Pure Victims

Basic Concept

Pure victims (passive victims) have very poor coping skills, and they regard their own existence as unimportant. They often think that people bully them because they do not have any advantage or merit, and they always blame themselves for this (Carney & Merell, 2001). They also blame themselves for the misfortune that happens to them and internalise the misfortune as their own responsibility (internal attribution) (Boxer & Tisak, 2003). They believe they are the cause of their own misfortune and do not have the ability to control situations. This belief contributes to their tendency to flinch.

Characteristics of Pure Victims

McNamara and McNamara (1997) observed that passive victims are often short and slight. Their physical strength and performance in sports are poor, and they are not strong enough to resist stronger aggressors. When they are attacked, they may cry and recoil from the crowd. Generally, their academic performance in primary school is adequate. However, once they enter high school, they regularly skip class and avoid going to school to escape persecution by bullies. This ultimately leads to their poor academic performance (Olweus, 1993).

The pure victim’s personality is quiet, cautious, anxious, insecure, submissive and highly sensitive (e.g. Olweus, 1993; Schwartz, Dodge, & Coie, 1993). They often lack communication skills and have alienated interpersonal relationships (Glew, Rivara, & Feudtner, 2000). They talk very little and lack assertiveness (Schwartz et al., 1993). Although they are usually alone at school (Olweus, 1993), they have closer relationships with teachers and social workers than with their peers.

Family Background

In general, the parents of pure victims tend to over-protect or pamper their children (McNamara & McNamara, 1997). When they see their children feeling anxious and insecure, such parents will shelter their children and prevent them from confronting their difficulties or problems. They teach their children to run away from difficulties but fail to provide them with problem-solving skills or the skills needed to handle conflicts (McNamara & McNamara, 1997). Therefore, these children never learn from experience and never grow up. When they encounter conflicts or problems with interpersonal relationships at school, they do not know how to behave, so they escape. Even when these children have learned how to handle problems or conflicts, they are reluctant to apply their knowledge (Hoover et al., 2003) and tend to rely on their parents (usually the mother). Thus, they lack the ability to be independent (Kameguchi & Murphy-Shigematsu, 2001).

Negative Effects

Pure victims reportedly suffer from persistent internalising disorders, such as eating disorders (Bond, Carlin, Thomas, Rubin & Patton, 2001) and attention deficit disorder (Kumpulainen, Rasanen, & Puura, 2001). They have a constant fear of being bullied, and this prevents them from concentrating, leading to absentmindedness. Once they enter school, psychosomatic symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches appear. They cannot sleep at night (McNamara & McNamara, 1997) and even have suicidal thoughts (Gumpel, 2008; Olweus,1993; Sugimori, 1998). Long-term, male pure victims find it difficult to get along well with females when they enter adulthood, and they encounter obstacles in sexual relationships (Gilmartin, 1987). When they become parents, these individuals over-protect their own children just as their parents did to them. It creates a vicious cycle in which their children become the next pure victims (McNamara & McNamara, 1997).

Case Study

Daniel (a pseudonym) is a silent, skinny boy who wears glasses. He is the one child in a middle-class family. Daniel’s parents do not allow him to do household chores, because they worry he will be too tired to attend a school or finish his homework. His mother even helps him pack his school bag according to his class timetable. As a result, Daniel is very dependent on his parents.

Daniel has been constantly bullied by a group of three classmates. They call him nicknames, tease him, grab his homework and glasses and sometimes beat him up. He is so afraid of them; he often skips classes and fears going to school. During class, he is constantly anxious and sensitive to his surroundings, checking to see if his classmates are approaching, even when the teacher is present. He once revealed that he is always the first to run out of the classroom at the beginning of recess to hide in a corner where his classmates cannot find and bully him. We could tell that Daniel had little sense of security and tended to flinch from people and problems as a response to bullying.

During the group intervention, Daniel revealed that one day, he had been forced by the group of three classmates to talk with a female classmate after school. They grabbed his school bag and glasses and told him they would not give them back unless he talked with the girl and asked for her phone number. When the workers asked him why he did not report this to a teacher, he responded that he was bullied because he did not dare talk with girls at school (a non-responsive answer). We could see that Daniel believed his bullying was his own fault. We could also see that Daniel was pure and that he lacked self-esteem and communication skills because he avoided talking with girls.

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