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Bullying at School

If you are under 25 and you are unsure about your rights or responsibilities or what to do next, you can get free, confidential legal advice at Lawmail.

This page is based on the law about bullying at public schools in New South Wales.

Bullying is never okay no matter what school you go to. If you attend a private school and need information about bullying and what you can do about it you'll find the information on this page helpful.

If you have further questions about bullying you can also send us a Lawmail. Please include the name of your school. If you are being cyber bullied you can read more on our Lawstuff page on Cyber Bullying.

What is bullying?

Bullying is repeated behaviour that:

  • is harmful;
  • targets a certain person or group of people;
  • embarrasses, dominate or intimidates the person being bullied.

Bullying includes:

  • Verbal insults like teasing, name-calling, harassing;
  • Physical behaviour like hitting, kicking, pushing;
  •  “mucking about” that goes too far;
  • Cyber-bullying like offensive SMS and emails, on Facebook or in chat rooms; 
  • Anti-social behaviour like exclusion, gossip, spreading rumours or offensive gestures.

Where can it happen?

Bullying can happen anywhere like at school, in parks, on your way to school or in other places used by the school.  It can even happen in places away from school and outside of school hours, like in online, via SMS, Facebook or email . 

Is bullying illegal?

Bullying can be illegal. It is a crime if someone:

  • gets physically violent towards you;
  • intimidates or threatens you; 
  • stalks you (stalking includes following, watching, or contacting you repeatedly in a way that scares you);
  • damages or steals your things; 
  • harasses you because of your:
    • race;
    • gender identity;
    • sexual preference;  or
    • HIV/AIDS status;
    • Disability.

Please visit our Lawstuff page on Discrimination at school for more information on harassment and discrimination.

It becomes cyber-bullying if they use their mobile or the internet to do any of these to you. It is also a crime to cyber-bully someone.   Visit our Lawstuff page on Cyber-bullying for more information.

What do schools have to do about bullying?

All public schools in New South Wales have to have an anti-bullying plans to deal with bullying and cyber-bullying.  You can ask your school about their anti-bullying plan and see what the school is doing to stop bullying from happening.

Your school also has to make sure that students are not bullied or harassed and that it is a safe place for you to be. Your school should teach students about bullying and create a climate where it is not attempted or tolerated.  It should have a clear procedure for students to report bullying, and provide support for students who have been affected by bullying.  If you are being bullied at school or outside school, tell someone about what is happening to you. Someone at your school must quickly respond to the situation.

I’m being bullied at school - what can I do about it?

Bullying is not OK and you don’t have to put up with it. You have the right to feel safe. You may be able to solve the problem by just ignoring the bully. But if you feel threatened, it is important that you tell someone what is happening:

Will telling someone help?

Telling someone that you are being bullied is important. It can make you feel better because you don’t have to deal with the problem on your own. Telling somebody, even just your friends, can make you feel supported. It shares the problem, and allows you to get advice and help to stop the bullying.

Who can I tell?

  • Tell your friends – they can help you tell a teacher or your parents or just make you feel better;
  • Tell your parents - tell them the who, what, when and where of what's been happening;
  • Tell your school – we explain more about how to do this below
  • Tell your teachers or the Principal - tell them the who, what, when and where;
  • Call KidsHelpline on 1800 55 1800 if you can’t talk to someone face to face. They provide free phone counselling 24 hours a day/7 days a week.  Sometimes there can be a delay in getting through, so we encourage you to keep trying.  It’s free from all mobile phones, it doesn’t matter which provider you are with.
  • Kids Helpline online chat: You can also chat online with someone during certain hours.
  • Send us a Lawmail and we can give you some advice.

Reporting bullying to your school.

If you’re being bullied at school, you can:

1.    Lodge a formal complaint with your school.

The school has a legal duty to do something about the bullying if it is happening at school.  If telling someone is not enough to stop the bully’s behaviour, you can make a formal complaint to the school. Ask your parents or someone you trust to help make the complaint with you, especially if you are scared or worried about it.

2.    Make a complaint to the Department of Education.

If you’ve complained to the school but they haven ‘t done anything, you can make a complaint to the Regional Office of the Department of Education.  To find your regional office for your school, type the name of your school into this form.

To make a complaint, you and your parents need to fill in this form:  In your complaint, it’s a good idea to include as many details as possible about situations where you’ve been bullied. When making a complaint you or your parents will have to provide detailed information about the incidents and show why you think your school has failed to do to make the bullying stop.

Reporting bullying to police.

If someone has been or has threatened to be physically violent to you or sexually harassing you, you can report this to the police. It is illegal for the bully to harass you and if your bully is over 10 years old, they could be charged with criminal offences: 

If you have been threatened or physically harmed, you can this reported to the police: 

  • If the bully has physically harmed you, maximum penalty is  7 years in gaol;
  • If the bully has made threats to physically harm you, maximum penalty is 5 years in gaol;
  • If the bully has indecently assaulted you, maximum penalty is 5 years in gaol.

If your things have been damaged or stolen, you can also report to the police:   

  • If the bully took away your things against your will, maximum penalty is 14 years in gaol;
  • If the bully demands things from you so that they can take it away, maximum penalty is 14 years in gaol;
  • If the bully damages your things, maximum penalty is 5 years in gaol. 

Generally for people under 18, the police will give a warning or caution for their bad behaviour. Imprisonment is only a last resort and usually saved for cases where people repeatedly cause very serious harm to a person, usually serious injury. 

Seeking protection from police.

Courts are able to make special ‘Apprehended Personal Violence Orders’ (APVOs) to protect you from people who are stalking or bullying you. The exact orders will depend on the individual case, but will determine if they are allowed to contact you (including by phone or on the internet).

You can voluntarily apply for an APVO at your Local Court if you are 16 years or older.  If you are under 16 years, only a police officer can apply for an APVO on your behalf. If you’re under 16, the police must make an application if they believe you are likely to be physically or suffer significant emotional or psychological harm. You can find some information on how to make an application at this link.

Taking legal action.

In some instances you and your parents can take legal action against the bullies or the school. This is because the school has a “duty of care” to ensure the safety of all its students.  In simple terms, this means that the school must ensure that the students are safe from potential harm caused by bullying.  But before your parents think about legal action, it is important that they speak to your school first and see if they can sort of the problem at that level.  

Real life example:
In 2011, a high school girl in NSW succeeded in suing her school for failing to protect her from being bullied at school. The school had an anti-bullying policy, but they failed to use it in a way that kept the girl from being bullied. As a result, the girl experienced severe anxiety, depression and other symptoms. The court ordered the school to compensate the girl for her suffering. 

Taking legal action is complicated and expensive, and you have to be able to show that the bullying must have caused very serious emotional harm.

If you have a question about bullying that we haven’t answered here, please send us a Lawmail.

This page was last updated on 17 March 2015.

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