Domestic Violence and Bullying: What’s the Connection?

Bullying is a problem across all segments of society. People of all ages, sexes and socioeconomic groups have been victimized by bullies — or become bullies themselves. According to a survey by the iSafe Foundation, more than half of all teens have been bullied at some point in their lives, and a CareerBuilder survey revealed almost 40 percent of adults have been the target of a bully in the workplace. Because bullying has been proven to contribute to poor performance at school or work, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and even suicide, it’s vital we understand the causes of bullying behavior so we can take steps to prevent it.

Very few bullies engage in their abusive behaviors simply because they can or because they are not nice people. Bullying is officially defined as the repeated, aggressive use of power — whether physical, social, or intellectual — to harm or control another person. Bullies seek to create this imbalance of power, often to feel more in control of their own lives and circumstances. According to several recent studies, this need for power and control is often related to problems at home, most commonly domestic violence.

Violence at Home, Violence at School?

Any parent understands the basic concept of how kids gain information: children learn what they see. Children look for cues from their parents as to how they should behave or react in every situation.

Bullied KidTherefore, it only makes sense when parents engage in abusive, violent and bullying behaviors, their children learn to cope with the world using those same behaviors. This was the conclusion reached by a CDC study, which found the vast majority of bullies report witnessing or experiencing violent or abusive behaviors at home.

According to another study published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, the cycle of abuse often continues into adulthood. Researchers discovered both bullies and their victims have a much greater likelihood of becoming abusers in adulthood than those children who do not experience bullying. Another study, from Journal of Adolescent Health, discovered a correlation between bullying and sexual abuse and violence. According to the research conducted by the CDC and the University of Illinois, those children who engage in bullying behavior, particularly focused on sexual harassment or homophobic slurs, are considerably more likely to perpetrate sexual violence in the future.

Working Together to End Bullying

While there are clear connections between bullying behaviors and domestic violence, there are some differences in the perceptions of the victims of the crimes. Victims of bullies, particularly children, are often viewed as innocent victims of unwarranted attacks, while domestic violence victims are viewed by some as “deserving” their abuse because of their actions or behavior.  However, as the parallels between bullying and domestic violence become clearer, law enforcement personnel, MSCRIM students and victims’ advocates learn more about how these crimes impact individuals and society, the perceptions are shifting. Advocacy organizations are working to build awareness of the similarities between bullying and domestic violence and the connections between victims of abuse and bullying behaviors in hopes a better understanding will change popular perception of domestic violence victims.

Schools, local law enforcement, domestic violence organizations and health care providers are working together to identify and prevent violence sooner, and developing education and awareness programs to help stop the cycle of violence early on. Most schools have developed zero-tolerance policies for bullying, and professionals are being more effectively trained to identify the signs of domestic violence and engage in early intervention. Experts note children from abusive homes who receive effective treatment, including cognitive behavioral therapy, can break the cycle of violence and develop healthy, equal relationships.

The issue of workplace bullying is also receiving greater attention, especially since it is often connected to domestic violence at home. Experts at the Workplace Bullying Institute note someone who is bullied at work is more likely to be abusive or bullying at home because they want to regain the power they have lost at the office. Being abused at worked can trigger negative behaviors at home when a victim releases pent up anger and frustration on family members. Workplace bullying leads to lost productivity, high turnover and other issues, many workplaces are taking cues from schools and developing zero-tolerance policies as well as reporting procedures and stiff consequences for offenders.

Some bullies are cruel to others because they can be or because they think it is funny. However, more often than not, bullying is a learned behavior or the result of a need to regain control over at least one aspect of life when domestic abuse is a daily reality. Understanding the correlations between domestic violence and bullying brings us one step closer to solving the problem and helping people of all ages develop healthy, safe relationships.