today • tuesday 11 March 2014
Dr Joel Yang,
a clinical
heads the Master
of Counselling
programme at
SIM University.
anti-harassMent law a step in right direction
Lets start an open
conversation about bullying
ith the dramatic increase
of computer use in and for
school in recent years and a
near 100 per cent Internet connectiv-
ity in Singapore, bullying has taken on
a new form.
A 2012 Microsoft study across
25 countries has highlighted the prev-
alence of online bullying in Singapore.
Behind China, Singapore is regarded
as having the second-highest rate of
online bullying among youth aged
eight to 17. Bullies easily hide behind
computer screens or smartphones,
emboldened by anonymity, vicious in
their invasive attacks via perpetual
access to their victims.
In the United States and the United
Kingdom, national guidelines on what
constitutes cyberbullying have been
outlined and since put into legislation.
However, definitions of cyberbully-
ing are still unclear in Singapore. In a
2011 Singapore Polytechnic survey on
Internet privacy and bullying, it was
found that many had varying percep-
tions of what constitutes cyberbul-
lying. Many individuals also ignored
the cyberbullying incident when faced
Bullying is exceptionally hard to investigate; many incidents reported as bullying will not
be determined as such due to loose definitions that surround bullying.
comment analysis
today • tuesday 11 March 2014
with it. This attests further to the lack
of public awareness and inadequate
management of bullying at an indi-
vidual and societal level.
A recent study of youth aged 11
to 17 by Boston Children’s Hospital
found that bullying was associated
with poorer mental and physical
health, greater depression symp-
toms and lower self-worth. Numerous
other studies have also highlighted
the decreased academic achieve-
ment that bullying is associated
with. Youth involved in bullying are
more likely to miss, skip or drop out
of school. Perhaps most interesting
is that similar symptoms are found
for both victims and perpetrators
of bullying.
Last year, the National Trades Union
Congress (NTUC) conducted a gen-
eral Happiness Poll surveying more
than 5,000 of their union members.
Good relationships with colleagues
and supervisors were the main rea-
sons cited by individuals who rated
themselves as happy and motivated
at their workplace and likely to stay
on in their jobs. Positive relationships
at work played a key role in one’s job
and workplace satisfaction. Converse-
ly, workplace bullying will clearly
have a detrimental eect on one’s job
At present, there is no xed defi-
nition of workplace bullying in Sin-
gapore. Workplace bullying may be
seen as a person’s progressive series
of malicious actions that jeopardises
another’s job and health.
The psychological eects of work-
place bullying include recurrent anx-
iety, perhaps even post-traumatic
stress, panic attacks, depression and
feelings of guilt and shame for having
allowed” oneself to be bullied. Physi-
cally, cardiovascular and gastrointes-
tinal problems such as hyperten-
sion and symptoms of irritable bowel
syndrome — may appear.
Bullying is under-reported at work.
Many victims think that their griev-
ances would be branded as mere “in-
ter-personal conflictsor “personality
dierences. There are also fears of
reprisals or retaliation.
Studies have found that many
workplace bullies receive positive
evaluations from their managers and
achieve high levels of career success.
Considering this, the threat of victims
being ostracised is real.
With the new anti-harassment law,
we appear determined to identify and
punish the perpetrators.
The reality is that bullying is ex-
ceptionally hard to investigate and
many incidents reported as bullying
will not be determined as such due to
loose definitions that surround bul-
lying. This is further exacerbated by
our hypersensitivity to the word bul-
lying, where we it from extremes of
categorising every other action as bul-
lying or simply not mentioning this ta-
boo subject.
We need definitions and investiga-
tions to separate “normal” behaviour
from the truly malicious. Not calling
bullying “bullying”, in order to avoid
oending others is a disservice to in-
dividuals whose school life, jobs, ca-
reers and health have been threatened
as a result.
Prominent American writer Tom
Engelhardt has stated that “words de-
nied mean analyses not oered, things
not grasped ... all of which mean that
terrible mistakes are repeated”.
Initiating this anti-harassment law
is a step in the right direction towards
an open conversation about bullying.
But we must not forget that this
alone will not mitigate the harm done
to those who have been bullied.
This conversation on bullying must
incorporate services for those who
have been bullied to help empower
them to move beyond what has hap-
pened without judging or dismissing
their experience.
In the long run, switching from an
anti-bullying perspective to a bully-
ing-prevention perspective is crucial.
We must create an environment that
prevents bullying before it happens,
as opposed to simply reacting to it
when it does. But, bullying can and
will still happen even in the schools
and workplaces with the best preven-
tion eorts.
As such, the anti-harassment law
also needs to ensure that our respons-
es to bullying are as productive and
meaningful as our prevention eorts.
Denitions of
are still
unclear in
Singapore. In a
2011 Singapore
survey on
privacy and
bullying, it
was found
that many
had varying
of what