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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 South Australia.

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 meant to be harmful and targets a certain person or group of people.

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 text messages 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. It can happen at school, in parks, on your way to school or in other places used by the school.  It can also happen in places away from school and outside of school hours, like in cyberspace, via text messages, Facebook or email.  

Is bullying illegal?

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

  • causes you physical or mental harm. Mental harm can include humiliation or serious embarrassment;
  • threatens to hurt 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 can also be a crime to cyber-bully someone.  Please visit our Lawstuff page on Cyber-bullying for more information.

What do schools have to do about bullying?

All public schools in South Australia are required to have anti-bullying plans in place to deal with bullying and cyber-bullying.  You should be able to find your school’s anti-bullying plan on your school website. You can also ask your school about their anti-bullying plan and see what the school is doing to stop bullying from happening.

Your school 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 make sure school is a place where bullying is not attempted or tolerated. It should have a clear process 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 okay 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 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 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 complaint to the school by meeting with the Principal. Ask your parents or someone you trust to come with you, especially if you are scared or worried about it. Your school should work with you to try and figure out a plan to stop the bullying.  Your school should still be able to help you even if the bullying is not taking place at school itself (for example it’s online).

2.    Make a complaint to the regional office of the Department of Education.

If you have spoken to the Principal and you are not happy with their response, you and your parents can make a complaint to the local regional office of the Department of Education and Child Development.  To find out what the name of your regional office is called, you or your parents need to call the switchboard on (08) 82261000. Then you can call the Manager,Regional Support Services or the Regional Director of your education office. 

When making a complaint you will have to  explain why you think your school has failed make the bullying stop.  Your school’s anti-bullying plan may be a useful place for you to start in looking at what your school should do to address bullying. You should be able to find this on your school website. 

If you’ve made a complaint to the regional office and you’re not happy with their response, you can make a complaint to the state-wide Education Complaint Unit.  You can contact them by phone on 1800 677 435, or email them at

Can I call the police?

If someone has threatened to harm you or has actually harmed you this is a serious crime and can be reported to police.  The bully could be charged with a criminal offence. If a bully has damaged or stolen your things, you can also report this to the police. 

Seeking protection.

If the bullying is really bad and it won’t stop, you might be able to go to Court to get a special order to make the person stop. Courts are able to make special “Intervention Orders” to protect you from people who are stalking or bullying you.   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 make an application on your own if you’re over 14 and you get permission from the Court.  If you’re under 14, you can get your parents or the police to apply for you.  Visit this webpage to find the application form to apply for an order.

If you want more information on getting an order, you can send us a Lawmail about what has been going on and we will be able to give you some advice.

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.  

In some instances you and your parents can take legal action against the bullies or the school. But it is important that your parents speak to your school and seek help from a lawyer.

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 didn’t 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.

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

This page was last updated 20 March 2015.


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