Our paradigm is limited to the understanding of what a victim is and why it happens, but a victim can have many windows. Many of us see the victim as someone who is smaller and is physically being bullied by a larger person. Now the reverse can also be true where a smaller person is bullying a larger person; for example a smaller person could bully intellectually, by conning someone or through sympathy gossip. We need to clearly understand that people also become victims even when they’re not being bullied. Just like the bully who needs attention, some people like to become victims for the attention and that is why we need to understand the whole story when someone says they’re a victim.
We should never think that people ever deserve to be victims and most victims deserve help and treatment. However, if we look out the same window, we tend to blend the victim with a bully. When we look out all the windows and see the complete picture, we see victimization happening in all areas including the internet; it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female or belong to a particular race or religion. Victims come in all shapes and sizes.
Bullying today comes in many non physical forms. People become victims from what is said about them through gossip or the internet. We can become a victim without even realizing it (like being overcharged by your mechanic). We can be a victim of our own stupidity because of the decisions we make. We can become victims by our own actions. It goes on and on and on.
When it comes to recognizing bullying, we need to distinguish that a victim of bullying is a recipient of a targeted response by the bully to control them physically, mentally or emotionally. It must be a repeated action and the bully must have an imbalance of power over the victim/target. If these three areas are not covered, it could be something else, like a conflict, intimidation or harassment.
If we’re going to make this paradigm shift we need to look out every window and see the entire picture before we start concluding that every victim is right or everyone who becomes a victim does so as a result of bullying.
One comment I receive from teachers is ‘if a student is left out of a group, is that bullying?’ We tend to over think that this type of behavior may be bullying. What sometimes happens is that students are ostracized by their peers because of their own behavior. They are not allowed in the group because of a variety of reasons, they swear all the time, or they complain all the time, or they’re disrespectful to other students so the group decides they are not welcome here.
What may happen is that such a student goes and complains to the teacher of being bullied because a certain group won’t let him/her play with them. The teacher walks out and says “enough is enough; you’re going to let Susan play with you and if I find out that you are being mean to her you will be dealing with me.” The fact is that the teacher without knowing it actually set this girl up for attention and power. The girl can simply blackmail others by saying “If you do or say anything wrong, I’m telling that to the teacher.” We know that the teacher unknowingly has given her the power that allows her to control the rest of the group.
If you’re a victim, does that mean that someone caused you to become a victim? As I mentioned before, we can become a victim of our own circumstances. For example, you have a credit card and go out to the mall and buy whatever you want. One month later, when you receive your statement you realize that you don’t have enough money to pay even the minimum so you blame the credit card company for the high interest and believe you’re a victim of the credit card companies. There’s no bullying here, we put ourselves in this mess and want to cry wolf.
We sometimes make judgments based on partial information like what we think we know (which may be entirely untrue) or what we do know (may only be part of the truth). So in effect, we may be making a premature judgment on only a fraction of the facts or we may be making a judgment based on completely false information. What we need to do is to get a better view by receiving all the information and making our view of the problem wider. When approached by someone who states they are a victim/target, we need to investigate the situation before we elevate someone to victim/target status. The easiest way to solve a problem is by using the problem solving questions of who, what, where, when, why and how.
By making a paradigm shift, we can now see that bullying happens everywhere and it’s not always one way of thinking about a bully and a victim/target. We must accept that we have different kinds of bullying; we have different kinds of victims, there are different locations and different kinds of responses; instead of being convinced that it only can happen in one area or to one type of person. The biggest problem for schools is they’re trying to stop bullying in their school; however, they are only solving some of the behavioral problems. They may even make things worse by having a particular set opinion about bullying because they have been looking out the same window for years.
We need to keep in mind that when a student is actually a victim/target of bullying that parents, teachers and the school should ensure that the student always receives protection and assistance.
This leads us into a topic that we all hope none of our children are faced
with but reality says otherwise:
“Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, ages 12–18” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2007).
“In a typical 12-month period, nearly 14 percent of American high school students seriously consider suicide; nearly 11 percent make plans about how they would end their lives; and 6.3 percent actually attempt suicide.” (CDC, 2010).
 Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Suicide and Bullying, Issue Brief, March 2011, http://www.sprc.org/sites/sprc.org/files/library/Suicide_Bullying_Issue_Brief.pdf (May 12, 2012)