Identifying bullying, harassment, violence and e-crime

Information for children and parents to identify what constitutes bullying, harassment, violence and e-crimes.


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

It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power over one or more persons.

Bullying can happen in person or online, and it can be obvious or hidden.

Bullying of any form or for any reason can have long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders.
Some conflicts between children are a normal part of growing up and are to be expected. Single incidents and conflicts or fights between equals, whether in person or online, are not considered bullying, even though they may be upsetting and need to be resolved.

Bullying can happen:

  • face-to-face - eg pushing, tripping, name-calling
  • at a distance - eg spreading rumours, excluding someone
  • through information and communications technologies - eg use of SMS, email, chat rooms.

Identifying bullying can sometimes be difficult. Bullying is often conducted out of sight of teachers and children may be reluctant to report bullying.

Online bullying

Online bullying is sometimes called cyber-bullying and carried out through the internet or mobile devices. Children who are bullied online are also often bullied face-to-face.

Examples of online bullying include:

  • repeated hang up calls
  • sending insulting or threatening text messages
  • publishing someone’s personal or embarrassing information online
  • creating hate sites or starting exclusion campaigns on social networking sites.

Online bullying is one potential cybersafety issue for children when they use computers and mobile phones.


Harassment occurs when someone is made to feel intimidated, insulted or humiliated because of their:

  • identity, race, culture or ethnic origin
  • religion
  • physical characteristics
  • gender
  • sexual orientation/identity
  • marital, parenting or 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(s)
  • intentional or unintentional.

Signs of being bullied or harassed

Your child’s behaviour can change for a variety of reasons. However, the following signs could indicate that your child is being bullied:

  • not wanting to go to school or participate in school activities
  • does not appear to have friends
  • is missing belongings
  • has torn clothing
  • seems to have become fearful and anxious
  • has more mood swings, and seems to be crying more
  • seems to have a drop in academic performance
  • has poorer physical health and changes in sleep habits
  • has increased negative self-perception.

The signs of possible cyberbullying can be the same as signs of other bullying, but include certain behaviour with phones and computers, for example:

  • being hesitant about going online
  • seeming nervous when an instant message, text message or email appears
  • being visibly upset after using the computer or mobile phone, or suddenly avoiding it
  • minimising the computer screen, or hiding the mobile phone when you enter the room
  • spending unusually long hours online in a more tense, pensive tone
  • receiving suspicious phone calls, emails or packages
  • withdrawing from friends, falling behind in schoolwork, or avoiding school.


Violence is the intentional use of power (threatened or actual) against another person that results in psychological harm, injury or death. Violence may be a single incident, a random act, or it can occur over time. An assault is a police matter.


eCrime occurs when a computer or other electronic communication devices (eg mobile phones) are used to commit an offence, are targeted in an offence, or act as a storage device in an offence.


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 - maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 10 years.


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

Offence: Unlawful operation of a computer system - maximum penalty: Imprisonment for six months or $2,500.


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 - maximum penalty: Imprisonment for 15 years.


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 - maximum penalty: $5,000 or imprisonment for three years, or both.

Other offences

Using internet or mobile phone carriers to:

  • distribute suicide-related material - maximum penalty: $100,000
  • make a threat - maximum penalty: imprisonment for seven years
  • menace, harass or cause offence - maximum penalty: imprisonment for three years.


If the bullying is happening at school, or involves students from the school, when outside of school, you should let the school know about the situation. Gather the information you have from your child to share with the school.

Bullying is taken very seriously by schools and they can be much more effective when parents report bullying and support their efforts to deal with it.

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Page last updated 14 December 2016

Provided by:
Department for Education
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