Bullying back in the spotlight

The furor coming out of the Miami Dolphins locker room has brought the topics of bullying and workplace harassment into the national conversation, but the sad truth of the matter is that this is hardly an isolated incident.

Bullying is defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior among that involves a real or perceived power imbalance on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ stopbullying.gov website. The definition goes on the say that “the behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

While stopbullying.gov specifically addresses school-aged issues, bullying occurs all across our society, from grade school to college to the workplace to home. No one is immune.

The recently released Youth Risk Behavior survey reported that 20.7 percent of Alaska high school students said they had been bullied on school property within the past year. But the behavior hardly stops with the end of the school day, especially with the pervasive nature of social media, and the incidence of cyberbullying is growing.

We see intimidation and harassment in the workplace — “hostile work environment” has become part of the lexicon — while domestic violence and child abuse statistics indicate that for many people, home is not a safe place either. According to the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, some 8.3 percent of adult Alaskans utilized services from a domestic violence or sexual assault agency during the 2012 state fiscal year; 2.7 percent of Alaska youth received services.

As troubling as the issue is, the typical response may be more so. Dolphins teammates have defended the player identified as the aggressor, essentially blaming the victim for not being tough enough. “You don’t understand our culture,” is a common response.

Is that any different from what we commonly hear in other instances of bullying? “It builds character.” “It’s just kids being kids.” “That’s not bullying, it’s being aggressive.”

Awareness, education and intervention are keys to reducing bullying in society, and certainly efforts are under way at all levels to address the issue. We are beginning to understand just how devastating bullying in any form can be.

But we also need to take a serious look at what it means to be a victim, and how we as a community respond to victimization. Otherwise, the rest of us are no better than the bullies.

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