Identifying bullying and harassment

Children and parents can use this information to:

  • identify bullying, cyberbullying and harassment
  • determine if your child is involved in bullying
  • understand when bullying might be considered a crime.


The national definition of bullying for Australian schools says:

Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and or psychological harm.

It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening.

Bullying can happen in person or online, through various digital platforms and devices and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert).

Bullying can be:

  • physical - hitting, poking, pushing or tripping
  • verbal - name calling, insults or abuse
  • social (covert or hidden) - excluding someone, lying about someone, spreading rumours.

Bullying is not:

  • a single incident of aggression, intimidation or violence between equals in person or online
  • saying something that is hurtful or abusive
  • a single act of social rejection or not liking someone.

These conflicts still need to be addressed and resolved, but they are not considered bullying.

Identifying bullying can sometimes be difficult. Bullying often happens out of sight of parents and teachers, and children are often reluctant to report it.


Online bullying is often referred to as cyberbullying. It's carried out using technology such as email, mobile phones, chat rooms or social networking sites.

More information about cyberbullying from the Department of Education:


Harassment occurs when someone is made to feel intimidated, humiliated or treated less favourably on the basis of their personal characteristics. This may be identity, race, culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital, economic status, age, ability or disability.

It can include behaviour such as:

  • telling insulting jokes about particular racial groups
  • sending explicit or sexually suggestive emails
  • displaying offensive posters or screen savers
  • making derogatory comments or taunts about someone’s race, religion or sexuality.

It may be:

  • an ongoing pattern of behaviour or a single act
  • directed randomly or towards the same person
  • intentional or unintentional.

How do I know if my child is involved in bullying?

A child’s behaviour can change for a variety of reasons. There are some signs of bullying that may indicate bullying is affecting your child. These may include:

  • changes in mood and usual behaviour - such as being withdrawn or tired
  • change in method or routine to school
  • frightened of catching the bus or walking to or from school
  • unexplained bruises, cuts or scratches
  • lost or damaged clothes or belongings.

You may also notice a decline in:

  • academic performance
  • sleep
  • appetite.

Bullying as a crime

Bullying may be considered a crime if someone:

  • causes you physical or mental harm and means to do it
  • threatens to hurt or kill you
  • stalks you – stalking is when someone follows, watches, or contacts you repeatedly in a way that scares you and they are intentionally meaning to make you afraid
  • damages your things on purpose or steals from you
  • is discriminated against because of race or gender.

Cybercrime or eCrime

Cybercrime occurs when a computer or other electronic communication devices, such as mobile phones, are:

  • used to commit an offence (an illegal act)
  • targeted in an offence
  • acting as a storage device in an offence.

This includes:


Example: ' I took a photo with my mobile of my girlfriend naked and sent it by text to everyone. What a laugh!' The girlfriend was under 18 years old.

Offence: Production or dissemination of child pornography.


Example: 'I got into their email account and sent abusive emails to everyone in the address book.'

Offence: Unlawful operation of a computer system.


Example: 'He told me if I didn't do what he said that he would put that photo on the internet and tell all my friends. I was so embarrassed.'

Offence: Blackmail.


Example: 'I created a website about X and we all put stuff on there about how much they and everyone else like them are hated.'

Offence: Racial vilification.

Other offences

Using the internet or mobile phone carriers to:

  • distribute suicide-related material
  • make a threat
  • menace, harass or cause offence.

Get legal advice

For free legal advice contact:

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Page last updated 1 December 2022

Provided by:
Department for Education
Last Updated:
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