Adult bullying

Adult bullying: unCOVered

Bullying isn’t reserved for the primary playground, nor does it stay within secondary school canteens. It can happen to adults, both students and staff, at university too.

Bullying, or any other kind of discrimination or abuse, will not be tolerated in Coventry University. We unCOVer bullying behaviour, identify the signs that someone is being bullied and discuss the actions you can take to help them.

This article is inspired by one of our very own students, Maria Petrou. Maria suffered years of bullying throughout both primary and secondary school. The bullies targeted Maria about her looks and her passion for studying, comparing her to the main character of American sitcom ‘Ugly Betty’.

The name calling did upset me at the time but it was one of those things that I was always going to prove everybody wrong. When I got a bit older I started working out a bit and I’ve always liked showing off and one of my friends suggested I enter a beauty contest.

Maria Petrou

Maria is now in line to be crowned Miss Coventry, competing in the contest next month. She entered the pageant to prove the bullies wrong, and to enforce the message that ‘Everybody is beautiful’

The rest of this article focuses on identifying bullying. It’s a serious topic and so could be a hard read – but keep Maria’s story in mind as you scroll down. She is proof that being bullied doesn’t have to hold you back, or stop you from realising your dreams.

It doesn’t matter about looks, most of the time beauty comes from who you are as a person.

Bullying can take many forms – verbal and physical abuse, theft, harassment and exclusion are all well known examples. However, it’s the 21st Century and we are living in a modern world of complex digital technology. The newest threat to children and adults alike is cyber bullying:

Threats are not always verbally abusive but [also] physically and sexually threatening. Alison, who is studying Linguistics at University, received unwanted sexual text and mobile harassment for two months. She received phone calls from an older man who knew her name, age and phone number but who would not reveal his identity. Alison explains: “That was the scary thing, I didn’t have any idea how he knew me. I began to feel as if he was watching me and he was therefore able to manipulate the way I felt.


It is easy to hide your identity behind a screen. Threats can be made, pictures can be manipulated and shared, personal information can be hacked and family can easily be contacted, all because we are so dependent on our digital life.
Remember to stay protected online with our internet safety tips.

It’s also important to remember that not everyone is who they say they are online:

Internet chat rooms provide an easy forum for cyber stalkers. University student Julie, used chat rooms as a non-confrontational way to meet new people and perhaps find romance. One of her Internet ‘buddies,’ who she thought was a fellow student, turned out to be forty years old and married with children. Julie only found out when his angry wife tracked her down via her contact details posted on the Internet.

Find out more about the threat of cyber bullying here.

Bullying Behaviour:

Our University bullying policy lists the following behaviours that could also be considered as bullying behaviour:

  • Shouting or screaming at an individual
  • Deliberately ridiculing
  • Making threats towards or unpleasant comments about an individual
  • Unwanted or unwarranted criticism regarding an individual
  • Physical violence or aggression
  • Abuse of power or authority
  • Humiliation resulting from public criticism
  • Undermining colleagues by diminishing their status and responsibility without justification
  • Deliberately withholding information to adversely affect a colleague’s performance

Whilst physical and verbal bullying is usually easy to spot, also list the following subtle signs that suggest someone may be being bullied:

Becoming withdrawn, changing eating habits, changes in behaviour – becoming aggressive, sleeping badly, complaining of headaches or stomach aches, a change in their academic performance, having broken or missing possessions, being afraid to go out, or afraid to go home.

The results of bullying:

Being the victim of a bully can be a devastating experience, and can affect every aspect of a person’s life long after the bully has moved on to another victim.

As well as causing a huge drop in self esteem, being bullied can lead to long term mental health problems, stress, sleeplessness, panic attacks, eating disorders, and can result in suicidal thoughts and, in some cases suicide.

Case study:

Many years ago, when I was seventeen, I was bullied at work. There were no harsh words, no nasty tricks, just the pure evilness of a ‘friend’ removing me from their life overnight. Suddenly she refused to speak to me, acknowledge me or stand near me, she even stole birthday presents from me. I used to love my job, I was eager to learn and working towards promotion, she destroyed work for me. We both worked five/six days a week and her actions continued relentlessly for over a year. Every single day I dreaded going in and my self-confidence dropped more and more as the months passed by. I became suspicious of other team members, imagining them all conspiring against me and pretending to like me. To escape I changed my job role, accepting a promotion I knew I wasn’t ready for – just to get away. Over time the stress of the promotion and subsequent positions wore me down until I gave in and let my destroyed mental health take over my life. Ten years later I still receive treatment to help me keep going and ensure that I can face each new day. 

Am I being bullied?

Bullies can be extremely subtle, the key way to know if you are being bullied by someone, especially by a ‘friend’ is to ask yourself if you feel bad after spending time with them. Do they put you down? Criticise your clothes, your appearance, your work etc? Do they make you feel inferior or lower your self-confidence? If yes, then you may be the victim of bullying.

How do I stop it?

Cutting contact with the bully can prevent many spates of bullying. Block their number or change yours, block their email address and/or Facebook account. If you continue to talk to a bully, you are adding fuel to their fire.

However, some instances of bullying are a lot harder to walk away from. For example; if you see the person in class every day, or they are a housemate or a family member, or if you are being bullied by a group of people.

Our advice? Simply ask for help. This is the bravest, strongest and most positive response you can have to being bullied. Do not be ashamed to expose the bully, speak confidentially to our dedicated university team, or contact one of the many nationwide anti-bullying organisations listed below.

Stay safe, stay happy and stay strong.

Where to get help – Coventry University

Confidentially contact on our
Counselling and Mental Health team:
Tel: +44 (0) 24 7765 8029

Where to get help – Nationwide

0845 22 55 787
0845 22 55 787

Bullying Online:
Relate Coventry: 024 7622 5863
Young Voice: 020 8979 4991
The Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90