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Osamu Magata

Osamu Magata [profile]

Bullying and Crime

Osamu Magata
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Criminal law

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Recently, some forms of bullying have finally been clearly identified as crimes in Japan. So, which forms of bullying correspond to which forms of criminal behavior? I will answer that question here with 20 examples of bullying.

The first signs of bullying

Bullying is not something that happens all of a sudden. It often involves behaviors such as 1) intentionally bumping into someone while walking past him or her, 2) strongly patting someone’s shoulder under the pretense of greeting him or her, and 3) making fun of someone in front of everyone else, in order to determine if the victim is an easy target.

Behaviors 1) and 2) fall under criminal assault, and the bully can be charged with inflicting bodily injury if the victim is injured, including cases in which the skin becomes red and swollen. Behavior 3) may also fall under defamation.

Bullying involving physical violence

One common form of bullying is 4) pulling fighting moves on the victim while claiming it’s a friendly game of pro wrestling. The victim is reluctant to play along, but may face other attacks if he or she refuses. Fighting on unequal terms is a classic form of bullying and falls under assault. If the victim is injured, the bully can be charged with inflicting bodily injury.

Bullying behaviors like 5) pulling or 6) cutting someone’s hair also fall under assault. If the victim is injured in the process, the bullying falls under bodily injury. 7) The act of throwing an object like a bag or a pen at a person is also considered as an assault even if 8) the object is just thrown close to the person’s body. In this case, it does not matter if the object actually hits the person or not. Simply threatening someone’s physical safety through the use of physical force constitutes assault.

There is actually a form of bullying in which the bully 9) forces the reluctant victim to put a foreign object like an insect in his or her mouth. This falls under coercion. If it results in the deterioration of the victim’s health, the bully can also be charged with assault.

Bullying involving psychological violence

10) Making hurtful, insulting remarks like “You’re so annoying!” or “Gross!” or “Die!” in a situation where the insults are heard by many people constitutes defamation. If hearing the insults causes the victim to become mentally ill, the bullying is considered accidental infliction of injury—even if the bully did not intend for this to happen. Recently, there has been a rise in incidents in which insults, derogatory remarks, and baseless rumors are posted on websites. These behaviors also constitute defamation and, in some cases, libel. Insulting statements posted online are an especially big blow for victims. Adults must teach children from the lower elementary grades and up that posting thoughtless remarks on a social networking service can be criminal. There is a need to develop an educational approach to teach the ethics of relationship building (and what it means to be unkind), and not only from the angle of preventing crimes.

11) Harassing someone by destroying his or her personal belongings is considered destruction of property even if, for example, the bully 12) fills the victim’s bag with mud or gets it extremely dirty but does not destroy it.

13) Hiding someone’s indoor shoes or other personal belongings is also considered destruction of property. Not being able to use one’s personal belongings when one wishes to because they have been hidden is similar to not being able to use them because they have been destroyed. Thus, hiding someone’s belongings counts as destruction of property, even if the belongings are not destroyed.

14) Ordering someone to buy things from the school store for you every day based on a strong power relationship is coercion.

15) If the bully makes threats when the victim does not follow orders, such as, “You’ve got a lot of nerve. Just wait until school is over,” that in itself is criminal intimidation.

Bullying involving money

16) Stealing someone’s pocket money from his or her bag is theft. Even taking someone’s pencil or eraser is theft.

17) Using intimidation or violence to get someone to hand over his or her money or belongings is extortion. If the level of intimidation or violence is extreme, the behavior falls under the more serious crime of robbery.

18) Cases in which bullies get students who say they don’t have any more pocket money to constantly hand over money by ordering them to bring their parents’ money, for example, also count as theft.

Sexual bullying

19) Behaviors such as forcing people to strip naked or in their underwear against their will, and making fun of them, fall under indecent assault. Such behavior constitutes indecent assault even if, for example, it is perpetrated by female students against other female students without a sense of lewdness.

20) Here is a quote from an article to illustrate cases of extreme baseness and brutality.

“It is not uncommon for victims to be lured by female students and gang-raped by male students. One female high school student was invited by a girl in another class to ‘go hang out with an older (male) student at his house.’ When she visited the house, several male students and the female student were waiting for her and she was gang-raped on the spot. The targets are invariably girls with a quiet, gentle nature. The female student who lured the victim looks on while the other students there take video of everything from beginning to end on their cellphones. It is said that such incidents are by no means rare.” (October 17, 2013 issue of AERA)

Gang-rape in the world of children is equivalent to maximum of 20 years in prison (Penal Code Act No.178-2), which is also applied to the student who lured the crime. There is a need for children and not only adults to understand this reality.

What we must keep in mind

(1) We cannot remain spectators as the number of victimized children increases and the extent of the damage grows. While we need to actively work out potential preventative measures, our most important task is to change the way children and adults think about bullying. Up to this point, people have generally had the vague sense that bullying is something less serious than a crime. As mentioned earlier, however, this impression is wrong. Both children and adults need to understand this fact and fully acknowledge the seriousness, antisocial nature, and cruelty of behaviors called bullying.

(2) At the same time, however, we must keep a level-headed perspective.

Children who bully others are often deeply troubled. Many of them lack the emotional ability that allows them to imagine the suffering of others.

Adults need to take responsibility and discuss issues like the nature of effective family and social environments and the way they interact with offending children from a long-term perspective. We need to remember not to focus on the short-sighted approach of simply blaming children who participate in bullying.

(3) Children often bully others as a form of self-defense.

This is a phenomenon in which children who feel they may become a target if they do not participate in bullying cross over to the side of the bullies.

The psychology of children who are thus compelled to join the bullies is not something that can be easily dismissed with sound adult arguments. Adults need to be sensitive to the fearful darkness that is present in the world of children. A combination of deep understanding with a strict approach can act as a starting point for the solution.


Many people wonder why children bully each other. The world of children, however, is a projection of the world of adults. We adults also need to turn around and examine our own world.

Osamu Magata
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Criminal law
Professor Magata is from Tokyo. After graduating from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 1992, he completed the coursework for the doctoral program in Criminal Law at the Graduate School of Law, Chuo University. He became an assistant professor at the Faculty of Law, Sapporo Gakuin University in 2003 and an associate professor at the Faculty of Law, Chuo University in 2007, assuming his current position in 2010. His research interests include reexamining complicity theory and exploring the nature and validity of punishment. The results of his research have been published in articles such as “Can the System of Capital Punishment Be Retained? [Shikei Seido wa Hoji Sareuru ka]” The Chuo Law Review 118 (7 and 8) and “The Subordination of Instigators and the Subordination of Accomplices [Kyousahan no Jyuuzokusei to Jyuuhan no Jyuuzokusei]” Journal of Criminal Law 53 (2).