Towards a program to stop bullying and mobbing Part 2

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Mon, 07/15/2013 - 01:25

Bullying and mobbing are a plague affecting many institutions and community organizations. Certainly many elderly persons are affected, and not only in subsidized housing. Common explanations are that the bullies and or their targets have psychological problems; that people who live in subsidized housing are "losers" or they wouldn't be living there. We must seek further for explanations. There is increasing evidence that bullying of and by elders in many contexts is common; there is evidence that even people of means can engage in bullying and mobbing; and that the institutional environment is a significant factor in mobbing.

Evidence for bullying and mobbing involving elders

Madeline Rex-Lear studied the impact of bullying on well-being in 111 elders aged from 60 to 99 years. They lived in a variety of independent living situations including their own homes in the community, retirement communities, and group retirement apartments. Nearly a quarter of the subjects, 24%, reported being frequent targets of bullying. [1]

Bullying and mobbing in subsidized housing

My own observations, supplemented by correspondence by people from all over the country, indicate that bullying and mobbing are all too common in subsidized housing. Bullying can involve elderly vs. elderly, elderly vs. younger disabled, or any combination of individuals. Mobbing emerges when the management takes the side of the bullies instead of protecting the targets, and sometimes management can engage in or condone bullying activities.[2]

Evidence for bullying and mobbing in a condominium association

Some 50 million people in the U.S. live under condominium or homeowners associations, and relationships in the governance of the associations can be intense and bitter. Duffy and Sperry have found that mobbing can take place in every type of community group, including in condominium associations.[3]

Duffy and Sperry report on events in a 300-unit luxury condominium in Florida. Many of the owners were retired, and had more than one residence. Problems began when one of the unit owners got permission to install stronger, storm-resistant windows. The board then harassed the unit owner, who joined with two others to win an election to the board. The former board members did not accept defeat gracefully; instead, they disrupted board meetings. They also spread rumors against the new board members among the other residents. Continuing attacks on the new board members led two of them to quit and the third became too ill to continue. [3]

Duffy and Sperry point out that the old board targeted the new board members, attacking their persons and recruiting others to join in the attacks. The new board members were abused and humiliated. The purpose of the attacks was to cast the targets in a negative light and to devalue them and their contributions. And finally, to force them out of the organization or to make them illegitimate as leaders. The perpetrators acted together. And the personalities of both the perpetrators and the targets were irrelevant to the dynamics of the situation.[3]

Going forward

The pattern of events that Duffy and Sperry report is quite similar to what we have observed in subsidized housing. We infer that large numbers of elders are victims of bullying and mobbing in a variety of residential situations. Wealth and social class are no barriers to bullying. Bullying and mobbing are found in business settings. It is found in schools. As tempting as it may be to see bullies or targets as suffering from some personal failing or psychological condition, we need to view the whole system and context for explanation. Advocates for people living with disabilities report that bullying is a common challenge for their community. To the extent that the patterns of bullying and mobbing are comparable across many contexts, we may be able to adopt insights and solutions from other contexts, and apply them to subsidized residences.

With your help, I will continue to develop the outlines of a model intervention program for housing based on observations and findings in subsidized housing, as well as drawing on the work of Duffy and Sperry and other researchers. As always, your comments and collaboration are welcome and essential. Together, we can do this.


(1) Rex-Lear, Madeline, 2011 Not Just A Playground Issue: Bullying Among Older Adults; doctoral thesis, The University of Texas at Arlington

(2) Halberstadt, Jerry, “Conflict and Bullying in a HUD-subsidized Building for Elderly Residents: A Case Study" 2011

(3) Duffy, Maureen and Len Sperry Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions. New York: Oxford University Press; 2012; pp 70-74

Links to the program articles

Towards a program to stop bullying and mobbing Part 1

Towards a program to stop bullying and mobbing Part 2

Towards a program to stop bullying and mobbing Part 3

Comprehensive program

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)