Home › Health Topics › Our Society > 

Harassment (bullying)

harassment; bullying;

Bullying harms both the person being bullied and the person doing the bullying. Young people who are bullied can become anxious and depressed; some young people have committed suicide because of bullying. And bullies are more likely to have problems in the future, such as run-ins with the police.

Bullying is much more common than many people believe.

The website Reachout has many good topics about bullying. Reachout is an Australian website for young people when times get tough.


Contents of this topic 

What is harassment?

Harassment is when hurtful or upsetting things are repeatedly said or done to people.

  • Harassment is also called bullying, teasing or peer abuse.
  • Harassment can involve physical violence, such as hitting, kicking, punching or pushing.
  • It can be verbal abuse, including teasing and name-calling.
  • Harassment can also include damaging, stealing or hiding someone's things, or making demands for money or favours.
  • Another form of bullying is to exclude people by encouraging others not to have anything to do with them, spreading lies or stories about them, ignoring them or not speaking to them.

Everyone has the right to feel safe and be free from harassment, this is a human right. Check out the topic Youth rights to learn more.


This is a type of harassment using technology - 'cyber-harassment' or 'cyber-bullying'.

  • SMS bullyingThis takes the form of harassing SMS messages on mobile phones, bullying behaviour in chat rooms, bullying behaviour on social networking sites, and abusive emails.
  • It can sometimes be done anonymously - so you don't know who's doing it.
  • A type of electronic stalking can also occur, where the harasser sends messages over and over. This type of harassment is particularly scary, as it follows the person everywhere, on their phone or computer at home.

The best way to avoid cyber-bullying is to be careful with your personal information and what you do online.
Don't put your personal information in public online places, don't harass others, and don't talk about sex with strangers online.

If cyber-bullying is happening you may need to change your phone number and email address. You may need to delete your profile on social networking sites and start again with high privacy settings. If it continues, you should contact the police or your telephone provider to work out ways of protecting yourself.


Stalking is a special type of harassment. It is defined as "continual harassment of one person by another" or "persistent and unwanted attention", and is often due to the stalker wanting to form or keep a relationship, but going about it in an inappropriate way.

Examples of this are:

  • hanging around someone's house
  • following someone around
  • making constant unwanted contact in person, using a phone or online.

A stalker could be:

  • someone who was rejected and is now stalking to try and get back with the person, or for revenge
  • someone who wants to form a relationship with someone else, but who is doing it in an inappropriate way
  • someone who is planning to physically hurt someone, or commit a sexual assault.

A big problem is that sometimes the stalker is doing things that may seem innocent if only done once or a couple of times, but they may be part of ongoing harassment that is very threatening and disturbing for the victim.

It is illegal to stalk someone in South Australia. If you are worried you are being stalked, you should talk to someone to work out the best way to get help. You might then choose to contact the police to find out what can be done.

Why do people pick on others?

Some people pick on others because they believe that bullying and harassment is OK. Anyone can be harassed, and it may never be clear why someone is singled out as a target.

  • Some people believe that it is OK to bully people who are different from them.
    • They may pick on people from minority groups, such as people with disabilities, people from different races and cultures, or people who are same sex attracted.
    • They may pick on people who do not conform to stereotypes of what it is to be 'cool' - for example, people who don't wear fashionable clothes or shoes.
    • They may pick on people who are different because they are smaller, quieter, brighter, have different values, or just because they are there!
  • Bullies often target people who seem vulnerable and less able to protect themselves.
    • They may target people who lack self-confidence or don't have many friends to help them.
    • People being harassed may react by crying, getting upset or looking distressed - bullies often find these reactions 'amusing', and will continue to bully in order to get a reaction.
    • Bullies are often not able to understand how someone's feelings are affected by their behaviour.
  • Sometimes people have grown up with violence or harassment in their lives and have come to believe this is a normal way of relating to others.
    • A person who bullies others may have been hurt, have low self-esteem, or feel that they have no power in their lives - so harassing others may make them feel more powerful and in control.
    • This is not an 'excuse' for bullying!
  • Victims are sometimes harassed by a group or 'gang' of peers.
    • Bullying in a group can mean someone can blame their friends for starting it.
    • Sometimes members of a group might join in because they are worried they will be bullied if they don't.
    • Bullies' self-esteem may be low, and being in a group or gang makes them feel more important.

Whatever the reasons, it is not OK to bully.

Bullying and harassment are actions a person chooses. If someone is feeling bad or is being bullied themselves they can choose to do something positive about it, like talk to a friend. They have choices that don't involve taking it out on others.

It is possible to take control and learn more positive behavioural choices that don't hurt others. Check out our topics Assertiveness and Stress and relaxation for some ideas.

The impact of harassment

Harassment can have serious effects

  • People who are harassed may start to see themselves negatively. Their self-esteem may drop and feelings of sadness, anxiety, and loneliness become stronger.
  • People may search for ways to avoid the harassment, such as staying at home.
  • They may develop physical illness, depression and have thoughts of suicide. Some people have committed suicide because their lives were made miserable by harassment, and they believed that their situation would never improve.
  • Some people may never get over childhood experiences of bullying. They may grow up with poorer self-esteem and higher rates of depression than adults who were not bullied as children.

What about those doing the bullying?

  • Some bullies continue to think it's an OK thing to harass others. Long-term studies have shown that many people who are violent as adults have been bullies when they were young.
    • Some of these people end up getting into trouble with the police, and have criminal records at a young age. Some end up serving a prison sentence. 
    • Some will enter into adult relationships where they use bullying, abuse and violence - and in doing so, keep the cycle going.

What can you do if you are being harassed?

  • Remember - it is not your fault. There is nothing wrong with you. The behaviour of bullies is not OK, and it is their responsibility.
  • When you are harassed, you can start to believe the negative messages you're being told. Tell yourself positive things about yourself every day, several times a day. Hang out with people who treat you well.
  • Concentrate on positive things in your life. Get involved with things that you enjoy and you know you're good at. Find new interests - they don't have to be expensive.
  • Learn more about harassment. Understand why bullies behave this way
  • If the harassment is happening at work talk with your boss, manager, or the human resources manager about the harassment and how it can be handled, or talk with your union rep.
  • If the harassment is happening where you are studying, follow the policies and procedures for dealing with harassment.

If a bully confronts you, try to walk away before the harassment actually starts.

  • Bullies will often pick on people in the hope that they will get upset or react in any other way. Although it is easier said than done, try to ignore the harassment, and don't give the bullies the satisfaction of seeing you get upset.
  • Try to speak firmly to the bullies, and tell them to leave you alone.
  • It can also be helpful to take up self-defence classes. These classes not only provide you with some skills to help you defend yourself if you are threatened with attack, but can also build confidence and self-esteem.
  • You might want to consider some assertiveness training.
  • Find someone you can trust them what's happening. They could help you to report the bullying and work out some strategies to stop it.

By telling someone you are helping to protect others as well as yourself.

  • In some places (eg. Australia) if the harassment is severe, or if you have been injured or threatened with physical violence, it is possible to take out a legal order that stops certain people from coming near you. You would need to speak to a police officer to see if this is a suitable action to take in your particular situation.

Stop bullying

Have you been bullying someone?

  • Start to think about how victims of your harassment feel. The consequences can be serious and long-term.
  • If you are unable to deal with anger in a positive way talk to someone - perhaps a counselling service, or uni or TAFE counsellor.
  • Be an individual and stand up for what you know is right – don't just go with the flow because the crowd is picking on someone.
  • Violence and abuse are not an OK way to sort things out. They are illegal.
    • Your violent or abusive behaviour can land you in trouble. You could be disciplined at work or at uni, by a discrimination board, or face getting into trouble with the law.
  • Remember that studies show that young people who bully others are more likely to end up in prison. Choose not to go down that road. Change your behaviour now.
  • If you feel that you don't have other ways to get your needs met, look at our topic on Assertiveness.

Perhaps you've learnt violent behaviour at home. If home is not safe for you, or for others:

  • You may choose to leave for your own and others' safety. You are responsible for your safety and the safety of any children who witness the violence.
  • It is a good idea to have a safety plan worked out. This might include hiding some money away, having clothes packed in a suitcase, or organising somewhere to stay. Think about things like credit cards, bank accounts, passports, marriage certificate and birth certificates.
  • If you are living in a situation of child abuse (where you are being abused, or a child is), tell someone you trust.
  • Wherever you live, if you are concerned about the safety of yourself or someone else, contact the local police or community services agency.

You deserve the right to feel safe.

back to top
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
Home › Health Topics › Our Society >