Department program

Vulnerable students

Schools should take into consideration the demographic of their student community and identify any particular at risk or vulnerable groups of students and families.

Vulnerable groups

Research shows that some individuals or groups of people may be more at risk of either engaging in bullying behaviours or being the victim of bullying behaviours.

Special education needs and disabilities

In 2010, a research project was led by the Anti-Bullying Alliance to review the effectiveness of a range of approaches to preventing and tackling the bullying of children with special education needs (SEN) and/or disabilities. This includes, but is not limited to, young people with learning difficulties, autism and speech and language difficulties. The key issues related to bullying and victimisations are noted below.

Bullying and victimisation:

  • young people with SEN and/or disabilities are disproportionately at risk
  • young people with mild difficulties and/or hidden disabilities may be more at risk
  • marginalisation and isolation lead to victimisation and bullying
  • young people affected are in mainstream and special contexts
  • young people with SEN and/or disabilities can be both bullies and victims.

Types of bullying:

  • bullying of young people with SEN and/or disabilities is more relational than direct although both are present. Peer isolation and peer difficulties are more common
  • young people with SEN and/or disabilities may experience more ridicule, manipulation and name-calling
  • new forms of bullying - cyber, sexual and manipulation - also apply to young people with SEN and/or disabilities
  • it is a continuum going from isolation and ostracism through to hate crime.


It has been suggested that students with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be particularly vulnerable to bullying and social exclusion and may find it difficult to maintain friendships. Contributing factors include difficulties with verbal and non-verbal communication, narrow interests and rigid behaviours, sensory sensitivities and reduced social skills compared to their peers.

Autism Speaks is working with the National Centre for Learning Disabilities, PACER's National Bullying Centre and Ability Path in partnership with the new documentary film BULLY to raise awareness about how bullying affects children with special needs.

For more information see Autism Speaks: Combating Bullying.

Special needs anti-bullying toolkit

This toolkit is a set of resources for people to confront bullying of children with special needs. Start by reading the Top Ten Facts to know about bullying and children with special needs and then learn about the unique challenges children with special needs face when encountering bullying.

For more information, see Bully Free World: Special Needs Anti-bullying Toolkit.


Violence, harassment and bullying can be both a cause and consequence of homelessness. This means that a person may become homeless as a result of family violence and be exposed to violence, harassment and bullying because they are homeless. Violence, harassment and bullying are unacceptable in any context and violate a range of human rights.

Everyone has the right to be respected and safe, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. Violence, harassment and bullying are violations of this human right.

Research undertaken by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found that Australian people who are homeless experience higher rates of violent victimisation than the general population. Violence, harassment and bullying are significant violations of the right of every person to life, liberty and security. It is vital that people experiencing homelessness are provided with adequate support to protect them from violations of their right to personal safety.

rightsED resources

The Commission's rightsED resources include a range of interactive, education activities for teachers and their students. They are designed to introduce students to human rights concepts in an engaging, relevant way.

While the majority of resources and activities have been developed for secondary students - Year 9 and up (14 years and up), some resources and activities are suitable for younger students - Year 5 and up (10 years and up).

For more information, see Australian Human Rights Commission: rightsED.


Research in Australia in 2010 found that 61% of same sex attracted young people have experienced verbal abuse and 18% have experienced physical abuse on the basis of their sexuality. When asked where they were when this took place, 80% said it was at school (Writing Themselves in 3, Hillier et al, 2010). This research also found that only 19% of same sex attracted students thought that their school was supportive of their sexuality.

Challenging homophobic language and behaviour is crucial to creating a school environment where every student can learn. This includes derogatory or inappropriate use of the word 'gay' to mean' rubbish' or 'stupid'.

In addition, it is important to make sure that sexual diversity is visible across the whole school and included in sexuality education and other areas of teaching and learning. Avoid the assumption that all students, staff and family members are heterosexual. Provide support for same sex attracted students and offer staff training on how to challenge homophobia and create more inclusive classrooms.

Safe schools

Safe schools helps ensure Victorian schools are safe and inclusive places that are free of bullying, discrimination and harassment arising from homophobia and transphobia..

Racial and minority groups

Visible minority groups, be those groups racial, ethnic or religious, and invisible minority groups, people with different sexual orientations or gender identifications, are more frequently targeted for bullying.

Racist violence, harassment and abuse are closely related to, and sometimes difficult to distinguish from, bullying. Racist bullying in schools can range from ill-considered remarks, which are not intended to be hurtful, to deliberate physical attacks causing serious injury.

Racist bullying can be identified by the motivation of the bully, the language used and by the fact that victims are singled out because of the colour of their skin, the way they talk, their ethnic grouping or by their religious or cultural practices.

Racism can directly or indirectly exclude people from accessing services or participating in employment, education, sport and social activities. It can also occur at a systemic or institutional level through policies, conditions or practices that disadvantage certain groups.

Racism. No way! anti-racism education for Australian schools

The Racism. No way! project aims to assist Australian school communities and education systems to recognise and address racism in the learning environment.

The Racism. No way! website includes a school planning document, lesson ideas, activities, e-challenges, fact sheets and stimulus materials to assist students to engage positively with other peoples and cultures and to better understand Australia's cultural diversity and history.