similarly, they may not be aware that they are bullying someone or involved in a group that is bullying someone. Or they may be bullied “under the radar” and then be seen as the culprit if they react aggressively.

Keeping a record of bullying

If you think your child is being bullied, you need to find out more and keep a record of what is happening. You will need this to raise it with their school or college.  

Children and young people with SEND may find it hard to talk about it if they are being bullied. Staying calm, not seeming upset by what they say and drawing them out by asking open questions can all help. You could get them to show you through pictures or acting it out with toys.  

Write down what they say happened, where, when and who was involved. Did anyone else see what happened and did they tell an adult? Take a photo if there are any visible injuries or damage. If there is online cyber-bullying, capture screenshots for this record before deleting and blocking the sender.  If this is more than a one-off incident, start a diary with this information.  

Working with school/college on bullying

Schools have a legal duty of care towards their pupils and a responsibility to prevent bullying amongst them. This includes bullying on and off school premises if it involves pupils. All schools must have a Behaviour Policy, and this should include their policy on bullying. They may also have a separate anti-bullying policy. These should be on their website, but you can ask for them if not. Colleges also have a duty around safeguarding and welfare of their students. They will have a behaviour policy.  

Schools and colleges should also be mindful of the Equality Act when bullying involves a child who is disabled, in case it is related to their disability.  

Share your concerns with the school or college. You may choose to start informally. If so, follow up with an email so you have a record of who you told, and any initial actions agreed.  

If the bullying continues or was already serious by the time you became aware, ask for a meeting. Bring your record/diary of incidents, any evidence such as photos and a note of how it is affecting your child or young person. Take someone with you if possible; talking about bullying can bring up strong emotions.  

Schools and colleges have a variety of ways they may deal with bullying. Some of these are ways to protect and support the child being bullied and others are aimed at getting those doing the bullying to behave differently. The age and additional needs of all those involved will affect what approaches they take.  

It may take a few different actions and more than one meeting to resolve things.  

If bullying continues

If the situation does not improve and you are not happy with the school or college response, you may want to make a complaint following their complaints policy which should be on their website. 

If the bullying is affecting your child’s mental wellbeing and ability to attend school, you should speak to your GP and inform the school. If your child does not attend, you may face action such as a fine so you need to show you have done all you can to avoid this. You may consider taking your child out of school, looking for a different school or home educating your child. Look at our information on Children not in school before making any decisions.  

Helping your child who is being bullied

In addition to dealing with the bullying, you may also want to consider: 

  • what you can do to support your child emotionally e.g., to sustain their self-esteem 
  • personal safety measures e.g., identifying safe spaces in school, blocking people on social media 
  • helping your child plan how to respond in the moment i.e. who to tell, how not to lash out when baited 

There are helpful suggestions in Contact’s Dealing with bullying guide.  

What is hate crime?

If your child or young person is bullied in the community, or at school, by someone older than 10 (the age of criminal responsibility) and that bullying involves disablist verbal abuse or physical violence, you could consider whether it may be a hate incident or hate crime. This may amount to a criminal offence. This could also apply if your household is targeted, for example if your neighbours harass you because you have a disabled person in your household. 

A hate crime is defined as ‘Any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a person’s race or perceived race; religion or perceived religion; sexual orientation or perceived sexual orientation; disability or perceived disability and any crime motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person who is transgender or perceived to be transgender.’ 

A hate incident is any incident which the victim, or anyone else, thinks is based on someone’s prejudice towards them because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or because they are transgender. 

Hate crime can be reported to the police. Find out more about how to report hate crime to Sussex Police.