Commission on Bullying Makes Progress

Chairwoman Linn Torto (at head of table, right) leads the first meeting of the Commission, May 25, 2017. Photo by Lucyus Fevrier, some rights reserved.
  • First Meeting
  • Commission on Bullying, research effort update
  • Social and Demographic Trends Affecting Bullying
  • Thoughts on Shaming

First Meeting of the Commission on Bullying

Chairwoman Linn Torto (at head of table, right) leads the first meeting the first meeting of the Commission on Bullying on May 25, 2017. Photo by Lucyus Fevrier, Courtesy of Executive Office Health and Human Services. An overview and photographs of the meeting are available online. (1) (2)

Research update

The Commission on Bullying is making giant strides, our goal is relief, because as we all understand, there are no easy or immediate solutions to the problem of bullying---that's why we needed the Commission. Thus the role of the Commission is to understand the sources of bullying and to seek solutions. We in the working group on Conditions and Prevalence are working to understand the causes of bullying and to estimate the number of residential complexes that are infected with bullying. Another group is reviewing best practices for dealing with bullying in schools, the workplace, and housing. And others are looking at the availability of legal protections.

Working group on conditions and prevalence

This is a brief review of where the research stands, and plans for next steps.

Cate Mingoya, Policy Director in the Department of Housing and Community Development, hosted a meeting of the research group on the conditions and prevalence of bullying on July 17, 2017. The meeting focused on the question of prevalence and a draft survey, and was attended by about 18 persons, including Chairwoman Linn Torto, housing professionals, agency personnel, representatives of several legislators, tenant advocates, and others (see list below). I was impressed by the personal investment of everyone in the meeting, each person was eager to contribute to advancing our efforts. And the diversity of experience and points of view made for clarification of the important issues. We owe a debt of thanks to Cate for her skill in leading and facilitating our meeting and her ability to help us focus on the essentials and make progress, and for her experience in housing and survey research. We welcome Laura Taylor, the Director of the Bureau of Housing Management, who will join our group.

The members, after intense discussion, suggested helpful changes to the draft survey, and I have updated the survey accordingly, and will test it before seeking another review by the working group.

Prevalence: How many?

In the Commonwealth, there are about 1,400 developments for the elderly and disabled, containing about 92,000 units; this includes state public housing; federal public housing; and privately owned subsidized housing. The Department of Housing and Community Development is responsible for oversight of 240 local housing authorities, and each local housing authority has a great deal of autonomy. MassHousing lists about 700 subsidized developments, many of which include units for elderly. (3)


Survey design is very important, we must establish what we need to know, what questions will evoke that invormation, and adapt the survey to the specific roles, ie., managers may need their own survey. We can move ahead using a mixture of methods.

Our pilot study will be of value because no one has done a study covering bullying of elderly and disabled person in public and subsidized housing in a whole state, and with it we can provide the legislature with a first estimate of the scope and prevalence of bullying.

We will seek to get responses to surveys from people who live in or work on the premises of housing developments, and from professionals and others who work in service agencies in the local community, and who may be able to evaluate if a complex has a serious problem with bullying.

Additional input and advice

We are hoping to get valuable advice from people with experience and skills that can complement the broad range of capabilities in our working group. We are reaching out to professors in graduate programs whose students may be interested in helping with our research. We are also reaching out to experts in various research methods, including survey methodology.

We are also assembling an informal panel of research advisors, including people whose work and living experiences can help inform our work. You are welcome to join and be part of our work.

Social and demographic trends affecting bullying

Our struggle against bullying is but one symptom and result of larger social trends. We have been focused on bullying in elderly/disabled housing, and the larger context that creates those situations is worth considering. One issue is the shift to an aging population, as more people are living well past their retirement. Today, the society treats the elderly and people with disability as burdens to be kept away from younger, productive, middle-class working people. It is likely that bullying in public and subsidized housing is indirectly the result of the failure of society to take appropriate care and to adapt to changing conditions. People are living 20 years longer than our institutions were built to handle. Saving social security, medicare, and meals on wheels is necessary in the short term, but our institutions simply won't be able to cope unless we do a major restructuring so as to enable all people, including elderly and disabled persons, to contribute their energy, talent, and creativity to society.

David Yamada, a person of conscience and humane perspective, is a professor of law and the author of a law to prevent bullying in the workplace; he alerted readers of his blog to a new documentary film:

"A compelling one-hour documentary, Coming of Age in an Aging America, tells the multifaceted story about the nation’s aging population. It includes a lot about the employment and Social Security implications of an aging workforce. It also covers the serious problem of elder abuse." (4)

Christine Herbes-Sommers, the film's director, discusses the need for our society to restructure in order to provide new forms of community that enable people of all ages to live together in ways that fit the needs of all people.

"A generation from now, we’re not going to be calling it an aging society. It will be the new normal. It will be what we all expect. We could either have people dying in their houses from isolation and failure of federal policy to provide Meals on Wheels and so forth, or we can say right now, ‘OK. What are the short-term possibilities, the mid-term possibilities and the long-term possibilities?’ But that’s really the way we have to start thinking about it. Not from the perspective of how are we going to save the system, but rather, how can that system innovate to respond to these changing demographics?" (5) See short video (6)

Thoughts on Shaming

Janice Harper is a writer and anthropologist who has written on bullying and mobbing in the workplace.(7) In an insightful blog on Huffpost,(8) she details the role of shaming that affects the feelings of self-worth of the victim, and how shaming helps to turn bullying into collective bullying or mobbing. But she argues strongly against the practice of attacking an alleged bully by shaming them.

"If the goal of opposing workplace bullying is indeed to promote more humane workplace environments, decrease workplace aggression, and reduce the potential for workplace violence, shaming targets or shaming bullies is counterproductive...But peace-building in the workplace requires each of us to develop empathy for others. Shaming our coworkers, no matter how badly they’ve behaved or what mistakes they’ve made, by pointing fingers and telling the whole world that they are bad people and deserving of bad treatment, is no way to build healthy workplaces or communities. By focusing on the bad behavior, rather than the bad person, we are far more likely to motivate our coworkers to change their behaviors, become cooperative, and empathize with our own concerns. The secret to the shame game is that no matter how it’s played, it can’t be won, except by those who choose not to play it." (8)

Thank you for what you do.


Jerry Halberstadt Coordinator, Stop Bullying Coalition Commissioner, Commission on Bullying email:


(1)The Commission on Bullying Meets to Discuss Ways to Prevent Bullying in Public and Subsidized Housing…

(2) Photos: Courtesy Executive Office Health and Human Services

(3) Ann Verrilli, Estimates of affordable units for elderly and disabled populations in Federal subsidized and state public housing developments in Massachusetts, with analysis of the distribution of units and projects by locality, personal communication, 2017. Ann Verrilli is the Senior Research Analyst at Citizens' Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA)

(4) Yamada:…

(5) Shayla Stern interviews Herbes-Sommers:

(6) Short video:

(7) Janice Harper, Mobbed!: What to Do When They Really Are Out to Get You, (Tacoma:Backdoor Press, 2013).

(8) Janice Harper, "Bullying, Mobbing and the Role of Shame," THE BLOG Updated Nov 18, 2013,…

A partial list of those attending the research group:

  • Cate Mingoya, Policy Director in the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)
  • Phyllis Corbitt, Board member, Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants (MUPHT)
  • Jack Cooper, Executive Director, Mass Union of Public Housing Tenants (MUPHT)
  • Ann Coulter, Commissioner of the Middleton Housing Authority
  • Mike Searles, Legislative Director to Rep Theodore Speliotis (with an aide and intern)
  • Sean Tierney, aide to Rep Kevin Honan and the Joint Committee on Housing
  • Bill Henning, Director, Boston Center for Independent Living.
  • Linn Torto, Chairwoman of the Commission and Executive Director, Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness (Health and Human Services)
  • Joe Vallely, Department of Mental Health, Housing Specialist-Central Office
  • Joe Thibodeau, for Sen Barbara L'Italien and Joint Committee on Elder Affairs
  • Gloria Leipzig, for House Minority Leader; for Citizens' Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA)
  • Ellen Spring, for Danielle W. Gregoire and Joint Committee on Elder Affairs
  • Alex Pomerantz, Legislative Intern - Office of Rep. Alan Silvia
  • Jerry Halberstadt, Coordinator, Stop Bullying Coalition<

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