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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 Victoria.

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.

What is bullying?

Bullying is behaviour that:

  • is deliberate and repeated;
  • targets a certain person or group of people;
  • hurts, harms and upsets 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 at school, on your way to school, at a school related activity, or on your way to one of those activities. It can even happen in places away from school and outside of school hours, like 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 to seriously hurt  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.

You can visit our Lawstuff page on Discrimination for more information.

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.  You can visit our Lawstuff page on Cyber-bullying for more information.

What do schools have to do about bullying?

All public schools in Victoria 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 guidelines (inside your school’s Student Engagement Policy) and see what the school is doing to stop the 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 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. 

Reporting bullying to your school.

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

1. Make a formal complaint with your school.

The school has a legal duty to do something about the bullying.  If you’ve told the school about the bullying but nothing has happened, 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. Then you can find the contact details of your regional office.

You and your parents will have to fill out the complaint form which is available here. You can find more tips on how to make a complaint here.


Reporting to 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 report this to the police:

  • If the bully has physically harmed you, the maximum penalty is 5 years in prison; 
  • If the bully has made threats to physically harm you, the maximum penalty is 5 years in prison; 
  • If the bully has indecently assaulted you, the maximum penalty is 10 years in prison. 

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, the maximum penalty is 15 years in prison; 
  • If the bully takes stuff away from you and uses force, the maximum penalty is 15 years in prison; 
  • If the bully damages your things, the maximum penalty is 10 years in prison. 

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, and no other sentence is appropriate. 

Seeking protection.

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 apply for an Intervention Order at a Magistrate’s Court if you are 18 years or older.  If you are under 18 years, a parent, guardian or police officer can apply for the order on your behalf (or if you are over 14, you need special permission from the court).  You can’t get an intervention order against someone who is under 10 years old. 

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 2010, a high school girl in Victoria succeeded in suing The Victoria Department of Education for failing to protect her from being bullied at school. The girl had received death threats, been menaced with a broken bottle, been pushed off the monkey bars, and verbally abused, leaving her with back injuries and anxiety disorder.  The court ordered the Department to compensate the girl for her injuries and 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. 

This page was last updated 20 March 2015.


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