Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the Stop Bullying Petition

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Fri, 12/28/2012 - 18:38

bullied woman We welcome questions and suggestions about the petition to "Stop Bullying."
Bullying, including social bullying, has the potential to do serious harm to the targets, including depriving people of their rights to the peaceful enjoyment of their homes, creating stress with consequent psychological and physical injury, and restricting the rights of targets to enjoy normal social interactions or to organize for educational, social, or advocacy purposes.

We don't need laws, why can't the targets of bullying act to correct things?

We do not agree that the targets of bullying should be responsible for acting to stop the bullying. Society does not expect other targets of aggression to defend themselves.

Society rightfully steps in to offer legal protection to victims of abuse, aggression, and other unfair uses of power. Thus the civil rights of minorities and women have been enshrined in law, albeit after organized protests and advocacy. The importance of legal protection for the right to organize is clear today, with continuing efforts to weaken unions through legislation that strips them of their rights to organize. In none of these situations does society expect the victim to organize other victims for self-defense—the rape victim, the victim of domestic abuse, the person denied housing or fair on-the-job treatment—each needs the right to appeal to the state for protection and remedy.

Mass. already recognizes the right of citizens to be free of bullying ("harassment"), and provides protections with court hearings, civil orders of protection, and criminal penalties. However, these remedies are not fully effective in the context of housing for seniors and people living with disabilities. For example, if an individual appeals to the court for protection, they may be further abused through social bullying for having broken the code of silence. Our proposals are aimed at providing effective remedies, including for social bullying, in subsidized housing.

HUD as well as many other organizations and businesses have clearly stated policies against bullying in the workplace. It is not left to aggrieved individuals to organize for protection, HUD creates a mandate to stop bullying. However, owners and managers of HUD-subsidized housing lack the same imperatives and obligations, there is no effective oversight in this area. Why should the elderly and people living with a disability be deprived of this protection? With such protections enshrined in law, residents could more effectively organize to seek enforcement.

If suffering bullying is stressful and painful, how much more so if the individual target or targets must stand together in a public way and engage in a prolonged battle and be exposed to even more retaliation! Especially since there is no effective means of intervention in law that does not invite retaliation by social bullying, there is no responsible agency to assure justice.

Organizing for self-protection is different from organizing to advocate. We should not expect the target(s) of bullying to be able to correct the problem: because the bully has greater power through a group that uses social bullying tactics, or by greater strength of force of personality. It is not a good idea to encourage targets to organize for self-protection because this leads to rivalry, conflict, and can exacerbate and perpetuate insecurity and stress.

Lessons from efforts to deal with bullying in the workplace point in the same direction—the targets of bullying are often too vulnerable and lack the legal tools to stop the bullying. Gary and Ruth Namie are social psychologists who have worked for years to help overcome workplace bullying. According to research done for them, more than half of the people bullied in the workplace lose their jobs, either because they are fired for speaking up, or because they leave to save themselves. They advise people that their health must be their number one priority. Bullying is a systematic campaign of interpersonal destruction that jeopardizes your health, your career, the job you once loved. Bullying is a non-physical, non-homicidal form of violence and, because it is violence and abusive, emotional harm frequently results. For most targets in the workplace, the outcome will be to leave that job. The main purpose of fighting the abuse is to help recover your personal esteem and health. Gary Namie is also Director of the Healthy Workplace Campaign, which has been working for over a decade to promote legislation based on the work of David C. Yamada, Suffolk University Law School. The Healthy Workplace Campaign recruits "citizen lobbyists" but discourages targets of bullying from participation because they would lack an objective approach and/or would be too damaged by abuse to participate. While we in the Stop Bullying Committee consider advocacy to change the law essential, we also recognize the emotional cost for targets, and therefore seek the widest possible participation in advocacy. And we note that people in subsidized housing have very few options to find alternative housing in a reasonable time.

If landlords are given more power, they could abuse it.

We agree that this is a danger. But consider that landlords already have a great deal of power, and by enabling or permitting bullying, they may do great harm. We seek to channel their power appropriately by giving them formal responsibility for anti-bullying policies and procedures. We are aware of the need to provide checks and balances so that landlords can carry out their responsibilities but cannot abuse their powers. Just as in any legal remedy, there should be carefully designed provisions to assure that management does not use false accusations of bullying to get rid of residents.

Bullying needs to be carefully defined.

In fact, the Mass. General Laws contain definitions of bullying. We are not seeking to modify these definitions but are open to considering improvements. [Definitions] "Harassment", (i) 3 or more acts of willful and malicious conduct aimed at a specific person committed with the intent to cause fear intimidation, abuse or damage to property and does in fact cause fear, intimidation, abuse or damage to property... —Mass GL Chapter 258E, Section 1 —Perhaps the only change to consider might be a careful definition of social bullying.

Legislation is not needed because most buildings do not have bullying.

Unfortunately, bullying of elders and persons living with a disability is not rare. Recent research found that 24% of independent-living elders in the study reported being bullied at the time of the study. We are proposing remedies that would reduce the prevalence of bullying through research, education and by requiring management to have anti-bullying policies and procedures. Legal remedies for bullying are needed to provide relief only where bullying is uncontrolled, hopefully in rare circumstances.

Good resident organization can empower residents to overcome bullying; so why do we need legislation? And wouldn't the recommended solutions diminish the strength and power of residents to organize?

The bullying needs to stop so that people can build a healthy social life. In some out-of-control buildings bullying can make it difficult, if not impossible, to organize to obtain rights. We address situations where residents are abused by management, staff, or other residents who use bullying (especially social bullying) to deprive them of their peaceful enjoyment of their homes, and actively punish them for seeking redress. Our proposals are intended to empower seniors and people living with disabilities to organize, to advocate, and enable them to be active, caring members of their communities---and strengthen the ability of residents to organize for the full and peaceful enjoyment of their rights.

While it is true that good resident organizational efforts can serve to provide relief, this imposes a rather high barrier for obtaining relief. The process of organizing against management, staff, and residents who use bullying can be painful, stressful, and harmful to those who lead the struggle. Perhaps worst, is that efforts by residents to stop the bullying can lead to mutual hostility and escalating conflict that can stop organizational efforts. Many people will avoid the conflict rather than join in support of their interests.

We have experiential and observational evidence on the limits of organization to stop bullying. In two buildings, each with under 100 residents, it took 3 years in one and 4 years in the other to make initial inroads. In both situations, elected state-level legislators intervened. In both situations there was a tenants' association which had a positive impact on the social life of the building as well as establishing effective relations with management. But in one case, due to the application of an obscure HUD rule by management to make the association illegitimate, and resistance to the tenants' association by the people using bullying, the gains were lost and the association dissolved. Nevertheless, at the insistence of the tenants' association, the management had agreed to get professional training and intervention to deal with the bullying. In the other, the leaders were voted out by the group of bullies, and the tenants association became a rogue organization, for example, seeking to have alcohol in a party despite the HUD rules and despite having been warned by management. In both cases the management eventually became aware of the bullying. But in both cases, the social bullying continued. Even going to court to seek protection from harassment could only halt overt bullying by a single person, but the social bullying against the target intensified, as happened in both cases.

Don't we already have effective tools to stop bullying?

No we don't. Individuals from all over the nation, and a respected social work professional confirm that targeted residents are helpless to stop bullying—management should be made accountable. We propose to assign the landlord (who has a contractual obligation with all tenants to provide peaceful enjoyment of their homes) to protect the targets of bullying. This would be with oversight and supervision to prevent abuse.

Progress towards getting management to act against bullying in out-of-control buildings is so difficult that it has required the personal intervention of elected officials. However, it is not practical to depend on elected representatives to enforce the law or standards of decent behavior; that is the purpose of a legal remedy and the courts.

Finally, the law has focused on bullying of one person by another person, whereas social bullying is common. Where a social group uses bullying, it is hard to distinguish from healthy group process, and even harder to eradicate. This is one of the areas that needs research and demonstration programs.

—Jerry for the STOP BULLYING COMMITTEE (Bonny & Jerry)

Everyone can help free people from bullying

Our plan: educate and enlist Beacon Hill lawmakers

We need the help of all citizens living in subsidized housing in the Commonwealth to identify trouble spots, housing which is free of bullying that can serve as models, and to witness and advocate. Wherever you live, you can advocate for change in HUD policies through your elected federal officials.

Please sign the petition now (no donation expected)