Acts of childhood bullying have unfortunately become a phenomena endemic to school systems in the United States throughout space and time. It comes in a myriad of forms, including but not limited to verbal abuse, mental torment, and cyber harassment. The reasons for which children are provoked to commit such brutish actions towards fellow peers also vary; generally however, it can be attributed to jealousy, insecurity, fear, or are victims themselves. Another social issue that has similarly risen to the forefront of our social consciousness and has become a main focus under the lens of mainstream media is that of sexual assault. Social justice movements such as #MeToo represent an outlet for previously silent or oppressed voices to create and engage in dialogue with those who share similar experiences. My research has indicated that the short term and long term negative effects of bullying are similar in nature to sexual assault victims and victims of physical abuse. Thus, while childhood bullying and sexual assault may appear to be mutually exclusive social issues, they in fact share many commonalities.Order now
Bullying is defined as the systematic abuse of power through which a person engages in aggressive behavior and intentional harm-doing. Perpetrators of bullying either have a real or false sense of power that enables them to subjugate others. Children who are bullied at school often experience immediate and detrimental physical, psychological, and academic issues. Additionally, victims tend to suffer from difficulty in regulating sleep patterns; whether they sleep too much, or not enough, the child’s normal sleeping habits show drastic changes. When victims do sleep, they are more likely to experience nightmares, leaving them less alert during the day compared to their non-victimized peers (Augustyn).
As expected, children who suffer from bullying tend to hold lower social status than non-victimized children. This social exclusion by the bully leads to other children rejecting them as well. Because of the problems with peers, victimized children are often left feeling lonely and abandoned which causes them to have issues of low-self-esteem. Furthermore, a common physical symptom is bruising or scratching on a child’s body. These symptoms are tangible evidence that the child has experienced physical violence but unfortunately, this is often overlooked because of how common it is for children to get bruises from playing sports and on playgrounds. Declining performance in school is another detrimental short-term effect. Absenteeism, by definition, is “a habitual pattern of absence from a duty or obligation without good reason” (Arjenas).
Students who are experiencing bullying in school tend to try to stay home from school even if they show no signs of physical sickness. Studies show that 7% of eighth graders report skipping school at least once a month to avoid bullies (Vanderbilt). When victims do attend school they feel limited by their fears of their bully and have trouble focusing and suffer from feeling scared throughout the school day. These issues make it incredibly difficult for children who are bullied to achieve academic success.
A common effect is the development of anxiety and depression, which can develop at a dangerously rapid rate over weeks and months. Depression and anxiety are known predictors of a host of more concerning psychological problems that may potentially even place their lives at risk. For example, it is possible for both genders to develop eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge-eating disorders during the period of time in which they are being subjected to bullying. Children may also experience psychosomatic issues, which are bodily complaints that have no physical cause, such as headaches or stomach aches. Unfortunately, victims of bullying have higher rates of suicide ideation than their peers, meaning that they contemplate suicide more often than other children their age. As many cases make clear, many victims follow through with these thoughts.
The psychological long-term effects of bullying are analogous with victims of rape or abuse. According to a 2010 American Psychological Association’s study, people bullied “were at higher risk for depression, anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia than kids uninvolved in bullying (“Bullying”)”. Additionally, the same study discovered that these factors continued well into adult life: “youth who bullied who were also victims of bullying were at a higher risk for adult depression and panic disorder.” William E. Copeland and others found that their study “suggests that the effects of victimization by peers on long-term adverse psychiatric outcomes are not confounded by other childhood factors.” It is therefore crucial for legislators to understand and recognize that bullying is a severe issue that must be combated at all levels- especially with the proliferation of social media and the concomitant issue of cyber bullying.
A recent study examined the long term effects of bullying and how that translates to adult life post bullying. Using a longitudinal database that examined children from ages nine through adulthood, it was determined that bullying and harassing drastically affects adults health, wellbeing, economic standards, and causes engagement in criminal and hazardous behavior. Victims also suffer from the after-effects of “toxic stress”. The Center For The Developing Child at Harvard University has defined toxic stress as “Strong, frequent, and/or prolonged adversity”; linking toxic stress with developmental delays, diabetes, and heart diseases in adulthood.
Victims of various traumatic experiences can be affected in many forms. Bullying victims, however, experience symptoms that tend to mirror those experienced by survivors of sexual assault. Although these are two very different types of trauma, it is worthwhile to examine the similar effects. ⅓ of children in elementary and middle school report bullying and ⅓ of women report some form of assault. From these statistics, 64% of children who were bullied did not report it to their parents and 77% of people who suffered from rape did not file a police report (Casteel). It is important to recognize the difference between reporting to parents and reporting to police, however since bullying is not seen as a criminal act, reporting to parents is the equivalent. Aside from the statistics, both forms of trauma share the same short and long term negative effects.
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims who do not give consent (Rainn). Like bullying, it is most likely that victims and perpetrators know each other. Survivors are likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a psychological disorder as a result of trauma. 94% experience PTSD two weeks following the rape, 30% report symptoms 9 months after the rape, and 70% of rape or sexual assault victims report moderate to severe distress which is larger than any other violent crime. The symptoms that come with PTSD include disturbing dreams, nightmares, depression, anxiety and feelings of vulnerability. These symptoms can be both long term and short term. Nighttime memories often manifest as distressing dreams or nightmares in which the event is relieved. After the event of a sexual assault, specifically rape, a victim is faced with a litany of negative social reactions stemming from the stigma surrounding rape and victim blaming.
The social stigma attached to sexual assault is a predominant reason as to why victims are generally disinclined to report or voice their experiences. This can be extremely harmful to the victim, as it has been shown that social acknowledgement is one of the most important healing effects. After an assault, a victim may experience the shock response of emotional numbness, which is particularly dangerous as it masks the internal trauma and pain that the victim may experience, causing misinterpretation and alienation among friends and family. Anxiety is a primary response following an assault, and studies show that the peak period is three weeks following the attack — though it can last longer. Physical signs including bruising, bleeding, and soreness are also short term symptoms that are synonymous with victims of bullying.
Sexual assault and its repercussions often follow people throughout their lives. The effect of sexual assault is not only psychological or emotional but also impacts upon one’s physical, social, interpersonal and financial domains. Long term effects impact mental and physical health extremely similar to the way the effects of bullying does. As far as physical health goes, studies have found that sexual assault is linked to chronic stress. Chronic stress causes many health problems, one of which is higher blood pressure. Statistics show that victims have a 20% higher risk of having heart disease compared to people who had not been sexually assaulted (Davidson 27). It was also observed that they tend to exhibit higher blood fat levels, poorer sleep quality, and double the chance of developing insomnia. Habitual drug use, and even abuse, is also a common development that can continue to affect a person’s life long after they have been assaulted. Studies conclude that victims are 3.4 times more likely to use marijuana, six times more likely to use cocaine and ten times more likely to use other major drugs (Riggs 456).
Unfortunately, depression is one of the leading long term symptoms for sexually abused people. Suicidal ideation is a prime signifier of depression, and is more common among survivors of sexual assault than the general population. Furthermore, younger survivors may be at particular risk of actually attempting suicide following rape. About 33% of victims contemplate suicide and 12% attempt (Ullman 502).
Bullying and sexual assault are traumatic experiences that discriminate between race, culture, and class; in this respect they are very similar. Examining similarities between the demographics of victims may provide an idea of why they share common symptoms. In a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the annual household survey collected data on multiple crimes that were recorded during the six month time-period prior. The household survey captures a larger amount of information in comparison to alternate sources like police statistics since a large proportion of victims do not report crimes to the police. Using the most recent study on rape and sexual assault, the survey helps understand who these victims are and how they respond to being attacked. Out of 100 incidents of sexual assault, 44 people reported to have a household income of less than $25,000 (Casteel).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists poverty and lack of jobs as community risk factors for sexual violence (CDC). People with low incomes have less access to resources which causes them to be a target because they are less likely to report what happened. Many victims of bullying happen to be children whose families are under the average income; bullies identify their targets based on their classmates’ materialistic possessions. Although hand-me-down and off brand clothing does not signify that a family is under the average income, it does create a conspicuous visible discrepancy that bullies can easily take advantage of. Along with finances, higher rates of bullying and sexual assault are reported in urban areas: out of 100 incidents of sexual assault, 59 were reported by residents of urban areas (Casteel).
However, it is important to consider that this overwhelming percentage can be also due to the fact that there are simply more people in urban areas compared to suburban neighborhoods. However, it is also valid to note that security in rural areas are much lower than that of suburbia. In terms of inter-city bullying, there is a similar complex that the schools are generally bigger and receive less funding, which amounts to a smaller number of faculty and staff to supervise children.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (CDC) suggests that LGBTQ+ people face higher rates of sexual violence than heterosexual people (CDC). They also face higher rates of poverty, marginalization, and hate-motivated violence which many times results in sexual assault. With the same demographics of those that have been sexually assaulted, the CDC has also found that nine out of ten LGBTQ students reported being harassed and bullied last year (CDC). Similar to LGBTQ+ children, anyone who has physical features that stand out are often treated poorly in school, such that children who are overweight, wear glasses, or have physical and mental disabilities are targeted at a higher rate than ‘normal’ children .
Unfortunately, bullies use tactics of finding marginalized people to further depreciate them. Similar to the marginiliation that members of the LGBTQ community face, people of color are also targeted for bullying and sexual assault. A lack of trust has emerged between people of color and the systems that are put in place to help them due to years of racist attitudes. This is highly pervasive and has a detrimental effect on people of color, putting them at higher risk for sexual violence, unjust treatment at the hands of the law, and inability to access support.
Two social issues, childhood bullying and sexual assault have been brought to the forefront of society in different lights. Seemingly different forms of aggressive behavior share similar symptoms and causes. Both are synonymous in their simplest definition; “a form of aggressive behavior manifested by the use of force or coercion to affect others, particularly when the behavior involves an imbalance of power” (Brown). The similarities between the victims of bullying and sexual assault point to larger issues in the United States. Marginalized people are targets for physical and mental violence and childhood bullying is not handled with the same care and thoughtfulness it needs to be.