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Bullying vs. Harassment

Article by Darlene Barriere

Bullying vs. HarassmentAuthor: Darlene Barriere Copyright 2006Contact: childabu@child-abuse-effects.comWord Count: 850


There are two fundamental differences between bullying and harassment. One is in the age of the people involved. The second is the legal ramifications of each.

Bullying describes behaviours between children under the age of 12 that is offensive, cruel, intimidating, or humiliating. Bullying is not normal aggression between very young children.

For the most part, harassment is the adult term for bullying.

Bullying is a relationship issue, while harassment is a human rights issue.

Harassment is a form of discrimination that can be based on any of the following:

– age- race- colour- religion- disability- sex/gender- sexual orientation- national or ethnic origin- family status- marital status- pardoned conviction

In Canada, harassment is dealt with under human rights legislation and victims can charge the offender. Bullying is not dealt with under human rights legislation.

Both bullying and harassment have the potential to fall under the Criminal Code of Canada, if the law has been broken.

The significant factor in harassment is IMPACT not INTENT. Once the harasser becomes aware that his or her behaviour is offensive and unappreciated, either by being told or the body language of the other person or persons makes it clear that the comment or gesture is unwelcome, if the offensive behaviour continues, it becomes harassment.


It is not possible to discuss bullying and harassment without talking about power. Examples of power:

physical power: based upon physical strength or ability

personality power: based upon gender, ethnic identity, age; with adolescents it comes in the form of physical appearance and personal presence

positional power: based upon position of authority

relational power: based upon status within the social system; with adolescents it comes in the form of popularity, money and/or talent

connection power: based upon connections with people of influence

organizational power: based upon specific authority, rights, and privileges as determined by a person’s job description

network power: based upon membership in both formal and informal networks

expert power: based upon perception of expertise, skills and/or knowledge

information power: based upon possession of information or ability to access information

resource power: based upon ability to access human, educational, financial and technical resources

When a power imbalance exists between two people, that imbalance may result in bullying and harassing behaviour. Abuse of power is at the core of bullying and harassment.

Before anyone says bullying and harassment does not affect me, consider these criminality statistics:

STAT: According to a study done for National Resource Centre for Safe Schools (1999), bullies who have been identified by age 8 are six times more likely than others to be convicted of a crime by the time they reach the age of 24. They are five times more likely to end up with serious criminal records by age 30.

STAT: According to Voices for Children (2002), 60% of boys who were nominated as bullies in grades 6 to 9 had at least one court conviction by age 24; 35% to 40% had three or more convictions compared to 10% for the control group of non-bullying boys.

Criminality statistics show us that there is a bullying behaviour continuum. Unchecked bullying turns into harassment when the child becomes an adolescent. Then the adolescent starts dating and relationship violence begins. When the adolescent becomes an adult and enters the workforce, workplace harassment begins. When the adult gets married, spousal abuse begins. When the adult has children, child abuse begins. And as the adult ages and his/her parents also age, elder abuse begins.

If we as a society do not intervene with bullying, if we continue to operate under the myth that bullying is a part of growing up, as the bullies get older their crimes will escalate. Society will then be dealing not only with the cost of incarcerating the offenders, but with the human, financial and economic cost of the support services that will be required for our most vulnerable groups: women, children and the elderly.

Bullies today, criminals tomorrow.

RESOURCES: is a site that details the four types of child abuse (emotional, physical, sexual, and neglect); signs, effects and statistics for each; sexual abuse victims, including victims with disabilities; sex offenders, including female, child, adolescent, and Internet offenders; laws governing child abuse; intervention; prevention; plus a forum to write your own child abuse story.


Statistical references at

Article titled: Child Abuse: Does it lead to bullying?

Darlene Barriere’s On My Own Terms, A Memoir, a book about surviving the effects of child abuse, is now available for download in PDF e-book format at

You have permission to publish this article electronically or in print, free of charge, as long as all bylines and live hyperlinks are included.

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About the Author

Darlene Barriere is a certified violence and abuse prevention educator with the Canadian Red Cross. She conducts workshops with youth and adults on the subject of child abuse, bullying and harassment, violence in sports, and relationship violence. She has written a book detailing how she overcame the devastating effects of child abuse (for download site, see under Related Pages).

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