Police action on reports of school bullying has risen sharply. Apparently with the rise in public awareness of the seriousness of the bullying problem, more cases are now being exposed that earlier might have gone unnoticed.
But even more important than police action are efforts by teachers and school officials to prevent and to stop bullying by paying close attention to their students and having better communication with them.
According to the National Police Agency, the number of juvenile crimes committed in connection with school bullying in which the police took action in 2013 rose 57 percent from the previous year to 410, with 724 elementary, junior high and senior high students arrested or taken into police protection and guidance due to bullying. While part of the rise may be attributable to the widening definition of bullying cases, the number appears to suggest that more cases of bullying are being reported to the police by the victims, their parents and schools.
A law aimed at preventing school bullying that was introduced last year requires school officials to work with the police when they witness bullying that can be recognized as crimes, and to immediately report cases of bullying where it is feared that the victims could sustain serious damage. Schools are also obliged to report to the education ministry and local governments grave situations such as bullying victims sustaining serious physical or mental damage or being absent from school for extended periods.
The legislation was enacted in response to widespread public criticism of the way schools and education authorities have dealt with serious cases of bullying, including the October 2011 suicide of a 13-year-old boy in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, who had been repeatedly assaulted and otherwise bullied by classmates at a local junior high school.
Officials of the school initially denied knowing that the boy had been bullied, even though it was later revealed that his teacher had been informed of the assaults but took no action.
In a report to be released in April, an education ministry panel of experts is expected to urge schools, in the event of a student suicide, to immediately launch a background probe into possible causes that would include interviews of all teachers and officials, as well as a survey of other students if necessary to find out if the victims had been bullied.
These steps represent progress in ensuring that proper action is taken in bullying cases. But the more important — and admittedly much more difficult — task lies in how to prevent bullying from occurring in the first place or resulting in tragic situations.
Such efforts require teachers and school officials to remain vigilant so as not to overlook any signs of bullying — either from victims or bullies — and to take action to stop bullying, including communicating with all people involved, including the students’ parents.
A third-party panel at the board of education of the town of Yugawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, looking into the case of a 13-year-old student at a local junior high school who hanged himself last April has linked his death to bullying that had gone on for a year.
Noting that the boy had once sent a memo to his teacher asking him to listen to his problems, the panel stated that the teacher had a chance to find out about the bullying. Behind the bullying and the boy’s suicide, the panel said, was the tendency of teachers and school officials to have slack attitudes toward everyday education.
The anti-bullying law calls for greater involvement of the police in dealing with school bullying. While statistics show that the police are taking action in more bullying cases, teachers must remind themselves that it is their job to keep watch for — and not ignore — signs of bullying to prevent the abuse from developing into cases that require police action.