Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat

CRIMINOLOGIST Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat of the Forensic Science Programme at Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) says bullies are often repeat offenders, but they can be rehabilitated.

Question: Is bullying a crime? Please elaborate.

Answer:Yes, it combines threat or actual violence, verbal abuse and psychological harm. The harm sustained may be short- or long-term, which may lead to changes in the victim’s behaviour and outlook on life.

Q: What are factors that cause bullying to escalate to the levels today?

A: There’s a lot of research evidence that shows the psychosocial and criminogenic factors underlying bullying behaviour, such as apathy, decay of moral values, reduction of community lifestyles, or an increase in individualistic lifestyles, influence from violent content that are easily accessible online and offline, pro-criminal attitudes, lack of empathy, bystanders or witnesses who are unwilling or afraid of getting involved and becoming victims, high levels of hostility, superiority complex and the inability to tolerate differences.

Q: Is there a trigger that turns a person into a bully?

A: It’s not really a “switch” as anti-social and aggressive tendencies are often already there. As such, the trigger can be anything perceived by the bully to be provoking.

Q: Should bullies who are minors be tried and charged as an adult if the crimes are severe, such as resulting in fatality?

A: This is mentioned in the Child Act 2001, where it specifies that a child may be tried as an adult if the action committed is violent and severe in accordance with the age of criminal responsibility.

The age of criminal responsibility for murder is 10 in the Penal Code.

However, we need to wait until the proposed changes to the Child Act are gazetted.

Q: In cases of bullying, should the punishment equal the crime?

A: Yes, within the provisions of prevailing laws.

Q: Should there be leniency if the teen bully confesses and apologises?

A: It depends on the teen’s history of violence and involvement in pro-criminal behaviour, and whether the punishment is in the best interest of public safety, future deterrence and victim justice.

Having said that, some crimes committed by youth are so heinous and pose a very real danger to others that a confession and apology is not enough.

The violent crime has occurred, and the victim has suffered grievous harm that will last for life or has died. A plea for leniency or mercy for such crimes should not be granted as the young offender was not merciful to his victim.

There are other considerations as well, for example, deliberateness of the crime, purpose of harm, forethought and actions after the crime.

Q: Are bullies repeat offenders? Is there a chance for rehabilitation?

A: Yes, to both. I’ve never come across a bully who bullied only once. The bully’s behaviour and attitude escalate over time,
especially if that person is
surrounded by like-minded
people or joins a gang where violence is the norm.

Rehab comes in several forms, including natural desistance due to increased responsibility, maturity and repentance, motivated desistance from a loved one, trauma, being caught and sentenced for an offence, or no longer having a motivation to persist in the bullying behaviour, rewarded desistance and sustained desistance.

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