Last Monday, Johnston County Sheriff’s deputies charged two Benson, NC teenagers with with one count each of cyberbullying, after allegedly setting up a Facebook page devoted exclusively to bullying a fellow student.
According to arrest warrants, the two set up a Facebook page and posted comments to intimidate and torment a 15-year-old classmate at South Johnston High School, allegedly going so far as to threaten to bring a gun to school to hunt down the teen, and to run him over with a car. Investigators went on to say that the Facebook page, which was discovered and reported by the victim’s father, was allegedly created back in September of 2010. Johnston County school officials declined to comment on the case Wednesday, but school system policy prohibits all types of bullying and harassment, including online, and warns of student discipline that could include expulsion. If proven true, these cases would be only the most recent instance of an ongoing saga that continues to play out in schools around the country, and server as a stark reminder of the reality of cyberbullying, and the impact it has even here in NC.
According to the National Crime Prevention Council, cyberbullying affects nearly half of all teens in the United States. And indeed, here in NC, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper says that cyberbullying is a growing problem in our communities that needs to be taken seriously, “It can lead to violence,” he said. “It can lead to depression in the victim, and it can also even lead to suicide.”
The biggest challenge in discovering instances with cyberbullying specifically is that unlike traditional forms of bullying and harassment, instances of cyberbullying can often go undetected, undiscovered, and unchecked for years, if not longer, unless victims feel comfortable and confident enough to speak out and ask for help.
In this instance, the online abuse was discovered by the victim’s father, who subsequently reported the incident to police and school authorities. However, unless victims feel like they will be heard and believed, this is not often the case. Typically, the abuse goes on, unabated, until the victim cannot abide by it anymore, or until the abuse goes a step too far. In the best case scenario, this means that victims reach out to their support structure, or parents and administrators discover the abuse and take action accordingly.
The announcement of the charges out of Benson come in the wake of several recent tragedies elsewhere in the US, brought on in large part by instances of cyberbullying and online harassment. The issue was last brought to the forefront after a NY college student committed suicide, after his roommate allegedly posted an online video outing him as being gay.
In the hopes of averting another tragedy down the road, Attorney General Cooper issued a call to action: “…we need to encourage parents to pay attention to what’s happening with their children and then encourage the parents and kids – that vast majority in the middle who are neither bullies or victims – to stand up and say they’re not going to tolerate this kind of thing.”
For this reason, FVPC sends community educators into area schools as part of Start Strong, primary prevention programming to discuss issues related to cyberbullying with teens, to help kids not only understand the reality and consequences of their behavior online, but also to help teach possible victims of online abuse to reach out if they need help. The goal of these community education programs is to help kids learn responsible online behavior, in addition to teaching them to report or help stop abuse whenever they encounter it–be they victims, bystanders, or perpetrators.
To learn more about cyberbullying, and how you can become involved to help stop digital and online abuse, visit our website at www.fvpcoc.org.