Victim Support Malta launches campaign against bullying

Campaign seeks to raise awareness about bullying and its consequences in society, and it seeks to encourage adults to take action against instances of bullying

Victim Support Malta has launched a national campaign to raise awareness and provide psycho-education to the community about bullying and its potential consequences on society.

Psychologist and Training Consultant Cher Engerer told MaltaToday that the aim of the campaign, funded by the ministry of social dialogue, consumer affairs and civil liberties, would be to explain what constitutes bullying, and to encourage adults, including teachers and parents, to take action against bullying.

“We aim to begin giving training to teachers and parents about the correct way to handle bullying,” Engerer said, adding that the group would also like to extend the training sessions to schools around the Maltese islands, given the necessary funds.

Engerer explained that adults could play a very big role and that they needed to be made increasingly aware of behaviour that could be potentially harmful to young people, as well as how to handle it.

“People need to understand that bullying isn’t just a personal problem, but it is above all a social one,” she said, stressing that bullying could lead to destructive behaviour like discrimination, prejudice and intolerance towards others.

“Our view point is that we need to address these issues in young people before they become too deeply ingrained in their personality,” she said, adding that the campaign held the idea that both bullies and victims require assistance, at its core. Engerer stressed, in fact, that the campaign sought to ensure that the bully is not demonised, and that society ought to be made aware about the importance of giving them the necessary attention to make sure that the attitude does not develop further.

Engerer added that the group would also be presenting its strategy against bullying entitled SWAP, an acronym which stands for Stop, Walk away, Adult engagement and Peer support respectively.

“The strategy encourages a holistic approach to the issue, stressing the need for action against bullying, as well as seeking assistance against it,” she said.

Engerer explained that TV and radio spots for the campaign had started on Friday, but that posters for the campaign would be pasted onto bus shelters and shared on social media as of next week. She added that the design behind them was inspired by the holistic approach the group was so in favour of.

“The images will feature an adult; a teacher, a parent or a counsellor, standing in between a bully and a victim, and silencing the bully at the same time,” she said, adding that between 20% and 25% of students have said they experienced bullying during their educational years.

She added that the most common age for bullying was between eight and thirteen, and that episodes of bullying often led to victims missing out on school days, and seeing their grades and performances slump as a result.

Engerer said that the group split bullying into three different types; physical bullying, which is the most obvious to spot, relational bullying, which happens when children are excluded from groups or instances of verbal abuse, and cyber bullying.

“About one in ten children who use the Internet, or who have a mobile phone, have said they experience cyber bullying,” she said, stressing that the issue, which was increasing over time, was of particular concern to the group given the fact that perpetrators very often retain their anonymity.

According to data forwarded by the Malta Communications Authority, a 2015 survey on the use of ICT by minors, had revealed that 99.4% of respondents (students attending years 4 to 6 and Forms 1 to 4), have access to the internet, with at least 59% of them using the internet on a daily basis. Such data undoubtedly sheds light on the potential spread of the phenomenon of cyber bullying, made more rampant due to social media use.

Engerer stressed that the group felt the need to spread the message to younger generations about the potential dangers of the internet, and that the campaign would tackle the various themes by encouraging active participation.

“We are also holding a competition, as part of the campaign,” she said. “Teachers are being invited to design a poster on one of the themes mentioned with their classes, and the winning class will then have a fun excursion including dinner, cinema and bowling paid for by the group.”

Engerer also explained that the group would be making appearances at family centred events where they would be giving out information leaflets, as well as merchandise like wristbands bearing the campaign slogan “Together against Violence”.