This page considers bullying in the professions and institutions:
the police, military, prison and religious organisations.
It covers -
Why consider bullying of adults within institutions and
professions, given that many people conceptualise bullying
as something that only involves children, is restricted
to the playground and is a 'fact of life' that falls outside
The preceding page of this note suggested that bullying
involves an abuse of power, an abuse that might reflect
differences in physical strength, in aggression, in social
status, wealth or in tacit/overt authority. Bullying may
be systemic - an innate and thus often unremarked part
of a professional or corporate culture - rather than something
that is anomalous and restricted to the relationship between
a particular perpetrator ("the bad boy") and
victim ("the weak boy").
Its pervasiveness in Western and other societies is considered
by some observers to reflect fundamental features of human
nature and tendencies in social relationships, eg both
the networking and willingness to inflict pain explored
by Stanley Milgram. That
pervasiveness can be illustrated through reference to
a range of institutions that embody expectations about
authority, exhibit 'differentials' in the power of actors
(eg recruits, novices, geriatrics) and are sufficiently
autonomous to resist calls for less-coercive relationships.
In essence, bullying is not restricted to children and
squabbles over playlunch or who's in, who's out among
teenage tyrants. It is evident in police forces, universities,
prisons, the military, the law and medical professions,
and facilities that care for the aged.
What has been labelled 'bastardisation', bullying, initiation
or harassment of members of the armed forces remains an
issue in all nations, although some regimes are substantially
worse than others.
The 1998 Grey Review for example exposed endemic harassment
at the Australian Defence Force Academy, the training
institution for the nation's military elite. The Review
followed exposes of poor practice at sister institution
Duntroon in 1969.
In 2007 Chief of Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Angus
Houston, in responding to a Senate committee's criticism
of harassment of trainees, commented that
form of behaviour that is designed to humiliate, bastardise,
bully our people is totally unacceptable to me.
might ask why hazing has continued to occur, despite such
protestations from a succession of Houston's predecessors.
An answer might be found overseas: cruelty is traditional
and is integral to some corporate cultures that prize
physical strength, disregard of pain and unthinking respect
for hierarchy. The report
of the Deepcut Review in the UK indicated that commitments
had not been communicated throughout the armed forces
or were simply being ignored by several levels of the
In an internal British Army survey in 2003, for example,
43% of a sample of 2,000 soldiers responded that bullying
was a problem. 5% reported that they were victims. A 20
year old private in an infantry regiment testified that
his initiation consisted of being burned on the genitals,
rectally penetrated with a broomstick, forced to march
with string tied to his genitals and ankles and dropped
from a window.
Bullying of recruits (and harassment of female personnel)
in the US has gained similar attention, with suggestions
that a formal 'zero-tolerance' policy regarding violent
initiation ceremonies is often ignored in practice. The
1990s saw debate after claims that molestation of female
airforce personnel had been covered up and after broadcast
of video that showed marines hammering metal badges into
the chests of parachute school graduates (aka blood-winging).
Conditions are worse in regimes with a recent totalitarian
Human Rights Watch, in its 2004 The Wrongs of Passage
for example highlighted systemic and "horrific violence"
against new conscripts in the Russian army - something
that "has not only continued since Soviet times,
but has become harsher" and is not being strongly
addressed by Russia's leadership. HRW claims that hundreds
of conscripts are killed or commit suicide as a result,
thousands desert, thousands are physically and or mentally
scarred by the ritual of dedovshchina (aka 'Rule
of the Grandfathers'), discussed in Dedovshchina in
the Post-Soviet Military: Hazing of Russian Army Conscripts
in Comparative Perspective (Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag
2006) by Françoise Dauce and Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski.
For a narrower study of dynamics in a liberal democratic
state see 'Bullying and Hazing Among Norwegian Army Soldiers:
Two Studies of Prevalence, Context, and Cognition' by
Kristina Ostvik & Floyd Rudmin in 13(1) Military
Psychology (2001) 17-39. They suggest that soldiers
and officers agree that bullying is a problem, soldiers
blame the victim more than do officers, officers more
often intervene to stop bullying when they blame the victim
and soldiers less often intervene when they blame the
police and emergency services
The institutional culture within Australian and other
police forces and emergency services is also conducive
to bullying, contrary to perceptions that police as agents
of justice are unlikely to engage in abuse of each other.
"Dream on", as one policeman commented to the
author. Australian police forces have recurrently exhibited
problems with bullying of uniform and non-uniform personnel.
One example is Police Federation of Australia v Nixon
 FCA 467 (18 April 2008) here.
There is a useful discussion in Jessica Lynch's Workplace
bullying: Implications for police organizations (Canberra:
Australasian Centre for Policing Research 2002) and 'Exploring
'bullying' culture in the para-military organisation'
by David Archer in 20(1) International Journal of
Manpower (1999) 94-105, with a grimmer view in 'The
Hazing machine: the shaping of Brazilian military police
recruits' by Carlos de Albuquerque & Eduardo Paes-Machado
in 14(2) Policing and Society (2004) 175-192.
Context is provided by the discussion here.
Prisons are fora for the exercise of power, with potential
abuse by correctional staff (eg bullying of inmates or
of colleagues, particularly new or female colleagues)
and by inmates (bullying of fellow inmates). Bullying
in prisons may involve physical violence (often associated
with coerced sexual activity, with rape of inmates frequently
occurring on a collective and recurrent basis), denigration,
theft and targeted application of rules that are intended
to reinforce a hierarchy.
Bullying within correctional institutions is largely ignored,
whether on the basis that "out of sight equals out
of mind", "they deserve it" or "it
is too hard to change" because of the nature of the
population (prisoners and correctional personnel are not
chosen for the sweetness and reasonableness of the demeanour)
and the cost of changing particular practices (eg greater
supervision of inmates).
In January 2009 the NSW Corrective Services Department
revealed that 162 misconduct hearings into prison staff
in the first six months of 2008 found enough evidence
to warrant disciplinary or further action in 65 cases.
Despite those findings, only one case (where an officer
stole property from a colleague) was referred to police.
The report indicated that dozens of prison officers committed
criminal offences, including bashing inmates, assaulting
and bullying co-workers and stealing. Officers who committed
offences, such as assaulting a co-worker, were merely
referred to local managers for unspecified action.
Context is provided by the discussion of public and private
prisons here and
Works of particular value include David Heilpern's Fear
of favour: sexual assault of young prisoners (Lismore:
Southern Cross Uni Press 1998). Examples of litigation
include Zammit v Queensland Corrective Services Commission
Those whose vision of religious institutions was shaped
by watching reruns of The Sound of Music, The
Bells of St. Mary's or The Flying Nun will
be nonplussed by the notion of bullying within religious
institutions. Historians however record two millennia
of laments about abuses with religious orders, with bullying
of novices and of other people who occupied a subordinate
position within the particular institution's hierarchy.
Religious vocations may indeed foster bullying. That is
because victims are encouraged to associate suffering
with spiritual growth, because there is a notion that
disciplines - however petty - must be enforced for the
good of the community and the individual (with infliction
of pain being virtuous), because may bullies are frustrated
and because the longevity of many institutions means that
particular practices are sanctified by tradition and thus
not to be questioned.
The Archdeacon Graham Sells, Director of Professional
Standards in the Church of England's Melbourne diocese
reportedly commented in 2006 that
The secular workplace has taken initiatives to prevent
bullying and intimidation, but victims in the Church
are often 'left out in the cold' to fend for themselves.
If we are the Body of Christ, we have a unique responsibility
as members of God's family to not be a dysfunctional
family ... secrets must stop. Cover-ups must not be
It has been said that the ferocity of academic infighting
is in inverse proportion to the importance of what is
fought about. Universities are research institutions may
appear to be ivy-clad ivory towers but some academics
would claim that they are venues for the expression of
personal spleen, vindictiveness and paranoia - typically
directed at colleagues (or would-be colleagues) rather
As with religious institutions, the practice of monstering
people who are out of favour, who are different or who
are perceived to be less resilient is time-honoured, justified
on the basis that "it is always done this way"
or "it is just the way it is, so don't rock the boat
if you want to get ahead".
UK researcher Petra Boynton
argued that between 10% and 30% of UK university staff
are being bullied at any one time.
It's a 'secret' that everyone knows. Bullying in universities
is typically an insidious, prolonged undermining of
individuals, often against staff who feel they have
little power to prevent it. In some academic areas,
it can be a very small world - and bullies can have
the power to stop people progressing in their career.
And if someone complains, they can be told the equivalent
of 'you'll never work in this town again'.
of educators being horrid to each other include Phillips
v Wilderness School  SAIRComm 6 and the incidents
highlighted in 'Corrosive Leadership (Or Bullying by Another
Name): A Corollary of the Corporatised Academy?' (PDF)
by Margaret Thornton in 17 Australian Journal of Labour
Law (2004) 161-184.
Professions such as law, medicine,
accounting, engineering, architecture and dentistry typically
articulate strong ethical codes, claim to draw on an elite
in recruiting/promoting personnel and aspire to set an
example for employers or labourers in 'rough & ready'
occupations that are supposedly imbued with chauvinism
and a disregard for (or unawareness of) human rights.
In reality the professions are not imune from bullying
and some sceptics have suggested that bullying - particularly
bullying of novices and of women - is an accepted practice,
with rites of passage for new practitioners in the legal
profession or young medical graduates being as severe
as anything experienced on the workshop floor (and in
the workshop changerooms).
The NSW Law Society's 2002 Remuneration and Work Conditions
Survey indicated that 22% of respondents reported
that they had experienced bullying (14% reported harassment,
12% reported discrimination. That bullying typically related
to junior status and/or to being new to the particular
job. Over half reported that the bullying was instigated
either by their employer or by a partner. Three out of
ten stated that they had frequently experienced bullying,
harassment or intimidation.
Other observers have argued that bullying is more prevalent
or more severe in para-professions such as nursing, where
there are uncertainties about status, conflicts about
authority and high levels of stress because of the nature
of the work.
Differentials in power - and hence opportunities for abuse
- are evident in dealings with the aged, rather than with
children. Although there has been little academic discussion
until the past decade it is clear that bullying is a significant
feature of the lives of many elderly people, particularly
those in aged care facilities.
Egregious instances of bullying have involved aged care
workers and managers recurrently denigrating elderly people,
imposing curfews, segregating people on the basis of gender,
restricting competent elderly people to pocket money,
physically assaulting, over-medicating them with 'chemical
restraints' and tying or even chaining them to beds and
Recognition of that abuse is challenging for those people
who assume that bullying is restricted to children or
involves mistreatment of apprentices in blue-collar workplaces.
Western societies tend to romanticise their treatment
of elders, in much the same way that childhood has been
romanticised over the past 150 years. Recognition is also
challenging because it tacitly imposes obligations that
we might prefer to shirk: greater supervision of carers
(and restructuring of the aged care workplace to minimise
abuse and address the frustrations felt by many under-paid
aged care workers) is expensive.
next page (children
and the digital playground)