By Stephanie Murphy, Communications Intern

Name calling. Threats. Punching. Excluding.

Many individuals endure these types of bullying on a daily basis. Bullying isn’t a short-term problem that only affects children; it is a serious issue that affects 75 per cent of Canadians. The problem is particularly serious in many Indigenous communities, where 95 per cent of individuals have been affected by bullying.

One of the reasons bullying is so hard to prevent is that it is a complex issue. Individuals of all ages and backgrounds are both victims and perpetrators of bullying.

We can stop bullying together“Bullying is one of the ways people act out when they are trying to release some of the harm that’s inside of them,” says Sarah Burke, senior manager of Community Integrated Development with the Canadian Red Cross. “It’s a common problem among both adults and children.”

Everyone involved in bullying is affected in various ways. Children who are bullied suffer from more headaches, stomach aches, depression and anxiety than their peers. The mental health problems associated with bullying often carry through to adulthood. Children who bully and are bullied are also at a higher risk of suicide. In extreme situations, children who are bullied are driven to drop out of school, which can permanently affect their employment prospects. Bystanders, particularly children, are affected as well; bullying teaches aggression and the negative use of power.

Typical bullying-prevention programs offer only short-term solutions, making it difficult for individuals to translate what they learn into wider action by their community. To help make long-term changes, the Canadian Red Cross has been conducting a community-engagement process called “Ten Steps to Creating Safe Environments”.  The process typically takes five to eight years to complete and aims to address the roots of bullying and violence to create change throughout the entire community.

The Canadian Red Cross has had a lot of success with this process in Indigenous communities, particularly in Nunavut. The Nunavut government committed to reducing bullying and violence four years ago, and the Ten Steps process has been an important part of this. Sarah Burke has been working in Nunavut and notes that they have seen very positive results. The Red Cross works in partnership with the community throughout the entire process, providing coaching and mentoring along the way.

The process looks different in every community. As Sarah puts it, “Every community has a different story and different strengths and a different impact of harm. It’s important that we talk about this.”

In order to ensure the process will benefit the entire community, it is essential to have wide-spread involvement. This means getting various leadership members of the community – from elders to youth – together to discuss the issues they are facing. With the Ten Steps, one size doesn’t fit all.

“We’ve developed a holistic approach in Indigenous communities,” says Sarah. The Ten Steps process looks at all forms of violence that might be present in a community. It helps the community investigate the areas of violence that are most urgent there, and address them within the framework of their own culture and traditions. Education and training programs from the Red Cross, developed both in Canada and internationally, assist the community in building long-term solutions.

Violence is a cycle. A child who is bullied at home may bully others at school and may grow up to bully his or her own family. This needs to be addressed as part of the cycle for prevention to be truly effective. Making a long-term commitment to creating a safe environment in a community will benefit not only current members, but future generations as well.

Find out more about how the Red Cross supports Indigenous communities and donate to the Indigenous Communities Fund to help build stronger, safer and healthier communities.

For more tips on violence, bullying and abuse prevention.