Prejudice-based bullying

Bullying behaviour may be a result of prejudice that relates to perceived or actual differences.


Bullying behaviour may be a result of prejudice that relates to perceived or actual differences. This can lead to prejudice and discriminatory language or behaviour, including racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia or transphobia.

Respect for All states: “Prejudice-based bullying is when bullying behaviour is motivated by prejudice based on an individual’s actual or perceived identity; it can be based on characteristics unique to a child or young person’s identity or circumstance.”  

Research shows that anti-bullying work that clearly addresses the particular needs of vulnerable or minority groups is more effective. There is a need to address the root cause of prejudice as well as effectively responding to incidents as they arise. We need to create environments where diversity is celebrated and name calling and comments based on prejudice are challenged. Some personal characteristics are protected within the law, to address the years of unfavourable treatment experienced by some groups. The Equality Act 2010 makes it unlawful to discriminate against people with a ‘protected characteristic’. These are:


  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Religion or belief
  • Sexual orientation


Prejudice-based bullying includes the protected characteristics, but prejudice can and does extend beyond these and can lead to bullying for a variety of reasons.

Additional Support Needs: An additional support need can arise for any reason and be of short or long term duration. Additional support may be required to overcome needs arising from learning environment; health or disability; family circumstances or social and emotional factors. A child or young person may be bullied because they have an additional support need and crucially being bullied can also lead to an additional support need.

Age: Although prejudice and discrimination based on age is not applicable in school settings, it can affect children and young people in a variety of other settings. For example, in workplaces, further and higher education and in wider society.

Asylum Seekers and Refugees: Children and young people who are asylum seekers or refugees may be at greater risk of bullying directly and indirectly. Stigma, due to lack of knowledge and understanding of asylum seekers and refugees, and reluctance to burden parents with extra worries can allow bullying to go undetected and continue.

Body Image and Physical appearance: This can be hugely important to children and young people, with bullying because of body image having the potential to negatively impact upon their wellbeing.

Disablist Bullying: People who bully others may see children and young people with disabilities as being less able to defend themselves and less able to tell an adult about the bullying. The bullying behaviour is likely to be focused upon their specific disability or disabilities, whether they are in mainstream schooling or in specialist provision.

Gypsy/Travellers: This group of children and young people are a particularly discriminated against and marginalised group and concerns about bullying are especially acute for secondary schools. Perceived risks about bullying and parents’ own experiences of discriminatory behaviour may lead to low levels of enrolment and poor attendance for Gypsy/Traveller children and young people, as well as early exit from formal education. Other Traveller families, such as Roma, may have similar concerns.

Sexual Orientation & Homophobic Bullying: Bullying based on sexual orientation is motivated by a prejudice against lesbian, gay or bisexual (LGB) people. It is also commonly referred to as ‘homophobic bullying’ but can also be expanded to recognise the specific experiences of bisexual young people using the term ‘biphobic bullying’.

Children and young people do not necessarily have to be gay, lesbian or bisexual themselves to experience ‘homophobic bullying’. This type of bullying may be directed towards young people perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual young people; those that do not conform to gender norms and/or expectations; and those who have gay friends or family. Children with LGB parents may also experience homophobic bullying. Although homophobic bullying is distinct from sexist and transphobic bullying, it is related to these forms of bullying through underlying sexist attitudes.

Intersectionality: Understanding the different and unequal social and economic outcomes for particular groups, based on interactions between race, class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age and ethnicity. In the context of anti-bullying, it is important to understand the connection between the experiences of belonging to one or more of these groups and people's prejudice towards them, which can lead to inequality in attainment and wellbeing.

Looked After Children and Young People: Children and young people who are looked after at home or who are looked after and accommodated, are vulnerable to bullying behaviour for a number of reasons. It may be due to regular changes in schools or where they are placed, which can make forming friendships difficult. Forming relationships with peers and adults can be more difficult due to their early childhood adversity.

Marriage/Civil Partnership: Whilst it is unlikely that a school-aged pupil will be in a same sex marriage or civil partnership and directly experience prejudice and discrimination as a result, there could be instances of indirect discrimination. For example, if the child or young person is associated with someone (parent, sibling, etc) who is in a same sex marriage or civil partnership or in a same sex relationship. Marriage and civil partnership discrimination and prejudice can also affect children and young people in a variety of other settings, for example, in workplaces, further and higher education and in wider society.

Racial Bullying: Children and young people from minority ethnic groups often experience bullying based on perceived differences in dress, communication, appearance, beliefs and/or culture as well as their skin colour and accent. The status of the ethnic group a child belongs to (or people assume they belong to) in a school, community or organisation can often lead to a child or young person experiencing bullying behaviour. This can arise from a misguided and/or learned belief that they are less valued and ‘deserve’ to be treated differently, or with less respect.

Religion and Belief: Lack of knowledge and understanding about the traditions, beliefs and etiquette of different faiths can lead to religious intolerance. Lack of awareness about the differences in practices of religions such as prayer times, dietary requirements, fasting and the wearing of religious clothing or articles of faith can result in misunderstandings and stereotyping, which may lead to bullying. People who have no religion or belief are also protected under the Equality Act.

Sectarianism: Most people understandably associate Sectarianism with religion. The reality of prejudice however means that your family background, the football team you support, the community you live in, the school you attend and even the colour of your clothing can mark you out for sectarian abuse - whatever your beliefs may be. In Scotland, sectarianism is most often related to Protestant and Roman Catholic divisions within Christianity but can also relate to other religions, for example Sunni and Shia Muslims within Islam, and Orthodox and Reform Jews within Judaism.

Sexism and gender: Bullying in the form of derogatory language and the spreading of malicious rumours can be used to regulate both girls’ and boys’ behaviour - suggesting that they are not being a 'real' man or a 'real' woman. These terms can be of an explicit sexual nature and it is worth noting that many can involve the use of terms for people who are gay and lesbian as a negative towards a person’s masculinity or femininity. Sexism and gender stereotypes feed into homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Gender stereotyping, based on the notion of acceptable and unacceptable male and female behaviour, can leave children and young people who are not perceived to conform to these notions vulnerable to indirect and direct bullying.

Personality traits that do not fit into the unwritten rules of ‘appropriate’ male and female behaviour can lead to bullying because of the prejudice towards their perceived difference.

Gender Identity and Transphobic Bullying:The term ‘transgender’ is an ‘umbrella term’ for those whose ‘gender identity’ or expression differs in some way from the gender that was assigned to them at birth. Gender identity reflects an individual’s internal sense of self as being male, female, or an identity between or outside the two.

Transgender people face significant societal prejudice, largely because they are perceived as not conforming to gender stereotypes, expectations and norms. As a result, transgender or gender ‘variant’ children and young people can be particularly vulnerable to bullying. This can manifest in many ways, including transphobic and homophobic name calling or deliberately mis-gendering them. An individual may also experience transphobic bullying as a result of a perception that a parent, relative or other significant figure is transgender.

Young Carers: The lives of young carers can be significantly affected by their responsibility to care for a family member who has a physical illness or disability, mental health problem, sensory or learning disability or issues with the misuse of drugs or alcohol. Young carers are at risk of bullying for a variety of reasons. Depending on responsibilities at home, they may find themselves being unable to fully participate in school or after-school activities or ‘fun stuff’. This can make it difficult for them to form relationships; it can hinder successful transitions or lead to educational difficulties.

Socio-economic Prejudice: Bullying due to socio-economic status can take place in any community. Small differences in perceived family income/family living arrangements/social circumstances or values can be used as a basis for bullying behaviours. These behaviours, such as mocking speech patterns, accents, belongings, clothing, etc. can become widespread through those considering themselves to be in the dominant social economic group. Bullying of children who endure parental substance misuse can also be prevalent.


Hate Crime

Hate crime is defined through the law as a crime motivated by malice or ill-will towards individuals because of their actual or perceived disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. A hate crime can take a number of forms that are potentially criminal and should be treated as such. Adults and children and young people can seek appropriate advice and guidance from Police Scotland if they feel a hate crime may have taken place.

There is no legal definition of bullying in Scotland and as such bullying is not a crime. Bullying can be motivated by prejudice similar to hate crime, but the difference is when a crime has taken place, such as assault, graffiti or a breach of the peace which has been motivated by prejudice. The decision to proceed will rest with the Procurator Fiscal’s Office. The presumption should be against criminalising children and young people wherever possible unless it is in the public interest.


Equality, Equity & Diversity

Equality is more than simply treating everyone the same. Not everyone needs exactly the same treatment; we are not all starting from the same place with the same privilege and support. There are people and groups of people who have experienced less favourable treatment and still do. Promoting equality involves challenging inequality. It means challenging language and behaviours that lead to people being treated less favourably, or having poorer outcomes at school or in life.

Equity is about addressing the imbalance and making sure those who need more help, support or protection can get it. When we do this, we are working towards equality. We strive for a society where people are treated fairly, which might mean taking extra steps to help those with less money get to school or college, making sure that those with a disability can access and enjoy the same places and experiences as everyone else, and so on. It is not enough to simply give everyone the same resources or tools to succeed, people may need ones that are specific to them and their circumstances to succeed.

Diversity aims to recognise, respect and value people’s differences. Diversity recognises difference, not just tolerating it, but acknowledging and celebrating the richness it can bring.

Fully integrating and embedding equity, equality and diversity into an organisation relies on a culture where language and behaviour is challenged. Creating environments where difference is celebrated, together with role modelling how to challenge prejudices, is what we sign up for if we work with or have children.