Bullying vs Harassment: What’s the difference?
3 July 2023 | 5 mins read
- Staff resources
- Student resources
Understanding the difference between bullying and harassment is critical in our efforts to promote respect, empathy, and inclusivity in our society. While both are forms of harmful conduct, they are distinguished by different characteristics and implications that need proper recognition and response.
But what is the actual difference between the two?
Bullying often involves an imbalance of power, with aggressive behavior repeatedly targeting an individual. Harassment, however, typically involves unwelcome conduct based on a person’s protected characteristic such as their race, gender, or sexual orientation.
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into the two forms of harassment, their key differences and similarities, and what we can do to fight against them.
In this post, you’ll find…
- Definitions and key differences between bullying and harassment
- The impact of bullying and harassment
- Legal implications of bullying and harassment
- Role of AI in Detecting and Preventing Bullying and Harassment
- How to Foster a More Inclusive Environment at School
Harassment vs Bullying: Definitions and Key Differences
First things first – let’s discuss the definitions of both harassment and bullying.
Bullying is defined as repeated aggressive behavior, often among school-aged children, intending to hurt another individual either physically, emotionally, or mentally.
For example, physical bullying can manifest as a student constantly being subjected to physical violence, such as hitting or pushing around by another student. Verbal bullying can be observed when a student regularly faces verbal abuse or is called derogatory names, such as “stupid” or “loser”, by classmates.
In relational bullying, a group of children might deliberately exclude a classmate from participating in group activities, damaging their social relationships. Lastly, cyberbullying can take place when a student receives threatening text messages, or when malicious rumors about them are spread on social media platforms.
Harassment, on the other hand, refers to unwanted conduct related to personal characteristics that are protected by law. These may include race, gender identity, national origin, marital or family status, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and genetic information.
For instance, sexual harassment can occur when an employee is forced to endure unwelcome sexual remarks or advances from a coworker. Stalking could involve a person receiving unwelcome and repeated attention from another individual, creating an atmosphere of fear. Discriminatory harassment might happen when an individual is continually subjected to offensive jokes or comments about their race or religion at their workplace.
The crucial difference between bullying and harassment lies in their intent, duration, frequency, and power imbalance. Bullying often involves a power imbalance between the perpetrator and the victim, with the bully intending to control or harm the victim. Harassment, meanwhile, is frequently about targeting someone based on their protected characteristics and creating a hostile environment for them.
The Impact of Bullying and Harassment
Bullying and harassment can have severe impacts on mental health. The victims of bullying can experience depression, anxiety, and a drastic reduction in self-esteem.
For example, a child who is consistently bullied might begin to feel worthless and isolated, which could lead to depression. They may also develop anxiety about going to school or interacting with their peers.
Similarly, harassment can lead to severe mental health consequences, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and panic disorder. An employee who is consistently sexually harassed at work may develop PTSD, reliving the trauma of the harassment long after it has occurred. They may also experience panic disorder, characterized by recurrent and unexpected panic attacks due to the stressful environment.
In severe cases, both bullying and harassment can lead to serious health issues and academic or professional problems. For instance, a student constantly subjected to bullying might see their grades decline due to increased stress and reduced concentration.
In the worst-case scenario, victims may even contemplate or attempt suicide, underlining the critical need for immediate and effective interventions.
Legal Implications of Bullying and Harassment
Bullying, especially in school settings, can carry serious legal consequences.
Many school districts have strict anti-bullying policies that, when violated, can result in a range of repercussions for the bully, from detentions and suspensions to expulsions. For example, a student found repeatedly physically bullying another student could be suspended or even expelled from the school, based on the severity of the incidents.
The legal implications of harassment are even more severe as it can be considered a criminal act under federal law. Harassment, especially when it involves discrimination against a protected characteristic such as race or sexual orientation, can lead to lawsuits, fines, and in some cases, incarceration.
For instance, a supervisor found guilty of sexual harassment against a subordinate could face significant fines, a formal charge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and potential prison time.
Therefore, it is critical to take both bullying and harassment seriously, not only because of the negative impact on mental health but also due to potential legal consequences. The repercussions serve as a stark reminder of the importance of treating each other with respect and kindness.
Role of AI in Detecting and Preventing Bullying and Harassment
Artificial Intelligence (AI), particularly through the Konsistent app, is a powerful tool in detecting and preventing harmful speech. It works by scanning various forms of communication for patterns and keywords that indicate bullying or harassment.
For instance, if a student uses offensive language in a chat group or if an employee sends an inappropriate email, the AI tool can detect these and flag them for review.
In addition to detection, AI can also play a pivotal role in educating users on how to adopt more inclusive speech. The Konsistent app, for example, can provide real-time feedback and suggest more respectful and inclusive language to users. This not only helps in immediately correcting poor behaviour but also serves as a teaching tool for better communication in the future.
In this way, AI technology like Konsistent can play a pivotal role in creating safer and more respectful environments, both online and offline.
How to Foster a More Inclusive Environment at School
Fostering an inclusive environment at school requires proactive measures and commitment from both school staff and students. Here are a few practical steps:
Firstly, schools need to have a clear, up-to-date information on anti-bullying and harassment policy. This policy should provide a legal definition of bullying and harassment, the school district’s commitment to preventing such incidents, and the potential consequences for violating these policies.
Next, education plays a significant role. School administrators should conduct regular workshops to educate students about the important distinctions between bullying and harassment. They should use real-life examples of verbal comments, physical assault, or text message threats, illustrating the major difference between a form of aggression (bullying) and unwelcome conduct based on protected characteristics (harassment).
Thirdly, the school environment should encourage empathy. Students must learn to respect the physical appearance, marital status, or any other personal characteristic of their peers. They should understand that any form of offensive conduct, whether it’s making homophobic slurs or sending threatening emails from an anonymous email address, can cause emotional distress to the receiving end and constitute bullying or harassment.
Lastly, encourage reporting. Any student who experiences or witnesses bullying or harassment should feel safe reporting the incidents to a trusted adult without fear of retaliation.
In conclusion, understanding the important difference between bullying and harassment, and addressing each with appropriate seriousness, is crucial in creating a safe, inclusive, and respectful environment. We encourage students, teachers, and parents alike to use tools like the Konsistent app, promoting healthier communication and taking a firm stand against bullying and harassment in schools.
Let us continue to learn, empathize, and uphold the principles of respect for everyone’s dignity.