Bullying and the Abuse of Power

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Welcome to the Bullying and the Abuse of Power project Home Page. Bullying is present in every sphere of life, in every country; in every workplace; in every educational establishment. It leads to human beings and human life being diminished rather than enhanced. It can ruin lives, and it can end lives.

Most of us first come across bullying in school, whether as victims or perpetrators, or as both. But it is much more significant in human affairs than a bit of pushing and name calling in the playground. Rooted in the abuse of power, bullying is to be found wherever there are differences in power between people, whether the imbalance in power arises because of differences in physical size or personality, status or age; because one person has authority over the other, or because one exerts charismatic charm over the other. It manifests itself in many ways – from simple name calling to perverse psychological cruelty; from insults aimed at individuals, to grave injustices perpetrated against groups of people, on account of religious beliefs, lifestyle, race or national identity. It includes religious and sexual intolerance; the abuse of political, personal and economic power, and both physical and sexual violence.

Anyone can be bullied, and anyone can bully. And so bullying is to be found in sport at all levels; in prisons, police stations and army camps; in education at all levels, from kindergarten to university, among both staff and students; in workplaces of all kinds – in offices and factories, hospitals and shops; in the media, and in the corridors of power. It is to be found within families, where it manifests itself not just in the squabbling that goes on between siblings, but in domestic violence; in the physical and sexual abuse of children and elders. It is to be found in international relations, with powerful nations bullying less powerful ones and some multi-national companies abusing the power that their financial and business strength gives them, to bully suppliers across the globe that provide the products that they sell. It is to be found in the physical violence used by repressive political regimes to suppress dissent; and it is to be found in the lack of empathy and fellow feeling that arguably, at times, leads whole nations from intolerance via discrimination, to genocide.

Like other enduring cultural phenomena, bullying has an ability to mutate into new forms. Most importantly, in recent years, has been an invasive use of email and texting to intimidate people, and the use of social media to embarrass and shame, threaten, abuse and harass, by making private lives available to public scrutiny. The decision to focus the May 2015 Bullying and the abuse of power conference on sexual bullying arose as a result of reflection on the frequency with which new media are implicated in stories about sexual bullying and on ways in which this relates to sexual abuse and violence in other contexts.