How To Help A Fellow Student Or Colleague Who Is Being Harassed
Victimization by bullying or harassment can have longstanding, negative effects - and the experience can even be life changing, or life ending for vulnerable teens. This is why it's so important to know the signs of someone who's being bullied or harassed and take action.
While we'll review the most common signs of harassment below, we recommend reading two recent posts delving deeper into the material:
The latter also includes an overview of teacher sexual misconduct, which has serious ramifications on students' wellbeing.
Investigate Further if You Notice Signs of Harassment
The first step in helping a fellow student or colleague being harassed is to recognize the signs. While some individuals report harassment right away, many do not because they fear the negative ramifications, or they believe they are powerless and somehow deserving of the disrespectful treatment. Always take a student or colleague seriously if they claim they're being bullied or harassed. It's very rare that people make false accusations about harassment, and the experience of not being believed can be as damaging as the harassment itself.
Common signs of harassment, bullying, or sexual misconduct include:
- Changes in eating habits - often lack of appetite due to stress and depression OR overeating as a soothing mechanism.
- A notable change in study habits and grades
- Poor sleep habits, insomnia and/or scary dreams
- Unwillingness to attend school or a favorite activity
- Lack of interest in something they formerly loved (this may indicate a particular coach, teacher, instructor, etc., is the source of harassment)
- Social withdrawal
Regardless of whether these signs indicate harassment or another, emotional upset, they should never be ignored.
Take Action to Support and Facilitate the Situation
Helping a friend or colleague through the situation is not always easy, but your assistance provides invaluable light at the end of the tunnel.
Often, victims of bullying believe they are somehow at fault or deserving of the poor treatment they're receiving. This is not the case, but it requires consistent, clear reassurance and support from people like you to stop those vicious thought patterns. If you are a student yourself, enlist the help of a trusted adult - parent, teacher, a school counselor, etc.
If you are an adult supporting a colleague, recommend the assistance of a therapist or counselor, who can be instrumental in providing additional support and advice and who will help the victim take methodical action.
Go at the victim's pace
Chronic harassment is traumatizing, and victims may not be as charged to take action as you are, especially if they're scared or depressed. Unless illegal activities are taking place (physical or sexual abuse, etc.) be respectful of the victim's pace - providing unfailing moral and practical support as requested. However, if you suspect the victim isn't taking action over a reasonable period and is still being victimized, it's important to reach out to authorities.
Document the incidences
The more accurate documentation the student or colleague can provide the better when it comes to seeking punitive action against the perpetrator. If this is a student bullying another student, a simple accounting to a teacher, staff or administrator may suffice. If not, or if this is a workplace situation, written and/or recorded documentation is best.
Help your friend or colleague go back and create a timeline of sorts, outlining the incidences as clearly as possible, using specifics around dates, words, actions, location(s), etc. Ultimately, a clearly written format is best, but making a recording and documenting prescient points in written form can be helpful.
Regardless of whether the victim is a child or adult, it's imperative that you report the incident - or incidences - to appropriate authorities if the victim is paralyzed by fear or denial and can't take action him/herself. Reports may be made to parents, administrators, school counselors or even the police - depending on the nature of the harassment.
Sometimes, victims are reticent to receive any additional attention - or may even fear the perpetrator - so they'll beg you not to tell anyone. Again, if no illegal activities are taking place and it feels like your emotional support is enough to help them weather the storm so they can eventually take action themselves, that's fine. If the bullying continues, your thoughtful action may be required.
Seek support for yourself
Depending on the complexity of the situation (sometimes adult harassers are beloved and celebrated members of the staff until the truth is revealed) it can be difficult to provide unfailing emotional support because it's draining, especially when the victim is someone you care about. Seek emotional support yourself and find time to do the things you love to remain strong.
Visit StopBullying.gov for more information and helpful resources.