School bullying of any form and for any reason can have significant long term effects for those involved, with some physical and psychological consequences persisting into adulthood.
If your child has been or is being bullied at school, or if you were bullied at school in the past and are still suffering the effects, you may be able to make a claim for monetary compensation against your child’s school or former school.
Because the long lasting effects of school bullying are usually psychological, such a claim requires assessment by an independent psychiatrist to establish whether the individual suffers from a recognised mental disorder (such as depression or anxiety) which has been caused or aggravated by the school bullying.
What is bullying?
The South Australian Government describes bullying as the “ongoing misuse of power through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm”.
Bullying can happen in person or online, and may involve direct physical or verbal abuse or indirect acts that are designed to cause distress, humiliation or vilification of one or more persons. Cyberbullying is bullying that uses information and communications technologies, such as the internet and mobile phones, to hurt, shame or embarrass someone.
Bullying is repeated verbal, social and/or physical behaviour that:
- Is harmful and intended to cause distress;
- Targets a specific individual or group of people.
- Embarasses, intimidates or hurts the person or people being bullied.
- Verbal insults such as teasing, taunting, name-calling, or harassment;
- Physical assaults such as pushing, tripping, hitting, kicking, or damaging property;
- Anti-social behaviour such as spreading rumours, gossiping, or social exclusion;
- Cyberbullying acts such as sending mean or hurtful SMS or emails, circulating photos and videos to shame or embarrass an individual or group, or setting up fake profiles.
- Unlawful discrimination may also amount to bullying.
What is the school’s responsibility?
All Australian schools and teachers have a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to address incidences of bullying and cyberbullying amongst students and, importantly, to provide support for both the victim and the perpetrator.
If a school is aware or ought to be aware that an individual or group is being bullied, and fails to take reasonable steps to stop the bullying behaviour, they may be liable in negligence. If a student has suffered physical or psychological injuries as a result of being bullied, action may be brought against the school or relevant education authority for compensation.
My child is being bullied – what should I do?
To be able to make a claim against your child’s school or former school, you will need evidence that complaints were made to the school and that they failed to protect the student by not taking action against the perpetrators and/or not following their own written procedures with respect to bullying.
If your child is being bullied at school now, it is important that you document each instance of bullying and record any meetings or communications with the school in writing. When called upon, these written records will provide a clear path of evidence to establish what the school knew, what action they said they would take and what they in fact did.