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Health, safety, and wellbeing

Bullying in schools

What is bullying?

Bullying is behaviour that makes you feel unsafe or uncomfortable. It covers a range of harmful physical and verbal actions which is repeated – or has the potential to be repeated over time. Some examples of bullying include physical violence, gossip, name-calling, humiliating or shaming people, and excluding people from groups or games.

Laws that protect you against bullying apply no matter who is doing the bullying behaviour (for example, other students, or teachers).

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is when a person is bullied using the internet or technology, like phones, social media or gaming sites. Some examples of cyberbullying include creating false online profiles, posting abusive comments or embarrassing pictures or videos, and sending harmful text messages.

It’s likely this behaviour is happening outside of school grounds. Cyberbullying will likely be handled differently than bullying that happens in person.

What can I do if I’m being cyberbullied on social media?

Cyberbullying is very likely to be against the community guidelines of social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok. You can unfriend or block users and report the bullying to the platform. If comments or posts are found to be against community guidelines, the platform will remove it.

Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok all have community guidelines or standards that you can access online. For more information on how to report abuse to social networking sites providers, go to www.netsafe.org.nz

If you are being cyberbullied, you should screenshot or save all related messages, pictures and evidence as proof.

If the cyberbullying involves physical threats and you are concerned about your safety, you can contact the police.

What can the school do if I’m being cyberbullied?

Generally, the school’s response to cyberbullying will be the same as for bullying (described below). Even if the cyberbullying is happening outside of school grounds, it can still create an unsafe environment at school.

Schools should be aware of the Harmful Digital Communication Act and be able to support you if you need help to report something to a social media provider.

Reporting bullying to your school

How should I report bullying to the school?

You and your whānau should start by talking to someone at the school. This could be with your teacher, dean, or the principal.

The school should have specific processes to deal with bullying that will be outlined in its anti-bullying policy or complaints process.

If you don’t feel safe talking to teachers, you can also talk to the school counsellor or contact a support service who can help you find a solution. For more information, see “Where can I get support if I have been bullied?” below

How should the school respond if I report bullying?

It depends. Schools must have a policy (like official guidelines) that sets up a process for dealing with bullying. You can get a copy of this on the school’s website or by asking for a copy from the school office.

The school is likely to have “informal interventions” and “formal interventions”. Informal interventions usually involves a third party (like the principal or a teacher) helping to resolve concerns by talking to the person involved. It could also be a mediation where you and the other person meet with a trained facilitator.

Formal interventions are for more serious situations and will usually only happen after an informal approach has been tried. Formal interventions include reporting the behaviour to the school management or the police.

What if I’m not happy with the school’s response?

If you and your whānau aren’t happy about the way the school has dealt with the bullying, you can make a written complaint to the school board.

Parents and whānau can ask to attend and speak at the meeting where their issue will be discussed. It may help to take along a support person – this could be someone who has dealt with these situations before, or anyone you trust.

If you are unhappy with the way the school board deals with a complaint, you can complain to the Education Review Office, the Ministry of Education or the Children’s Commissioner.

For contact details, see “Where to go for more support” at the end of this guide

Where can I get support if I have been bullied?

  • Community Law Centres, including YouthLaw, are a good source of free legal advice

For non-legal support contact:

  • Kidsline (0800 54 37 54) – Support over the phone for 9 to 13 year olds provided by senior students, available from 4 to 6 pm on weekdays
  • Youthline (0800 37 66 33) – Phone counselling for young people daily, 8 pm to midnight
  • What’s Up (0800 942 8787) – Phone counselling services for 5 to 18 year olds daily, noon to midnight
  • www.cyberbullying.org.nz has information for parents, guardians, teachers and young people
  • www.netsafe.org.nz has information on how to report abuse to social networking sites providers. The site also has resources – like the NetSafe Kit – to help schools achieve and maintain “cyber-safety”.

See “Where to go for more support” at the end of this guide for more support services

Reporting bullying to the police

Can I report bullying that happens at school to the police?

Oranga Tamariki Act, ss 14(1)I, 18, 272(3)

In some cases, yes. When you make a complaint to the police, they have to look at the circumstances of the situation before they decide to take action on your complaint. For example, the police will consider how serious the bullying behaviour was and what the law says about it.

If the police decide criminal law has been broken by the bullying, and the person doing the bullying is under 14 years old, they could be asked to attend a Family Group Conference instead of going to court

A crime is when a person’s behaviour breaks a law, this is also called “committing an offence”. Young people aged 14, 15 or 16 can be formally accused of a crime and dealt with in the Youth Court. People who are 17 could face a criminal charge in the District Court (the adult courts).

Whether or not you complain to the police, you should report all forms of bullying to the school first.

Can bullying be a crime?

In some cases, yes. It depends on how serious and damaging the bullying is and the type of bullying. Some behaviours, like name-calling are not a crime and will be dealt with by the school. Other behaviours, like punching someone, can be a crime and might be dealt with by the police. The following list outlines types of behaviour that could be considered a crime:

Crimes Act 1961, ss 196, 306; Summary Offences Act 1981, s 9

  • Assaults and threats – Assault is any form of unwanted physical touch, for example pinching, slapping, kicking or spitting on someone. It’s also an illegal assault to threaten to kick, punch or otherwise physically touch you, and you believe that they will carry out the threat.

Summary Offences Act 1981, s 21

  • Intimidation – Intimidation is when someone purposely frightens you or behaves in a way that they know is likely to frighten you. This includes actions like threatening to injure you or your family, damaging your things or following you.

Harassment Act 1997, s 8

  • Criminal harassment – Harassment can be a criminal offence if a person intends to make you afraid, and there’s a repeated pattern of behaviour. For example:
  • following or confronting you, contacting you (including by text, email or social media),
  • interfering with your possessions, or
  • doing something else that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety more than twice in one year would be considered a pattern of behaviour.

If the person doesn’t realise you feel distressed or harassed, their behaviour could still be “civil harassment”, which means you can apply to the Family Court for a Restraining Order to stop the harassment. You can only get a Restraining Order if the person is 17 or older.

Telecommunications Act 2001, s 112

  • Misusing a phone – It’s a crime for someone to intentionally use a phone to disturb, annoy or irritate you, or to send you a fake instruction or message. It’s also an offence to use “profane, indecent, or obscene” language over a phone, or to suggest something to you that’s profane, indecent or obscene, if they do this with the intention of offending you.

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Health, safety, and wellbeing

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide initial free legal advice and information.

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