Bullying victims tend to be polar opposites of bullies. They are often shy and quiet, with few friends and little social support at school. They may be physically weak or lack confidence in their strength. Hence, they rarely stand up to bullies.
Victims often have poor social skills. One study showed that students and teachers perceive victims to:
- display vulnerability (e.g., “look scared”).
- be nonassertive (e.g., “gives in to the bully too easily”).
- reward, and thus reinforce, bullying (e.g., “cries when picked on”).
- be withdrawn and solitary (e.g., “talks quietly”).
- be “provocative” or “aggressive” (e.g., “annoys other kids”).
Most victims do nothing actively to provoke their tormentors. Their helplessness does it for them. But as the last item above suggests, one subgroup is different: “provocative” or “aggressive” victims. These youths are impulsive and socially clumsy. They often have reading and writing problems and show characteristics of attention-deficit disorder (ADHD). Their behavior tends to elicit negative reactions from other students. Because these youngsters may even try to bully others themselves, some call them “bully-victims.”
In his study “Bullies, Aggressive Victims and Victims: Are They Distinct Groups?” James D. Unnevern of Radford University found that aggressive victims were less proactively aggressive but more reactively aggressive than pure bullies. They were also substantially more proactively aggressive than pure victims.
Most studies show more boys are bullies than girls. Yet girls bully, too. Although physical bullying happens among girls, they tend to use subtler and less-direct tactics such as excluding someone from their group, spreading rumors or manipulating friendship relations. In one study of middle-school peer harassment, however, there were no differences in the perceptions of bullying between boys and girls.
Online, girls generally mock others’ appearance, while boys tend to make more sexually explicit comments, according to Mary Worthington, an elementary education counselor for the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), which offers prevention-education programs to students and parents.