When someone is bullied, assaulted, harassed or excluded in any way, in any context – be it their family, school, workplace, community or society – their fundamental human rights have been abrogated. COPA communicates this to young people as the right to be safe, strong and free. The phrase encapsulates an overarching vision of what it means to live free from all forms of abuse, assault and discrimination, in a world where equity, inclusion and respect for all differences are a reality. (The slogan was created in 1978 by staff at a sexual assault centre in Columbus, Ohio. It forms the conceptual basis of all of COPA’s work and COPA and OTF’s Safe@School project.)
Those who bully others intend to harm those they target, deriving pleasure from hurting others. When hatred of others based on their difference takes root, a person who intends to bully can and will use any perceived weakness in order to hurt the person they are targeting. This might, but does not always, include differences based on social inequality.
Any form of aggression that targets certain social groups is connected to attitudes, ideas and practices that are woven into the thread of our society and its dominant culture. These denigrate, undervalue or overlook certain targeted groups and the needs and experiences of their members. They filter down to our schools, which are a microcosm of the larger society, and are often absorbed by students.
In all cases, a person who is targeted by bullying or harassment has lost their right to be safe, strong and free. This includes the loss of basic human rights, as in the case of someone who is targeted because of their identity and connection to a particular social group.