[VOM Column] Bullying: A Pandemic that Needs to be Eradicated

Bullying: A Pandemic that Needs to be Eradicated

What is Bullying?

Bullying is a widespread, pervasive epidemic which if not stopped can have catastrophic consequences. It occurs everywhere around the world, in schools, at workplaces, and even in our homes. Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behavior that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm.

Bullying can be in many forms, some of the most common are:

  • Physical Bullying:

It involves aggressive physical intimidation and is often characterized by repeated tripping, pushing, hitting, kicking, blocking, or touching in some other inappropriate way (sexual harassment). Even though it’s the most obvious form of bullying, it isn’t the most prominent.

Physical bullying is damaging and can be emotionally and psychologically devastating. When a child fears for their safety, they’re not able to focus on life and function normally. Notwithstanding, the trauma that physical bullying causes, most children don’t report it to a teacher or to their parents. Adults reported that they have been bullied too, mostly at their workplace, from their employers or an employee of a higher status.

  • Verbal Bullying

Words are powerful. When it comes to bullying, sometimes verbal bullying can result in deeper wounds of a long-term than physical bullying. Verbal bullying involves putting down others and bullying them using cruel, demeaning words. Verbal bullying includes name calling, making racist, sexist or homophobic remarks or jokes, insulting, slurs, sexually suggestive comments, or abusive language of any kinds. Verbal bullying is one of the most common forms of bullying.

People who are verbally bullied may believe the bullying and this will knock self-esteem. Many young people say that they often feel some of the following emotions: Depressed, Anxious, Isolated, Suicidal, Humiliated, Low, Upset, Angry and Frustrated.

A person might bottle up their emotions and try not to let it show to their friends or family and thus they might be prone to: self-harm, feeling depressed, withdrawing socially and stop going out, feeling anxious about going to school, be very angry and aggressive, bullying others and developing an eating disorder.

  • Social Bullying

Social bullying can be proactive, or used to achieve or maintain social position, gain attention, or alleviate boredom, or it can be reactive, or retaliatory, in nature, in response to a perceived threat or to feelings of anger, jealousy, or betrayal.

Some forms of social bullying:

  1. Leaving someone out on purpose
  2. Telling other children that they are not wanted in the group
  3. Telling other children to exclude a particular person from games or other group activities
  4. Walking away or ignoring particular children when they attempt to join the group
  5. Embarrassing or insulting other children over the Internet
  • Cyberbullying:

Cyberbullying is the least common type of bullying, but it can be just as damaging as the other forms of bullying. It includes any type of bullying that occurs via the Internet or through electronic mediums. The most common types of cyberbullying include:

  • Text message bullying
  • Picture/video clip bullying via mobile phone cameras
  • Email message bullying
  • Bullying through instant messaging
  • Chat-room bullying
  • Bullying via websites


Children who are being cyberbullied typically spend more time online or texting. If a child or student seems upset, sad or anxious after being online, especially if they’re visiting social media websites, it may be a sign they’re being cyberbullied. When cyberbullying includes threats of violence or sexually explicit content, law enforcement should be involved.

Facts and Statistics about Bullying Worldwide

Almost one-third of young teens worldwide have recently experienced bullying, according to data released for the first time by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), which is the official data source for the Sustainable Development Goal on Education.

In 2017, about 20 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year. Of students ages 12–18, about 13 percent reported being the subject of rumors; 13 percent reported being made fun of, called names, or insulted; 5 percent reported being pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on; and 5 percent reported being excluded from activities on purpose. Additionally, 4 percent of students reported being threatened with harm, 2 percent reported that others tried to make them do things they did not want to do, and 1 percent reported that their property was destroyed by others on purpose.

In 2017, a higher percentage of female students than of male students ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school during the school year (24 vs. 17 percent). There were also differences in selected types of bullying by sex.

The new data shows that bullying affects children everywhere, across all regions and countries of different income levels. They were collected from in-school surveys that track the physical and emotional health of youth. The Global School Health Survey (GSHS) focuses on children aged 13 to 17 years in low-income regions. Similarly, the Health Behavior in School-Age Children (HBSC) targets young people aged 11 to 15 years in 42 countries around the world.

While cyberbullying is mostly associated with school children, they aren’t the only targets, and many adults experience cyberbullying themselves.

The most common target for cyberbullies are children, young adults (especially girls), students, and members of the LGBTQ community.

As far as the bullies themselves are concerned, they come from all walks of life. Studies show that children with less involved parents and those suffering from depression or anxiety tend to display a bullying behavior, but nothing’s conclusive as of yet. Girls are more likely than boys to be both victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying. Only 6% of boys reported being bullied online, compared to 15% of girls, particularly older girls aged 12-1741% of older girls reported experiencing some form of online harassment. 7 in 10 young people experience cyberbullying before they hit the age of 18. That’s 45% of young and older teens (especially girls and members of the LGBTQ community) who have been victims of cyberbullies. It’s an alarming percentage that seems to be only increasing.

About 37% of children between 12 and 17 years experienced cyberbullying at least once. Although a great number of young people (60%) had witnessed their peers aged 12-17 (37%) being bullied, they didn’t bother to try and stop the bullying. Most people don’t want to intervene to avoid becoming victims themselves. From a poll of 20,000, 70% of school students said that someone spread rumors about them online.

Over 12% of LGBT youth have experienced cyberbullying. LGBT cyberbullying statistics show that LGBT teens are more likely to be bullied than heterosexual teens. More than 12% of LGBT teens reported being cyberbullied, with 58% dealing with hate speech and 35% receiving online threats.

Another survey done in the Arab World shows that the numbers are really drastic:

In Egypt it reached a peak of 70% according to a UNICEF survey in Egyptian schools, Jordan came next at 45%, Oman 39 %, Lebanon at 33.6%, Morocco 32%, UAE 30 %, KSA 29%.

According to another survey that was done worldwide, the statistics came as the following:

In the Sub-Saharan Africa 48.2%, North Africa 42.7%, Middle East 41%, Pacific 36.8%, North America 31.7%, South America 30.2%, Caribbean 25%, Europe 25% and Central America 22.5%.

Even in 2021, bullying is still a problem, where 73% of students reported being bullied and around 44% said that they have been bullied very recently.

Other data were taken according to the:

  1. Most common types of cyber bullying:

Sexual remarks 12.1%, online rumors 20.1%, mean comments 22.5% and other forms of bullying 45.3%.

  1. Reasons for cyberbullying:

Appearance 61%, academic achievement 25%, race 17 %, sexuality 15%, financial status 15%, religion 11%, and others 20%.

  1. Types of harassment:

Any harassment 53%, name calling 41%, severe harassment 37%, purposeful embarrassment 33%, physical harassment 22%, sexual harassment 18%, stalking 18%.

  1. Where cyberbullying happens:

Instagram 42%, Facebook 37%, Snapchat 31%, WhatsApp 12%, YouTube 10 %, Twitter 9%.

  1. Types of childhood bullying:

Being hit and pushed 21.9%, left out of activities on purpose 17.5%, was made fun of with sexual jokes 15.3%, other ways 15.3%.

  1. Impact of cyberbullying:

Smoking 54%, Developing social anxiety 41%, developing depression 37%, having suicidal thoughts 30.9%, premarital sex 26%, deleting social media profile 26%, self-harm 25%, stop using social media websites 25%, skipping classes 20%, developing eating disorder 14%, abusing drugs and alcohol 9%.

  1. LGBTQ

70.1% of LGBTQ students were verbally bullied (e.g., called names, threatened) in the past years because of their sexual orientation and 59.1% because of their gender expression, and 53.2% based on gender 28.9% of LGBTQ students were physically bullied (e.g., pushed, shoved)  48.7% of LGBTQ students experienced cyberbullying in the past years 59.5% of LGBTQ students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation 34.8% of LGBTQ students missed at least one entire day at school in the past months because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, Almost 1/5 of all teens (19.4%) who report that they are “not sure” of their sexual orientation reported being cyberbullied.

Bullying in South Korea

South Korea has been rocked in recent years by high-profile deaths of students following severe bullying by schoolmates. Suicide has been the No. 1 cause of death among adolescents in the country for eight consecutive years, according to a government report last year. Bullying and violence in school are understood to be one of the biggest reasons for the high suicide rate.

School bullying in South Korea may take different forms from bullying in western societies, and there is little data on its nature and extent nationally.

Unlike in western countries, in Korea the number of bullies was larger than the number of victims, there were more girl than boy bullies, and very few pupils were bullied by those from higher grades. The most cited forms for both receiving and giving wang-ta were verbal, followed by relational; and physical forms were relatively infrequent.

South Korea is in the midst of a #MeToo-style reckoning over school bullying, with allegations of abuse being leveled at K-pop singers, actors, sports stars and other celebrities. The outcry began in February when former teammates of twin volleyball stars Jae-Yeong Lee and Da-Yeong Lee accused the players of subjecting them to abuse throughout elementary and middle school.

In a post on a popular online forum, however, the former teammates said the twins had routinely punched them in the head, verbally abused them and took money from them — and at one point had threatened them with a knife. The Lee sisters were quick to express remorse. “I apologize for leaving lasting damages and giving terrible memories to the victims during the time which should have only been full of happy memories,” Jae-Yeong Lee said in a statement.

Da-Yeong Lee also issued a statement, saying “If the victims allow, I will directly visit them and apologize.”

Still, the fallout has been swift. The Heungkuk Life Pink Spiders suspended the twins indefinitely, and the Korean Volleyball Association said they would not participate in the Tokyo Games.

Kim Ji Soo, an actor who goes by his stage name Ji Soo and stars in the popular television drama “River Where the Moon Rises”, was recently dropped from the show after multiple people accused him of bullying. The series has already started airing on television, but the show’s production company said it will reshoot his scenes with a new actor.

“I sincerely apologize to those who have suffered because of me. There is no room for excuse for the misdeeds I have done in the past,” Ji Soo said in a statement.

Jo Jung-Sil the president of the School Violence Victims’ Family Association in Seoul, said Korean society has largely been unsympathetic towards victims of school bullying until now.

Two decades ago, her daughter was beaten by a dozen schoolmates and spent five days in a coma. Yet, when Jo attempted to hold the students accountable, the wider community viewed her as a troublemaker, and her family was forced to move to another area. In light of the recent controversy, the Education Ministry and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism also vowed to work together to end violence among student athletes.

“Student athletes who bully will no longer be able to become successful athletes,” they said in a joint statement.

School bullying is grabbing national attention after a 15-year-old student killed himself, listing the names of schoolmates who allegedly abused him for two years. It was the 14th suicide believed to be caused by bullying in Daegu in less than two years. “At school, students don’t see their peers as friends but as competitors and believe they need to beat them to get ahead,” says Joo Mi Bae, a clinical psychologist. “Students who are good in their studies can immerse themselves in that, those who are not might try to bully or control someone else.”

The government scurried to announce measures including increasing security personnel and installing more and higher-resolution closed-circuit cameras.

Korea’s youth suicide rate jumped nearly 50 per cent from 6.4 to 9.4 per every 100,000 people in the past 10 years, according to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

According to the survey by National Youth Policy Institute, about 23.4 percent of Korean youths thought of committing suicide in 2012.

Concern about academic performance was the most dominant reason for 36.7 percent of respondents, followed by family troubles and school violence for 23.7 percent and 7.6 percent, respectively.

Cho Byung-kyu, who rose to a stardom with the hit TV series “Sky Castle” (2018) and “The Uncanny Counter” (2020), was accused of verbally assaulting some of his schoolmates while he was studying in New Zealand. But his agency, which has constantly dismissed such claims, said Cho has received an apology from the accuser, who also removed the related posts.

Actress Park Hye-Soo, who starred in the comedy film “Samjin Company English Class” (2020), was also alleged to be a perpetrator of school violence, while actor Kim Dong-Hee, who has appeared in hit series like “Itaewon Class” (2020) and “Extracurricular” (2020), also could not avoid the wave.

Moreover, as many as 10 K-pop stars including Hyunjin, a member of K-pop boy group Stray Kids; Kihyun of Monsta X; and Chuu, a member of girl group Loona, saw their names cited in online school violence complaints over the past week.

“In Korea, spreading rumors, like of a classmate having sex, could be more painful than physical abuse,” Kwak said, adding that the intense bullying has a lot to do with South Korea’s collectivist culture. Rather than one on one bullying, school violence is done by big groups or even a whole class against a few. It’s a relatable situation for many, which is perhaps why the cases involving celebrities struck a chord.

A 2017 survey by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) showed that 73 percent of workers have suffered workplace bullying. It also showed that some 60 percent didn’t take any action on concerns it would affect their work life.

Among some drastic cases were Seo Ji-Yoon, a nurse who took her own life after allegedly suffering bullying from her peers at a public general hospital. On the other end of the spectrum, there was Yang Jin-Ho, the head of a software firm, who cruelly killed a chicken at a company workshop and fired airsoft guns at employees Few people report such behavior, due in part to the lack of a legal framework to protect workers and the existence of many powerful family-run conglomerates in the country.

A revised labor law aimed at preventing workplace bullying went into effect here on July 16 last year. But the law came with a handful of prerequisites.

For one, it defines workplace harassment as “an act of incurring physical or mental suffering or a worsening of the work environment by employers or workers using their status or power to behave beyond the scope of working norms,” which many found to be too vague to enforce. The law indicates that victims can report the case to their workplace — not the labor ministry — which is then mandated to launch an immediate probe into it.

The employer should take follow-up measures — such as changing workplace location or giving paid leave — and take punitive action against the bully when allegations are confirmed.

Employers can face up to three years in prison or a fine of up to 30 million won (US$24,863), if an employee is given any disadvantage — including getting fired — for reporting a case.

Article 76 of the act stipulates that workers who have been subjected to workplace bullying or notice others being victimized by it must report the case to their employer. The employer then must promptly investigate the reported case, punishing the perpetrators and protecting the victims. But this provision in the law has some loopholes, many workers argue.

First, many have complained that they have difficulty reporting cases of workplace bullying perpetrated by their employer or his or her relatives. As cronyism is deeply entrenched across Korean society, many employers are likely to turn a blind eye to bullying perpetrated by their family members.

Second, the Labor Standards Act doesn’t have any rule about employers who mistreat workers for reporting bullying. This potentially makes workers reluctant to report such cases.

Third, as stated in Article 11 of the Labor Standards Act, the act applies only to companies with at least five employees.

The South Korean government decided to ban workplace bullying as part of protecting workers’ rights. But the revised Labor Standards Act is failing to root out workplace bullying, and the government should revisit this issue and tighten the law further.

How to Detect and prevent Bullying?

Stopping bullying goes beyond just what happens within the wall of a school though. It’s also important for teachers and administrators to engage with parents and the surrounding community. It’s important to reach out to parents to discuss what’s happening at the school and what they can do to help. Within the community itself, schools can partner with groups like mental health specialists and other neighborhood associations. These groups can provide services, from counseling to role models, that might help to curb bullying behavior or inspire students who have been bullied.

Children who are bullied will show a lot of signs that parents can detect, some of these signs include: the child becomes aggressive and starts fights, tendency to be alone, change in sleeping and food routines, reluctance in using internet, losing their own property or bringing it home damaged, constant fear, deterioration in academic performance and stealing money from the house.

There are many measures that can be taken to help children who are bullied especially at schools:

  1. Be Aware and pay attention

The first and most important step to combating and preventing bullying is being aware that it’s a problem and paying attention to warning signs.

  1. Recognize it is a problem and don’t ignore it

Bullying is happening in every elementary school, middle school and high school all over the world – and it’s getting worse Whenever a student feels the least bit threatened – even if it seems like harmless teasing – take it seriously, assure the student being bullied you’re there for them, and that the incident will be taken care of.

  1. Act immediately

When you recognize someone is being bullied do something immediately. Don’t ever take the attitude “kids will be kids” or “It isn’t a big deal“. Yes, kids will be kids but bullying, in any form, is a very big deal.

  1. Remain calm and stay in control

Intervene, but don’t get involved. Don’t start arguing with the students. Be respectful and show them what proper behavior is through your example.

  1. Don’t try to sort things out on the spot

Before you attempt to figure out what happened, separate everyone involved – including witnesses and bystanders – to a safe place where they can be spoken with on a one-on-one basis. Don’t allow the students involved to speak with one another, and don’t start asking bystanders what they saw at the scene of the incident.

  1. Don’t try and resolve bullying on the spot

For the sake of the student who was being bullied, and the bystanders, it’s important that bullying be dealt with responsibly and according to a school’s anti-bullying policy. Any bullying should be dealt with by the proper authority and consequences should be administered in accordance with the school’s anti-bullying policy. Anything less will not prevent future occurrences and help students feel protected and secure.

  1. Bystanders need to be held accountable

Anyone encouraging bullying, or egging a bully on, needs to be held accountable. Students have a responsibility to stop bullying and/or report it immediately.

  1. Don’t pass judgement in haste

Make sure to hear all sides of a story before coming to any conclusion or passing judgement. It may be that the person who appears to be the bully may in fact be the bullied student retaliating against the bully.

  1. Seek professional help if needed

If an incident of bullying is beyond your comfort level or scope of expertise, don’t hesitate to enlist the services of a professional or a colleague with more experience. Don’t give advice if you’re unsure what advice to give.

  1. Get trained on how to handle situations that involve bullying

If you’re a teacher, counselor, advisor or anyone else who works in a professional capacity with students, you need to learn the correct methods for addressing bullying.

Victims around the World

Rosalie Avila (2004–2017), age 13, was a seventh-grade student at Mesa View Middle School who committed suicide after two years of bullying. Her mother found her body, hanging in the closet. Before she took her own life, she left some suicide notes on her bed including, “Sorry, Mom, you’re going to find me like this“. And “Please don’t show my picture at my funeral” Her father later discovered what she had written in her journal. It is said the kids were bullying her at school about her braces: “They told me I was ugly today. They’re making fun of me about my teeth.”

Ashawnty Davis (2007–2017), age 10, was a fifth-grade student in Colorado who committed suicide by hanging after being bullied at school and online. According to her parents, Ashawnty was bullied after a video of a fight she was in at her school in Aurora in October was posted on an app. Ashawnty confronted a girl who had already been bullying her and the fight was recorded on a cellphone and posted to an app called Musical.ly. When Ashwanty found out about the video, she was devastated. Two weeks after the video was taken, she took her own life.

About a week after Davis’ death, an eight-year-old girl from New Jersey named Imani McCray saw news reports of the suicide of Ashwanty Davis on the computer before taking her own life. Her parents discovered McCray unconscious in her room that afternoon not long after they reportedly sent her to her room for a timeout. She was pronounced dead 40 minutes after arriving to the University Hospital.

Egyptian girl from Alexandria, committed suicide after being bullied by her teachers at the Institute she used to study at.

Another Egyptian boy hanged himself after his classmates made fun of him and had beaten him daily for months.

He Sukun (1995–2019) was a Chinese singer and ex-member of SNH48. On November 28, 2019, He Sukun committed suicide at the age of 24 after being bullied constantly.

Goo Hara (1991–2019) was a South Korean actress, singer and member of Kara. On November 24, 2019, Hara committed suicide at the age of 28. Prior to her suicide, she was involved in a legal dispute battle with her ex-boyfriend about being sexually assaulted by him, which then lead him threatening to leak a sex tape without her consent to end her career instantly. After news of her sex video went public, Goo was harassed on social media, despite being a victim of a crime. However, the ex-boyfriend was found not guilty of the illegal filming, though the court battle is still ongoing till this day.

Etika (1990–2019) was an American YouTuber. On June 19, 2019, Etika committed suicide by jumping off at the age of 29 after being bullied.

Nigel Shelby (2004–2019), age 15, was a ninth-grade student from Huntersville, Alabama. He was a homosexual teenager who committed suicide after his classmates and friends bullied him because of his sexuality. On April 18, Nigel hung himself in his bedroom, his mother later discovered his body

Ashley Lovelace (2002–2019), age 16, was a high school sophomore known as miss Lovelace on Instagram. On January 21, 2019, Ashley Lovelace committed suicide due to cyberbullying and depression.

Kevin Reese, Jr. (2008–2019), age 10, was a fifth-grade student who committed suicide after being relentlessly bullied by his classmates. According to his mother, his classmates wrote on his tablet “kill yourself” and You don’t belong here”.

Hailie Masson (2005–2019), age 13, was a middle school student who committed suicide by hanging after being bullied.

Du Yuwei (1999–2018) was a Chinese singer and ex-member of GNZ48. On October 16, 2018, Du Yuwei committed suicide at the age of 19 via charcoal-burning, after being bullied for her affair with Huang Jiawei.

A 15-year-old high schooler, only identified by his surname Choi, jumped out of his apartment home in the southeastern city of Gyeongsan last Monday after being bullied for roughly two years.

Sulli(1994–2019) was a South Korean actress, singer, model and ex-member of F(x). On October 14, 2019, Sulli committed suicide by hanging herself at the age of 25 after being bullied.

And here are some stories of anonymous young people who said that they were bullied:

  • COVID-19 was difficult for all of us, correct? As for me, I experienced a lot of emotional instability and an unstable self-image causing mental issues. I have experienced bullying from a young age but things got unmanageable during the pandemic. It started with receiving malicious comments through a group chat with girls in my friend circle. The countless acts of violence under the guise of friendship, rapidly impacted my grades, my emotions and caused a wavering sense of who I was. The cold looks, the taunting remarks affected my life, I always submitted work late, putting my time into the group chat. This wasn’t like me as I was and am a high achiever. Being naive, I didn’t tell anyone until my family and the school found out about the situation. Once restrictions eased, it was an opportunity for the bullying to become physical. In the schoolyard, I’d constantly get into physical fights leaving bruises and wounds, as well as faking a smile outside of the schoolyard. It almost seemed like I became the bully too after my infuriation and anxiousness got the best of me.
    Looking back, I feared being excluded or disliked which is why I think I let bullying overpower me. I still have inconsistent mental health but I try to ameliorate it by keeping track of my thoughts and feelings. Three in five students in Australia have experienced bullying and it is crucial to take action towards this global issue.
  • I was a happy, extrovert boy till 3rd grade, then I got shifted to a new school in a new city, so called ‘best school’. I got bullied a lot. I don’t have friends, literally. It hurts me a lot. Everyone have friends in my school and they celebrate their birthdays, I don’t have friends who even remember my name.
  • Back when I was in fourth grade it was hard, and especially since I didn’t know how to multiply. I usually cried a lot so I was an easy target for bullying. This class was really rude sometimes, if you wore anything girly you would spend your school free time in the corner of the room alone. I was also called fat and ugly.


Bullying and suicide are an ever-increasing problem in the Internet age. Studies have shown that bullying victims have a higher suicide rate than their non-bullied contemporaries. Prosecutions that paint victims of bullying who have committed suicide as mentally unstable may reinforce the sense of hopelessness and helplessness others who are bullied feel. The goal should be to empower bullying victims to seek other avenues to escape their bullies, to feel that they have choices and that suicide is not a good option. A comparative causation analysis would not treat the suicide as an automatic break in the causal chain or mark the victim as mentally unstable. Instead, it would look to a person’s role in another’s death; by inculpating the bully, we are saying that he deserves punishment because his actions had an effect on the suicide victim.

Families matter, too. Bullying in schools sometimes arises from harsh parenting practices or sibling bullying at home.

Even  workplaces matter. Adults experience bullying in their workplaces at about the same rate as children in schools, and it’s even found among teachers and in senior living communities. In other words, bullying is not just a childhood problem; it is a pervasive human problem.

Ultimately, we need a substantial shift in our mindsets about the importance of children and their feelings. Children are more likely to thrive when we nurture their humanity and offer them language and strategies and values to help them identify, express, and, thus, regulate their feelings. When parents, teachers, and administrators gain new awareness into the complex roots of bullying and adopt new strategies for addressing it, schools can lead the way. The kids are counting on us.


Darwish Musab/무열 기자 (이주민방송MWTV)

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