School bullying: Girl bullies `can be just as violent as boys'

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GIRL BULLIES can be just as violent as boys, setting fire to their victim's hair, and indulging in physical attacks and beatings, according to a new study.

The incidents of girl bullying, however, tend to remain hidden, with teachers often assuming that the problem is limited to name-calling and the exclusion of victims from cliques.

Fiona Hardy of Derby University told the conference that aggression and violence was not solely the domain of males.

Bullies and victims aged 12 to 16 were interviewed for the study, which found that bullies were not necessarily delinquent but had been victims of bullying themselves.

Incidents included setting fire to a victim's hair, stalking another girl for a long period of time and beating up another girl severely and repeatedly.

"The most surprising thing was the high level of violence towards each other," Ms Hardy said. "We have often suspected this but it was confirmed by the study.

"The propensity for violence is always there in all of us, but because there is such a taboo about women expressing it, it is very much underground. Boys fighting is accepted. With girls it is not and it is much more difficult to deal with.''

Rather than problems with their peers, all the bullies said there had been difficulties at home and they claimed this was a more severe problem for them. Many could not accept their behaviour was bullying and tried to minimise it as a "bit of a scuffle" or a "little fight".

Once named "bully" or "victim" the label stuck and the girls found it very difficult to break out of that cycle of behaviour, she said. "The bullies in particular felt they had an image to keep up."

Ms Hardy said that a major problem was how schools handled the problem. "From the evidence of what the girls said, teachers do not often know how to deal with it although they did know what was going on."