Non-violent Communication Institute on Bullying: Don’t Hurt, Don’t Label

School bullying is an acute problem throughout the world. According to the US Health and Social Services Department, bullying is an unwanted and aggressive behavior, present both at school and amongst adults, which includes a repeated real or imagined power imbalance. According to scientific literature, children who witness bullying (“bullying bystanders”) are as much at risk as those directly involved. Negative effects can include depression, anxiety, substance dependence, a high level of vulnerability and even suicide. Victims are singled out due to religious views, gender identity, sexual orientation or for having a different appearance. Georgia is no exception to bullying. Therefore, the Non-violent Communication Institute, with the assistance of the Open Society Georgia Foundation, has launched a bullying prevention program aiming for bullying prevention in schools which involves methodology directed to the reduction of various forms of abuse among peers and for the improvement of the learning environment. Ana Subeliani, Non-violent Communication Institute representative and the program head, spoke to GEORGIA TODAY.

When and why does bullying happen?

In 2015, a Homophobic Bullying study in public schools showed that during school years, the vast majority of pupils from seventh to ninth grades are participants of bullying. They experience bullying as either initiators, victims or witnesses. Generally, school reflects attitudes widespread in society. Thus, it is natural that those marks become the main cause of oppression of peers in our reality.

Does a bully choose a victim in advance or does he aim to humiliate everyone?

A bully chooses a victim deliberately based on certain indicators [as mentioned in the introduction]. There is a real or imagined power imbalance between a bully and a victim. It can be expressed as physical strength, as well as through destabilizing the victim’s emotional state and self-defense capability.

What measures can a victim of bullying take in self-defense?

A victim of bullying has to have someone reliable to turn to for help. He or she needs to know that there is a person who will understand them and will not take any kind of action without their agreement and, ultimately, will help them overcome the problems.

Do schools have mechanisms to combat bullying?

Nowadays, Georgian schools are without a single unified, holistic-based mechanism which is directed to creating a positive educational environment. In later life, only psycho-social rehabilitation centers are available for adult bullying cases, yet this often leaves victims beyond the service and does not work to prevent bullying. Harassed victims have trouble speaking to others about their experiences and try to solve the problems on their own. This can lead to more serious situations. Therefore, it is essential that people exist right within the schools who can identify the problem and earn the trust of those who need to talk. As for private schools, no joint study has been conducted to date. Certain schools carry out special events and campaigns against bullying, though, again, there are no set methodological programs.

Is the Ministry of Education involved?

In order to overcome the bullying issue we have been in communication with the Ministry since 2014 and Ministry representatives have often expressed their readiness to collaborate in this direction. But when push comes to shove, through bureaucratic mechanisms, they ultimately try to prevent us from entering public schools. In 2014-2015 we terminated a 6-7 month negotiation [with them] due to a lack of progress and turned our attention to private schools. The Ministry continues to express its interest in our work but at the same time publically denies the existence of the problem we are trying to solve [Ministry of Education Tamar Sanikidze, in an interview with Tabula TV program Focus, said that bullying does not exist in schools]. We also see the influence of the Patriarchate in the decision-making process within the Ministry. Ultimately, such things negatively impact on our students’ safety and healthy development.

What does the Bullying Prevention Action Plan involve?

The Bullying Prevention Action Plan includes carrying out a number of activities based on the research of school culture. On the one hand it means implementing an anti-bullying policy in schools and giving all representatives of the schools a particular role and function in terms of overcoming bullying which will be written in the schools’ internal regulations. Students, teachers, head teachers, school administration staff, among them technical staff, and parents will be provided with trainings. During the trainings, student participants will learn how to accomplish their aims without harming others, how to protect peers from bullying, and so forth. Staff will learn how to identify bullying cases and help those involved. The program is not only focused on victims of bullying but those who do it. The abusers might be victims of violence themselves or need to develop a sense of empathy and are need of certain help. We have to teach teachers and school staff to act with a principle of ‘Don’t Hurt and Don’t Label.’

Meri Taliashvili

18 February 2016 21:21