One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

“With (Facebook Friends Like These…”: Benson Teens Indicted for Cyberbullying Allegations) February 9, 2011

Cyberbullying takes many forms, including text, video, and audio. But regardless of the format, no one deserves to be harassed

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


“…not about a show of force but a show of presence” December 14, 2010

The recent increase in attention to cyberbullying has left many parents confused and frustrated. The New York Times recently published an article, “As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch Up,” that offers us some understanding of how parents may address the issues of safe uses of technology as well as cyberbullying.  Perhaps one of the strongest points the  article makes is that because cyberbullying is an evolving practice that takes so many forms and affects children in so many ways, it is important that parents know their children. Some tips to keep in mind

  • Pay attention to your child’s moods and their willingness to talk openly about friends and school. Changes in behavior may hint at a deeper issue.   Also, knowing your child will allow you to handle a case of cyberbullying more effectively, whether your child is the victim or the bully.
  • Along with knowing your child, know what you’re giving them. If you plan on giving them a cell phone familiarize yourself with the phone and its applications. Phones are no longer just phones but “mini computers” as the article puts it.  Consider laying down some ground rules for the technology you supply your child with i.e. handing the phone over to you at 10:00 pm or making sure it is off when the child is doing their homework.

The article also attempts to guide parents to address the issue as it arises.  For e4xample, parents often mistakenly assume that the awareness of and punishment for cyberbullying falls into the hands of their children’s schools. Schools, however, already dealing with limited resources, are more often than not shrugging the “off-campus” matter back to the parents.   Parents may find the following model script from the article helpful if their child has been bullied: “I need to show you what your son typed to my daughter online. He may have meant it as a joke. But my daughter was really devastated. A lot of kids type things online that they would never dream of saying in person. And it can all be easily misinterpreted.”

A Nashville man’s daughter was a victim of online bullying until he intervened.

What is most important in this model is its tone. Rather than coming off as accusatory or angry, the language here explains the problem calmly without making a judgment about the bully or his/her parents. This is crucial because it allows the parent to be a model for his/her child instead of perpetuating the cycle of violence and showing the child that violence, physical or verbal, is the way to handle conflict.  Parents undoubtedly have the largest potential to be an advocate for their children when it comes to cyberbullying.

But what if it is your kid who’s the bully? The article also offers a wonderful example of a mother explaining what is wrong with bullying by bringing it to her daughter’s level. In the specific case mentioned, the mother asks her daughter if she would want someone to harass her puppy but a similar approach could be used by asking the same question about a favorite doll, toy or even friend. Using this method, parents are not only expanding their own child’s understanding of bullying as a problem but also creating the possibility for their child to stand up against bullying amongst his/her peers. Like all violence, cyberbullying should be taken seriously. It’s not just “kid stuff.” It is hurtful and its effects can be long lasting.

If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying, you are not alone. We are here to help. Call our 24-hour hotline at 919-929-7122. We will be happy to listen and work with you to find helpful resources within our community. For parents of middle aged children participating in the Start Strong program, education does not have to end with our program. Ask your child what they learned, if they know anybody who had been affected, or any question to open the door for future dialogue. If this topic is of particular interest to you we encourage you to volunteer as a community educator at FVPC.  Our next training session begins in January.


Proxy Settings: How Cyberbullying Effects Bystanders As Well As Victims December 9, 2010

Filed under: bullying,cyber-bullying,Uncategorized — Johnson Intern @ 1:53 am

In the wake of the Twitter exchange, Danny DePuy, assistant director of UNC's LGBTQ Center, spoke to "The Daily Tarheel," calling for more education on cyber-bullying, and its effects

When UNC Alumnus Joe Mundell logged into his Twitter account, the last thing he wanted to see was a two-hour “flame war” between two UNC alumni, targeting an unnamed UNC student with homophobic epithets and slurs.  Mundell, who identifies as gay, admits that while none were directed at him, they were posted on a public forum for him–and everyone else– to see.

According to Mundell, the Tweeters were relentless in their assault, posting messages that attacked the student’s sexuality, inviting him to hook up with a choir director, audition for a musical and get an AIDS test.

They also threatened violence.

After this September’s tragedy at Rutgers University, in which student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after his roommate allegedly posted a video of him having sex with another man, the issue of cyberbullying has come to before the American public consciousness.  The issue has become of particular interest to college and school administrators, who along with state and federal lawmakers are beginning to regard the trend with increasing alarm.

The problem, says Valerie Huttle, a NJ state representative, is not that cyberbullying is a new or suddenly-urgent phenomenon, but the fact that unlike traditional bullying, cyber-bullying offers little hope of refuge and respite, “bullying has been around through the ages on the school ground, but you go home and you feel safe,” she pointed out. “[but] cyberbullying is in a world beyond school grounds,” where it is able to reach hundreds of people, even in the relative safety of their homes and dorm rooms.

But the effects of cyber-bullying have far-reaching implications, affecting even those not directly targeted by verbal assaults. “I was having issues reading those,” said Mundell. “His Tweets are not private and they’re there for the whole world to see.”  Mundell went on to explain that the incident triggered painful memories of his own experiences after coming out his sophomore year of high school.  The difference, he said, was that this was before social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter had become widespread.

Previously, simple off-color humor or poorly-thought-out comments were fleeting, and restricted to person-to-person dialogue.  With social media, however, tasteless comments and hateful diatribes are immediately posted publicly, where they remain on the web for the long term. Furthermore, widespread social media now allows bullies and abusers to make pervasive and public ridicule, and coercive threats thereof, with both impunity and convenience.

That’s why Rep. Huttle and other New Jersey lawmakers helped pass the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, a state bill designed to address cyberbullying in the K-12 system.  Federal lawmakers have quickly followed suit, and days later introduced a similar bill, the “Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harrassment Act of 2010” to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.  As inspiring as the federal and state initiatives are, however, even the bills’ sponsors admit their efforts are not aimed at eliminating bullying completely.  “No one believes you’re going to stop bullying — you can’t outlaw hate and teasing,” said Michael Lieberman, the Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League, one of the several groups supporting the Tyler Clementi bill, “what you can say is that there are standards and there is accountability once you go outside these standards.”

The rise in bullying is one reason that FVPC community education volunteers facilitate Start Strong in the middle schools in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.  One goal is to teach young people to be conscious about how their online comments can be perceived, and the real-life consequences of things said and done in the virtual world.  To learn more about cyber-bullying and how you can help, visit our website at


“Textual Harassment”: The Unforeseen Consequences of “Sexting” November 10, 2010

Allyson Pereira, now 21, says she was a victim of digital dating abuse in high school.

On October 26th, ran an article which told the story of Allyson Pereira, a 21-year-old woman who is still living with the consequences of a single text she sent more than five years ago.

After weathering a blitzkrieg of cruel MySpace comments, instant messages, and e-mails from her high school boyfriend, Pereira (then 16) found herself suddenly and unceremoniously dumped. Then, a month later, he changed his mind with one proviso–that she send him a nude picture of herself, as proof of her affection and commitment. Confused and vulnerable, Pereira acquiesced, never imagining that a topless photo she sent would be forwarded to other students at her high school–and then, to the rest of the world. “I was so ashamed, embarrassed and mad,” she said, in an interview with CNN.

As a result of her experiences, Pereira recently appeared on a MTV documentary about digital dating abuse called “A Thin Line,” where she and others not only spoke out against digital abuse, but also warned teens to consider the unforeseen consequences of sexting. Indeed, the evidence suggests that this message is coming none-too-soon: a new study from the Cyberbullying Research Center shows that one in ten teens reported receiving threatening cell phone messages from a romantic partner, and another 10% say their romantic partner had stopped them from using a computer or cell phone.

This is significant because this study illustrates how cell phones can be used in a pattern of abuse, particularly to reinforce the familiar themes of power and control. Sameer Hinduja, co-founder of the Cyberbullying Research Center and associate professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University, explains that while such behaviors may initially seem innocuous, they can rapidly escalate to the level of relationship abuse. For example, he explains that it may initially start by “checking her texts and pictures to make sure she’s not texting with any other boys,” often followed by claims that “he wants to make sure the pictures are appropriate.” But, Hinduja says, ultimately “it’s the coercion and control that borders on real-world violence.”

The trend is particularly troubling for mental health providers who primarily serve adolescents and young adults. Jill Murray, a psychotherapist in California who has worked with victims of teen dating abuse, says almost all her new cases in the past three years involve mobile technology and social networking. In some instances, she says, the victims receive as many as 40 texts a day with negative messages from their partner, and are often penalized socially and emotionally for failing to reply. “It’s the phenomenon of no place to run and no place to hide,” Jennings says. “Now, you can be stalked electronically. You can’t even see your predator coming.”As a result, young women are effectively being taught to tolerate such behavior, and become fearful of the consequences of violating it. The problem, Jennings says, comes from the very nature of mobile communications and social networking, which allow fast, unlimited access to large swaths of the population, with little to no social or financial repercussions.

Unlike traditional media, social networking and mobile devices allow abusers access to their victims 24/7, even in traditionally private environments or safe times, like the home, after school and on weekends. And because mass media outlets like Facebook and Myspace can connect thousands within seconds, they give the abusive partner more leverage than ever before, either by posting or threatening to post a damaging message online that is seen by hundreds or even thousands of the victim’s friends and family, and even total strangers. In addition, since digital abuse does not leave any physical marks on victims, parents and school authorities may be completely unaware and powerless to end the abuse, especially if kids are also afraid to report the abuse for fear of social stigma, parental disbelief or worse yet, the loss of cell phone and laptop privileges.

Two agencies working nationally to combat this issue is the The Family Violence Prevention Fund, which is working with the Department of Justice to release a series of public service announcements in their “That’s Not Cool” campaign and  Liz Claiborne, Inc. a women’s clothing company which maintains a hot line and website “Love is Respect” teens can go to for support and information.

Here in Orange County,  FVPC community education volunteers travel to local middle and high schools to educate students about the importance of identifying and reporting abusive relationships (including cyber-bullying), as well as tools and resources available to them. Students learn what to look for in their own relationships, and the warning signs that often precipitate an escalation of dating abuse.

If you would like one of our community educators to come and speak to a group of your students, give our office a call at 929 3872.


Obama’s Anti-Bullying Message October 26, 2010

Filed under: bullying,cyber-bullying,domestic violence — Women's Studies Intern @ 4:00 am
Tags: ,

In a recent CNN article by Ric Ward, Ward looks at President Obama’s taped message which appeared on the website, a website devoted to telling teen LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) kids that suicide isn’t the answer to bullying, and that things do get better as you get older. In the wake of multiple sucides from LGBTQ youth due to bullying  President Obama tells openly LGBTQ youth that no one deserves to be bullied and that “We’ve got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, that it’s some inevitable part of growing up.  It’s not.”

At FVPC we work  to dismantle systems of violence including bullying.    President Obama raises a very important point when he says that bullying is not a “rite of passage” rather it is a learned behavior that only stops when bullies are told their actions are unacceptable.  We know that domestic violence is also a learned behavior.  Both behaviors are rooted in a desire for power and control over someone else . Both the bully and the batterer see that their actions “work” and so they continue.  Unfortunately, unlike domestic violence which can become more dangerous if the victim leaves or tells someone, bullying victims can help end the bullying by telling a trusted adult.

Informing bullied teens that there is nothing wrong with them, rather there is something wrong with bullies’ behavior is another huge step in eradicating the normalization of bullying amongst American teenagers.  According to nine of out ten LGBTQ teenagers have experienced harassment at school and more than a third have attempted suicide. Bullying can be incredibly damaging to adolescent and childrens’ self esteem and can lead to poor school performance, depression, anxiety and even suicide as the tragic events of the past month have illustrated.

Bullying is a community issue we all need to take a stance in preventing.  If you’re a parent, talk to your kids about bullying, let them know they aren’t alone and that people are here to help them. If you’re a teacher here in Orange County, NC. call us at 929-3872 and ask us about coming to talk to your students about bullying.


“Texts and Phones”: How Parents Can Avoid the Real Consequences of “Virtual” Bullying October 19, 2010


"Sticks and stones indeed break bones. but texts and phones wound also."


In addition to Domestic Violence Awareness Month, October has also been designated “National Bullying Prevention Month.”  In remembrance of this fact, ran this article on cyber-bullying which looks specifically at ways parents can protect their children from incidences of Internet and electronic harassment.

Most of the concern about cyber-bullying stems from the fact that it is inherently difficult to discover, and easy to conceal or deny–particularly if parents and school officials are not as “tech-savvy” as their kids. According to Michael Fertick of ReputationDefender, “seventy-five percent of the problem is in surfacing the incidents.” To combat this trend, companies like ReputationDefender market both free and paid-for tools that allow clients to monitor what is being said about them on the Internet. These programs look for references to a given individual or group.  And once a reference is found, clients are alerted to what is being said about them, essentially functioning like a personal Internet gossip monitor. But while such tools may be useful for parents wishing to track a known or existing pattern of harassment, experts insist they are not appropriate for use by parents, “just in case.”  Here’s why-

Justin Patchin is a criminal justice professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.  The problem, he says, is that parents who spy on their kids (whether overtly or not) may do more harm than good–especially if they do so in the absence of a clear and existing cause for concern. “We don’t think it’s a good idea for parents to spy on their kids surreptitiously,” he points out, “because eventually they’re going to find something they have to confront them about, and it’s going to destroy the other lines of communication.” To illustrate his point, Patchin uses the familiar analogy of a real-world playground.  “If parents are letting their kids play on a playground with a bunch of other kids,” he says. “They aren’t going to want their parents right in there playing with them.”

Even when parents do find a cause to intervene, their reactions are often well-intentioned, but counter-productive.  Susan Limber, a professor and bullying researcher at Clemson University, points out that many parents’ default reaction to cyber-bullying is to further limit or intrusively monitor a child’s access to the net, in an effort to insulate and protect them.  While certainly understandable, such efforts do not address the actual bullying and may make matters worse for the child by isolating them from support or emotional outlets they might have already found online, “In the children’s eyes, this can be seen as punishment, so it’s another reason they tell us they don’t report it.” This fact, coupled with the intense feelings of shame and isolation that already accompany bullying, make many children reluctant to come forward, and may motivate them to recant their claims, or minimize and deny further abuse.

By far the most effective way to prevent cyber-bullying is general awareness and education–both for parents, and children.

According to Patchin, parents need to be aware of the problem, but also to understand the realities of Internet communication.  “I talk to a lot of parents whose kids are on Facebook but they don’t know what Facebook is,” he says. “They have all these preconceived notions or opinions about Facebook, but they’ve never been on the site.”

Likewise, Limber encourages parents and school officials to educate their kids about cyberbullying; its consequences are every bit as real as face-to-face bullying, “What we’ve learned is that we really need to define cyber bullying as a form of bullying since many of the students… did not make that connection initially.” Indeed while many of her students already realize that it’s wrong to pick on a classmate in person, there is a fundamental disconnect between one’s actions in the virtual world, and the social ramifications and consequences they can have in reality.

The hope is that by teaching new users to be aware of the existence and consequences of cyber-bullying, they can prevent another tragedy like Tyler Clementi.  Clementi, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, apparently committed suicide after his roommate allegedly broadcast a Web video of him having a same-sex sexual encounter.

In an effort to promote greater awareness about cyberbullying and healthy relationships in general FVPC community educators will be in Chapel Hill Carrboro middle schools this academic year. FVPC will ask students to reflect on their own behaviors, as well as teach them to think about and be aware of how the things they say and do online might affect the person on the other end. As Patchin reminds us, while the messages we send may be virtual, “we’re messing with real lives.”


New Consequences: Bullying In the Digital Age September 27, 2010

The issue of cyber-bullying has garnered increased attention since Phoebe Price, a 15 year old who moved from Ireland to Massachusetts, hanged herself in January after classmates tormented her verbally, on Facebook and through text messages.  Prosecutors have charged six fellow students in her case and raised questions about the actions of school officials who knew about incidents of abuse.

The issue of cyber-bullying has become even more concerning with research that has recently emerged.  An article from the Washington Post states that a study released by The National Institutes of Health last week shows that as bullying has moved from the school yard to the digital realm, its victims are feeling more hopeless and depressed than ever. surveyed 7,000 American schoolchildren.  There results indicated that traditional bullying and cyber-bullying are not often mutually exclusive events.  For example, Phoebe Prince’s attackers pummeled her with a soda can 0n the day she hanged herself.  This act was in addition to other instances of cyber-bullying of Prince.

Cyber-bullying seems impossible to escape… unless adolescents give up social networking or their cell phones, a sacrifice few young teens want to make. Ronald J. Iannotti, the head of the study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health describes the differences between face to face bullying and cyber-bullying.  Iannotti says that since cyber-bullies may not always identify themselves, victims are more likely to feel “isolated, dehumanized, or helpless at the time of the attack.”  The study also found that with traditional bullying methods, depression levels were highest among both the victim and what researchers call “bully-victims” (adolescents who are both bullies and victims).  With cyber-bullying however, victims faced significantly greater levels of depression than their attackers or than students who were both bullies and victims.

While the study found boys were more likely to cyber-bully and girls were more likely to be cyber-bullying victims, bullying victims suffered higher depressive tendencies, regardless of gender.   Consequences of bullying include lower levels of academic achievement, well-being, and social development.  Psychological and emotional wounds from bullying can also negatively affect psychological development into adulthood.

While cyber-bullying can feel like an insurmountable obstacle, there are things that we can do to help.  Bullying prevention must become a community effort.  Involvement from adults can drastically reduce bullying in all forms.  Iannotti states that “it’s really got to be a community effort- working with teachers, administrators, parents who are working with kids to improve their social skills so these kinds of things don’t happen.”

Starting this fall, FVPC heads into Chapel Hill/ Carrboro City Schools to facilitate a new curriculum, Start Strong,  which focuses on healthy and unhealthy relationships and how to avoid situations (like bullying) that can lead to violence.  Prevention programs like Start Strong teach kids how to help advocate for themselves and others; find resources, and help bullies understand that they don’t have to define themselves at the costing of others.