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Why Victims May Not Report Bullying

Bullying May Go Unreported For Many Reasons

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Updated June 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

School girls (11-12) stealing mp3 player from another girl's (12-13) bag
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As many as one-third of bullying victims never tell any adults about their victimization or only discuss it years after it has ended. Here are the primary reasons why children refuse to report bullying.

Fear That the Abuse Will Get Worse Leads Children to Not Report Bullying

Many children fear that the bully will become further enraged if he or she is brought to the attention of school officials, according to interviews with bullied children. The victims believe that if they report bullying, the bully will retaliate and become even more abusive. As a result, children either keep the bullying a secret or tell an adult with the request that nothing be done about the situation. It is unclear, however, whether retaliation actually occurs after bullying is reported.

Children Are Less Likely to Report Bullying if They Consider the Bully a Friend

The stereotypical notion of a school bully is of a large tyrant who barges in and steals lunch money from a peer he never talks to otherwise. In fact, however, bullying tends to be much more subtle and often occurs among friends. This may especially be the case for girls, among whom relational aggression is particularly common. The more a victim considers their bully to be a friend, the less likely that victim is to tell about the abuse. This occurs because the victim hopes to maintain the friendship, despite its abusive elements.

Children May Not Report Bullying Because They Feel Responsible for the Abuse

Children who are bullied often feel like they somehow "deserve" the abuse. Therefore, victims of bullying typically feel a great deal of shame and guilt surrounding the bullying. As a result, victims may remain silent and choose not to report bullying.

Children May Not Report Bullying Because They Feel Powerless

Bullying is essentially about power. Aggression -- whether verbal, social or physical -- centers on making one person feel less powerful than the other. Therefore, victims of bullying typically perceive themselves as powerless, especially in relation to the bully. This perception fuels a sense that reporting the bullying would be pointless.

A Belief that Telling Won't Make a Difference Causes Children to Not Report Bullying

Victims of bullying often claim that telling someone would be of "no use". This seems to be particularly the case in schools or classrooms where reports of bullying lead to little or no active intervention. The older children get, the less likely they are to believe that adults can help with bullying. This may occur because they have observed reports of bullying being dismissed by teachers, administrators and/or parents repeatedly over time.

Source:

Mishna, Faye, and Alaggia, Ramona. Weighing the risks: A child's decision to disclose peer victimization. 2005. Children & Schools. 27,4: 217-226.

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