Bullying & lateral violence
Almost every youth has experienced violence from their peers—called lateral violence. Read how a life-time of oppression affects Aboriginal people.
- Percentage of young people who have witnessed lateral violence and bullying at home 
- Percentage of surveyed Aboriginal academics and professional staff who have experienced lateral violence in their workplace 
- Percentage of bullying that occurs among Aboriginal people themselves .
What is lateral violence?
Lateral violence is a term that describes the way people in positions of powerlessness, covertly or overtly direct their dissatisfaction inward toward each other, toward themselves, and toward those less powerful than themselves.
Lateral violence is believed to occur worldwide in minorities and particularly Aboriginal peoples.
It is also “a form of bullying that includes gossip, shaming and blaming others, backstabbing and attempts to socially isolate others” , and for Aboriginal people in particular, talk of blood quantum - ‘you’re half-blood’. Victims of lateral violence do these “organised, harmful behaviours” to each other collectively as part of an oppressed group, within their families, within their organisations and within their communities” .
“Lateral violence is the expression of rage and anger, fear and terror that can only be safely vented upon those closest to us when we are being oppressed.” In other words, people who are victims of a situation of dominance turn on each other instead of confronting the system that oppresses them. The oppressed become the oppressors.
Lateral violence is directed sideways (‘lateral’) meaning the aggressors are your peers, often people in powerless positions. It is your own (Aboriginal) peers who bully you.
Other terms include “work place bullying”, “horizontal violence”, “intra-racial conflict” and “internalised colonialism” .
Research suggests that as many as 95% of bullying occurs amongst Aboriginal people themselves .
Lateral violence happens in organisations everywhere--;people gossiping and backstabbing--but within Aboriginal communities, it's particularly sharp and particularly acute.—Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 
Cyber-bullying through texting and social networking is also an emerging problem among Aboriginal people .
Causes of lateral violence
The roots of lateral violence lie in colonisation, oppression, intergenerational trauma, powerlessness and ongoing experiences of racism and discrimination, factors mainstream bullying programs do not take into account .
These kinds of trauma can also cause adolescent violence and turn young children into violent offenders later in life .
Diminishing traditional roles, structures and knowledge, attacks on Aboriginal culture, and conflict about Aboriginal identity are further causes . Notions of who is ‘a real Aboriginal person’ are powerful weapons in lateral violence.
Negative stereotypes create low self-esteem or a victim mentality, which in turn reinforces feelings of powerlessness and makes people lash out in lateral violence.
[Lateral violence] comes from being colonised, invaded. It comes from being told you are worthless and treated as being worthless for a long period of time. Naturally you don't want to be at the bottom of the pecking order, so you turn on your own.—Richard J. Frankland, Aboriginal singer/songwriter, author and film maker 
Governments can (inadvertently or deliberately) create the environment for lateral violence through a lack of recognition and engagement, and by pitting groups against each other.
One such example is the native title process where Aboriginal people have to prove their identity over and over again. In some states Aboriginal groups have a say in who belongs to a particular land and who doesn’t, a right which can stir lateral violence  when native title claimants are not sure of their Aboriginal identity and communities become fragmented. The native title process can also lead to feelings of dispossession.
Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, says that “although native title provides a unique opportunity for many of our communities to overcome disadvantage, these outcomes are often not fully realised because lateral violence fragments our communities as we navigate structures such as the native title system.” .
Who speaks for a community and whom governments choose to listen to can alienate those who miss out and let them feel powerless.
Governments contribute to a feeling of powerlessness by taking a deficit-based approach—addressing the ‘Aboriginal problem’—rather than focusing on capabilities and resilience of Aboriginal people .
Effects of lateral violence and bullying include reduced (mental) health and well-being and lower self-confidence. Organisations function less and experience high staff turnover with less Aboriginal people taking positions.
“I met a lady once,” recalls Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. “When we explained lateral violence, she broke down and cried and said ‘that’s what caused my husband to kill himself!’.” 
With lateral violence the oppressed become the oppressors. We've internalised the pain of colonisation and our oppression and we've taken it into our communities in the factionalisation and in the gossip and talk of blood quantum, "you're half-blood" etc.—Allen Benson, CEO Native Counseling Services of Alberta, Canada 
Allen Benson goes on to explain that “as oppressed people, we want to say we have that little bit of power over somebody and we’ve just dragged ourselves down as a society instead of supporting each other in the community. As long as we internalise the pain and don’t forgive people, we’ll carry it with us forever.” 
Violence is normalised and children grow up expected to behave like everyone else and copy the bullying.
Forms of lateral violence
Frequent forms of lateral violence are:
- nonverbal innuendo (raising eyebrows, face-making),
- malicious gossip or rumour,
- imposition of derogatory labels,
- verbal affront (overt/covert, snide remarks, lack of openness, abrupt responses, gossiping),
- undermining activities (turning away, not being available, social exclusion),
- withholding information,
- sabotage (deliberately setting up a negative situation),
- infighting (bickering, family feuds),
- backstabbing (complaining to peers and not confronting the individual),
- failure to respect privacy,
- broken confidences,
- organisational conflict,
- social exclusion,
- physical violence.
95% of a group of young people had witnessed lateral violence at home .
Those most at risk of lateral violence in its raw physical form are family members and, in the main, the most vulnerable members of the family: old people, women and children. Especially the children.—Marcia Langton, Aboriginal writer 
“Wake up, bitch!”
Here’s what happened to an Aboriginal woman in a fast food restaurant .
“As I was standing waiting to place my order a mob of my own [Aboriginal] people started to berate me about wearing an Aboriginal-designed bangle when I was ‘not Aboriginal’ and indicating that I was ripping them off by wearing it.
The young girl abused me and told me to ‘wake up, bitch’ and then said to her friends, ‘Well does she look Aboriginal to us? I don’t think so.’ ...
I would like to say that I am a proud Wadi Wadi woman and I was disgusted by the behaviour of the people in the restaurant.”
Resolving lateral violence
Governments are not likely to fix the issue. Instead, the solution must come from within Aboriginal communities, from Aboriginal people taking control and addressing the issue themselves.
Self-determination can stifle the toxicity of victimhood and powerlessness and enables communities to make their own decisions with respect to resolving disputes, defining acceptable behaviour and taking responsibility of the well-being of the community.
Naming lateral violence is the first step towards exerting control over it, and an action of prevention . It gives Aboriginal communities
- the language to name laterally violent behaviour,
- the space to discuss its impact, and
- the tools to start developing solutions.
To tackle lateral violence Richard J. Frankland suggests that you “out it. Name it for what it is, a destroyer of Indigenous culture and life. Publicly admit it is happening and then take steps and measures to deal with it… Find ways to deal with it, end it, eradicate it from our lives and communities.” .
Others suggest to apply traditional ways of resolving disputes, such as learning and healing circles and shared care .
Addressing lateral violence will require courage, goodwill and determination.—Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner 
The Solid Kids, Solid Schools, Solid Families website provides information about bullying with pages written directly for children, parents and schools.
Watch a video where Denise Findlay and Tereasa Golka talk about lateral violence in Canadian Aboriginal communities and their workshop The Crab In The Bucket which tries to find solutions.
Snide remarks and innuendo Running rampant in our town They say it's in the name of fun To run somebody down But it's not that funny to those out there Who constantly put up with the crap To have to wear your unkind remarks When you sink as low as that That diva chat they say it's great And it's really cheap as well They get on there and go to town their stories they love to tell But do you people realise You're hurting someone out there With your unkind words and trash talk Do you give a dam, do you care I don't know if you know this But to be on diva chat You have to be 18 years old Did any of you know that All it starts is trouble In the end the fights will start So how about you stop and think Before you play your part.
Poem by Nola Gregory, an Aboriginal youth worker .
Last updated: 9 November 2012 | Out of respect for Aboriginal culture I use Indigenous sources as much as possible.
 'Lateral violence', Koori Mail, 28/2/2007
 'Hostages to men's business', The Australian, 8/11/2008
 'Expert warns over bullying', Koori Mail 475 p.38
 'Communities warned of 'lateral violence'', Koori Mail 503 p.12
 'Feeling let down', readers letter, Koori Mail 511 p.25
 'Laws 'feeding' violence: Gooda', Koori Mail 513 p.13
 'Violence an issue we must address: Gooda', Koori Mail 515 p.11
 'Uni racism finding in new report', Koori Mail 515 p.26
 'One's identity is for the individual to determine', SMH 25/11/2011
 'Lateral violence', Koori Mail 395 p.9
 '2011 Social Justice and Native Title Reports - A Community Guide', Mick Gooda
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