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Bullying at School

This page is based on the law about bullying at public schools in the Northern Territory.

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 behaviour that is meant to be harmful and offends, threatens 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 cyberspace, via SMS, Facebook or email.  

Is bullying illegal?

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

  • is physically violent towards you;
  • threatens you;
  • stalks you  (stalking includes following, watching, or contacting you repeatedly in a way that scares you); or
  • damages or steals your stuff. 

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 schools in NT are required to have anti-bullying plans in place to deal with bullying and cyber-bullying. You can ask your school about their anti-bullying plan (sometimes called a Wellbeing and Behaviour Policy or Code of Conduct) and see what the school is doing to stop bullying from happening.

Your school has to make sure that students are not being bullied or harassed, and that your school is a safe place for you to be. Your school should teach students about bullying and create an environment 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 by yourself. Telling somebody, even just your friends, can make you feel supported. It shares the problem, and will allow 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 Kids Helpline 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.

Report bullying to the school.

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

1.    Meet with the Principal

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 your school and Principal hasn’t done anything to stop the bullying after you’ve spoken to them, you and your parents can make a complaint to the Department of Education and Training (DET). You can find the complaint form here.

When making a complaint you 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. Your school’s anti-bullying plan may be a useful place for you to start looking at what your school should do to address bullying. You can find your school’s anti-bullying plan through Schools Online.

Can I call the 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 report this to the police:

  • If the bully has made threats to physically harm you, maximum penalty is 2 years in jail;
  • If the bully has physically harmed you, maximum penalty is  2 years in jail;
  • If the bully has indecently assaulted you, the maximum penalty is 14 years in jail.

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

  • If the bully took away your things against your will, maximum penalty is 2 years in jail;
  • If the bully hurts or threatens you so that they can steal something from you, maximum penalty is 2 years in jail;
  • If the bully damages your things, maximum penalty is 2 years in jail. 

Generally for people under 18, the police will give a verbal or written warning for their bad behaviour and they won’t go to jail.   Imprisonment is only a last resort and usually saved for cases where people repeatedly cause very serious harm to a person, and no other sentence is appropriate.

Seeking a restraining order.

Courts are able to make special “Personal Violence Restraining Order” (PRVO) to protect you from people who are stalking or bullying you.  You can’t get an order against anyone who is under 15.  A court can even order someone not to contact you (including by phone or on the internet). The court can sometimes be reluctant to make these kinds of orders when the people involved go to the same school, so this is probably a last resort option.

You can apply for a PRVO at you local Magistrate Court or police station, or a parent/guardian can apply for a PRVO on your behalf.  You can find the application form here and information on how to make an application here.

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 16 March 2015.


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