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Bullying versus harassment: What’s the difference?

Are you on the receiving end of bullying or harassment but don’t know what to do? Learn about the difference between these terms and how to stop the behavior.

Bullying versus harassment: What’s the difference?
Bullying versus harassment: What’s the difference?

Are you feeling targeted, bullied, or harassed at work, school, or in public? If you’ve been the victim of bullying or harassment, it can be hard to know where to turn for help. You may think both types of abuse are the same and should be handled similarly, but they have distinctions, legally and psychologically. Knowing the difference between bullying and harassment can help you come up with a solution.

Defining Bullying

Bullying is typically a repeated pattern of behavior intended to cause harm or distress. This can occur in various settings, including schools, workplaces, and online. The behavior can include physical aggression, verbal abuse, social exclusion, and cyberbullying.

Bullying can cause emotional distress, physical harm, long-lasting trauma, and even suicide. However, note that not all bullying is illegal, so you may need to seek remedies outside of the law. In cases where a child is being bullied, parents may involve the school. Adults suffering from bullying at work may turn to their employers for assistance.

Defining Harassment

Harassment is unwanted behavior that violates a person’s dignity and creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment. Harassment can be sexual, racial, homophobic, transphobic, or include other offensive or discriminatory behavior. Note that harassment can be verbal, written, or visual and is not limited to physical aggression or assault. For example, if someone sends you a threatening email or makes offensive gestures toward you, this is harassment.

Generally, if the behavior is severe or pervasive, it is illegal, and you may be entitled to legal remedies. Examples of harassment might include unwanted sexual advances, offensive jokes or slurs, or physical intimidation.

What’s the Difference?

While similar in their negative impact on victims, bullying and harassment differ significantly. Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. Harassment constitutes a pattern of unwanted, unwelcome behavior that demeans, threatens, or offends the victim and results in a hostile environment. It can range from offensive remarks about a person’s sex, race, or religion to physical violence or threats.

While both involve harmful behaviors toward others, the key difference between bullying and harassment lies in the nature of the acts and their legal implications.

What Can You Do?

If you’ve experienced bullying or harassment, the first steps are to document and report the behavior to the authorities, such as school officials, your employer, or law enforcement. If you are being bullied or harassed online, consider blocking the perpetrator and reporting them to the social media platform.

If you are being harassed at work, your employer may be legally responsible for addressing the behavior. However, if you report the harassment and your employer doesn’t respond accordingly, this is a sign that you’re in a hostile work environment. In this case, you may be entitled to compensation. Proving you’re in a hostile work environmentisn’t always easy, so speak with an attorney as soon as possible to protect yourself and hold harassers accountable.

It’s also important to seek support from trusted friends and family members or a counselor who can help you cope with the emotional impact of the behavior.

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