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 www.fvpcoc.org.

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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.