This month I had the real pleasure of delivering two days of anti-bullying training to colleagues in Vienna. Samera is a project based in Austria dealing with violence against children. Their team is made up of psychologists, social workers, and educators that focus on kindergarten and social pedagogy. They have over 20 years of practical experience in the prevention of violence against children and adolescents. Their approach is ‘trans-cultural’, they recognize the changing face of European countries and they use this term to explain the focus on respect, appreciation, collective action, openness, and engagement with other cultures.
Representatives visited Scotland last year and as part of their visit I met with them to discuss respectme’s approach to bullying and how our approach reflects the culture and how we are governed in Scotland. They were I am pleased to say, very impressed with our approach. Despite their years of work around violence and relationships they had never focused on bullying or ‘mobbing’ as the behavior is known as across Central Europe. They were becoming increasingly aware of this behavior and were looking for a framework or approach that they felt could help compliment their work and they chose ours.
I was invited to deliver two days training to around 30 members of their network in Vienna. My challenge was to put together a program that covered all of the core messages that underpin our approach, the national context and a critique/reflection of some other anti-bullying approaches they knew a little about and this also had to be translated into German for the benefit of the audience.
Perhaps the biggest challenge faced was my tendency to speak very quickly and when I get going on a subject, to speak even quicker. Many of the delegates spoke English very well but did not take the Glasgow dialect classes! I have discovered just how different the word ‘parents’ can sound. An Austrian will learn to say ‘Paa-rents’ where as I would say ‘Pay-rints’- which to them is another word altogether.
The delegates were an eclectic group of social workers, teachers, psychologists and youth workers. They responded very positively to the approach we use. They found our definition of bullying as it impacts on a person’s agency, to be one that made a lot of sense. Many of them felt the notion that bullying took something away from a person and their role was to help get it back, was one they found very useful. Many of them deliver training to teachers and commented on this being something they would use. They, like most people do I have to say, get the notion that intent and persistence are not they key defining factors in recognizing and importantly responding to bullying. Responding to behavior and the impact it has is what matters.
The issue of labeling was an interesting discussion. The word ‘bully’ has made its way into their language. They liked our take on not using terms like ‘bully’ or ‘perpetrator’ when talking about bullying but feel many in their country do use this word. What was interesting though is that when bulling was translated, the word they use is ‘mobbing’. When I asked what word they use to describe someone who is mobbing someone else, they have no word. The concept of calling someone a ‘mobber’ was strange to them; they would talk about mobbing or people who mob. We agreed this was the right approach and that they should challenge the growing use of the word’ bully’ especially as it contra to what they would normally do.
The other area where we learned a lot from each other was when talking about gender based bullying and sexual violence. Sexual violence was the main area of work for over 50% of the delegates. I wanted to share my concerns over the increased use of the umbrella term ‘sexual bullying’. As respectme has stated many times, we feel this is an unhelpful term to use and the guidance on this in other parts of the UK is not something we would support. We agree there is a link between gender based bullying and sexual violence but to label behavior such as a boy putting his hand up a girls skirt or forcing her to do something sexually she does not want to as a form of bullying is concerning. This is abusive behaviour. Sexual violence and sexually aggressive behaviour is not bullying, it is far more serious and needs to be treated as such. This is an area that in the UK opinion is still divided, there are many who are happy to use this term as an umbrella term that includes behaviours that are way beyond gender based bullying.
I am not suggesting that gender-based bullying does not lead to sexual violence or sexually aggressive behaviour, far from it. Rumours and names calling used in person and on-line toward girls in particular should and do concern us. We need to intervene in this behaviour to stop it escalating and become more abusive.
What was interesting was that none of the delegates would even consider using the term ‘sexual bullying’ they were able to make a clear distinction between sexual violence and abuse and bullying behaviour. To put these behaviours together seemed absurd to them. That was no doubt down to the fact most of them work with children who experience sexual violence and they have considerable experience and expertise as practitioners, councillors and teachers in this area. They too see a link between gender-based bullying and how, for some, this can lead to sexual violence but they are distinct behaviours. I welcomed their take on this issue and will use this learning as we take our work in this area forward.
What really helped the two days to flow for the group and for me was having the services of an extremely competent translator. I am always embarrassed when visiting other countries that most locals will speak very good English but our interpreter put that to shame with her four languages. I was able to plan and deliver a greeting, some limited personal information and finished off with ‘dies ist der einzige Deutsche satz den ich weiß‘– ‚‘this is the only German sentence I know‘– it did get a few laughs.
Vienna is a beautiful city (I even took in the ballet one afternoon – only 8 Euro for some culture) and I was made to feel very welcome by my hosts. The feedback was very warm and complimentary. I left a number of resources that will be used as part of a new practice manual for Austrian teacher in the year ahead. I am always very proud to see our resources and our approach being used and spoken about internationally.
I learned a great deal about the cultural differences between Scotland and Austria, how their Government structures differ and the similarities they face in ensuring they get funding every year and stretching this as far as they can. Similarly though, when visiting Slovenia and Ireland recently, I can see that we benefit from having a National Approach to anti-bullying in Scotland, a framework like this is a model for developing consistency and while we are getting there, many colleagues across Europe are looking at this as a model that does makes a difference. A national approach that is underpinned by values, promotes children’s rights and one that challenges inequalities makes sense but there are not many of them around. Hopefully we can keep contributing to changing that.