Content warning: discussions of physical violence and cyberbullying

Imagine you are walking around your local supermarket with your friends, and a stranger starts harassing and following you and your group. When you look around for bystanders to help, they instead pull out their phones and start recording.

Unfortunately in a post-lockdown era where every teenager has at least one social media account, this is not uncommon.

Equally as worrying is the publication of physical violence on social media. Some people laugh when somebody is getting bashed up, others even film and share it on social media, which is a form of cyberbullying. Few will stand up for the victim, and when somebody does, they may also face the consequences.

Why It's Gotten Worse

We all remember COVID lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, don't we? Trapped inside our homes with nobody but our families to talk to? When teenagers (especially teenagers under the age of 14), go through something as traumatic as a global pandemic, where they are taken away from their friends for months, it's clear there are going to be effects on someone’s mental health.

When you're right in the middle of puberty and at the start of adolescence going through something like this, you can lose the ability to socialise effectively and there are studies that back this idea. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare stated that the pandemic had a serious effect on young people’s mental health.

If young people don’t have the right support or emotional skills, they may start responding to conflict with physical violence. It's nobody's fault, but violence is never the answer and perpetrators should still be held accountable for their actions.

pexels any lane 5728319

The Effects

Physical assault can cause PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other lasting impacts or trauma. It can make people feel unsafe leaving their homes, or cautious of everything they say and do. Sharing the footage on social media can also have the same effects as the assault itself. People get hospitalised and miss out on an education because of this stuff!

How A Bystander Can Help

Sometimes bystanders don't physically intervene for their own safety. However, there are ways bystanders can help protect more people in the long run.

If you see somebody getting hurt, find an adult nearby, call a support service or let a teacher know after the assault has happened. If it is safe to do so, then you could record it for proof and let the victim-survivor know afterwards that you have this evidence if they want to take action.

Assure them that you will keep the footage private and not share it around. If we do this instead of laughing about it and posting it, and educate people to do so, it leaves the bystander untouched, and supports victim-survivors.

Witnessing bullying can be a tough situation for the bystander and support for them is important too. Connecting with other young bystanders can be really helpful to find some clarity and get some insight as to what you may have been through.

pexels mart production 7699503

How You Can Be Supportive

If a video of an assault has been sent to you, don't share it with your friends or spread it around on social media. Do not save the video, and do not watch it if it's been shown to you. Do not laugh about it and make fun of the victim.

Instead, offer your support to them. If this is somebody you’re not friends with, offer your support and leave all past issues behind. After experiencing an assault, a person needs support as it can feel like their whole world has come crashing down.

There are many reasons somebody could commit an assault. Consider what the perpetrator may have going on at home, and what could have caused this behaviour. You may feel like cutting off the perpetrator because they’re the one in the wrong, and sometimes that is the best option.

However, if they show genuine regret and remorse, and it’s safe to do so, you can help them to take responsibility or find support for what they have going on personally. Services such as a school wellbeing team, or a local youth service can help them make things right with the victim. This can help the perpetrator build empathy, emotional maturity and reduce the chance of them committing this crime again. I also encourage you to learn more about restorative justice, as this can help you to be a better supporter.

pexels cottonbro studio 5081930 

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, be supportive to both parties and don’t share the video on social media as it can be very harmful to the victim.

If you witness an unlawful assault, tell somebody and help the victim through this tough time, and in some situations helping the perpetrator to get support and make amends, could be effective too. Be a good bystander and don’t share assault videos on social media. How would you feel if it happened to you?

*Veronica's name and identity have been changed for safety reasons.