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Cyberbullying: Children, teens unable to escape a wired connection of harassment

Social media tied to children suicides

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CINCINNATI -- Bullying doesn't just happen in school hallways anymore -- it happens in your home, day and night.

With the overwhelming growth of technology, parents say bullying online -- or cyberbulling -- is growing out of hand.

Although social media can be used in a positive way, it's also the main source for cyber-bullying.

Many websites and apps permit users to log on anonymously, which allows kids to take on an "alter-ego." These online formats give way to saying inconceivable things with a mask on, where those who engage in online bullying feel they will never see any consequences. 

Controversial social media sites and apps such as 'Kik,' 'Ask.fm' and 'Whisper' are what some say attract and tolerate bullying. All three of these allow for anonymous postings and have been mentioned when reporting on the deaths of teens and children across the nation.

The passing of 12-year-old Florida girl Rebecca Ann Sedwick is under investigation after she jumped to her death recently. A sheriff told the Associated Press that the girl committed suicide after she was bullied online by more than a dozen girls.

Reports say that Sedwick's mother found out about the bullying months before. They went to counseling, she changed schools and her mother took away her cellphone -- but there was one site she missed.

Reports say she changed her username on the site 'Kik' to "That Dead Girl" after receiving messages from 15 girls at her school that read, "Go kill yourself," and "Why are you still alive?"

The Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida is investigating the world of cyber-bullying and attempting to file charges against the middle-school girls who harassed Sedwick. Florida passed a law this year, making the process easier to file felony charges in cyber-bullying cases.

The issue with 'Kik' is the openness. Kids can publicly share their Kik address and thereby create the possibility for strangers to text them in private. This is where the harassment and taunting begins. The legal page of 'Kik' reads that it requires users to provide a first and last name and email address - which anyone can forge.

'Whisper' is an app that asks users "What's your deepest, darkest secret?" It allows users to anonymously submit, sometimes disturbing, secrets and has been under heavy scrutiny due to the cyber-bullying culture it can create. 

On Change.org, an online petition site, a proposal to require Whisper to enforce age requirements for its users mentions a case of a 17-year-old boy who died in a car accident. Someone posted on Whisper a very distasteful statement on the young boy's death. 

A few secrets on the public page read: "That moment in the locker room when all your teammates are making fun of gays and you're just sitting there like 'glad you don't know about me...'" or "I make the weirdest noises when I hurt myself and no one is around to hear it", or even a post from a so-called janitor who claims to have seen teacher-on-student and student-on-student sexual behavior inside classrooms. Sites like Whisper go further than telling a secret, it can reach to ruining communities.

'Ask.fm' is a site where users can anonymously ask each other questions and around half of the users are under the age of 18. Just like the other sites, bullying is made easy through this application.

The site is coming under fire after a 14-year-old British girl hanged herself after being bullied online by "cyber trolls." Since the company is based abroad, a majority of its users are abroad as well, but locally, a young girl suffered from the same type of harassment. 

9 On Your Side reporter Scott Wegener spoke to a 12-year-old girl in Milford who stumbled across Ask.fm, saying it was like answering 'questions of the day.' But the more she frequented the site, the more she realized they wasn't simple, fun questions. 

"They told me to kill myself. Nobody cares about you," people on the website would tell her.

 

The mother of the 12-year-old was worried about her recent behavior and began to search her room when she found bloody tissues and a razor. Her daughter had begun cutting herself due to the remarks from people on the website.

The girl, who wants to remain anonymous, said, "You hate yourself. And the stuff that they say builds into you. And it kind of sinks into your chest, and you carry it everywhere you go." 

The mother is attempting to get Apple to take down the app because of kids falling victim, like her daughter, to cyber-bullying.

Two years ago, a 13-year-old student at Woodland Middle School in Covington committed suicide after a battle with bullying. WCPO's Carol Williams reported on this issue last year. The question of 'what's being done?' still worries parents.

Since everything we do online has a digital footprint, being anonymous doesn't always mean you're truly unknown. IP addresses and tracking systems make it possible to find out who the bully is. Our government leaders realize the pressing issue, and are making strides forward to help these victims.

Here’s the law:

There are no federal laws that directly address bullying. The concept of bullying has some blurred lines that are often intertwined with discriminatory harassment - which is covered under federal civil rights.

Although a label of what bullying is may not be clearly defined by federal standards, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education enforce schools to act upon certain broad laws where conduct is "severe or persistent or creates a hostile environment at school that limits a student’s ability to benefit from services or activities."

A school that fails to respond appropriately to harassment of students based on a protected class may be violating one or more Civil Rights laws enforced by the Department of Education and the Department of Justice, including:

  • Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
  • Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972
  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Ohio Anti-Bullying Laws:

Terms like harassment, intimidation or bullying are covered. 

In 2012, Gov. John Kasich signed into law House Bill 116, or the Jessica Logan Act. The Jessica Logan Act under OH Revised Code amended existing sections to redefine bullying, including cyber-bullying and violence in a relationship.

Jessica Logan was a Cincinnati teen who committed suicide after a ‘sext’ she sent to her boyfriend went viral at school and resulted in her being bullied.

The law defines bullying as: "any intentional written, verbal, electronic, or physical act that a student has exhibited toward another particular student more than once and the behavior is both: causing mental or physical harm, is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for the other student and includes violence within a dating relationship."

House Bill 116 imposes several new requirements on school districts to curb this problem:

  • School districts must revise anti-bullying policies to prohibit bullying on school buses and to provide for the possibility of suspension.
  • School district anti-bullying policies must include a strategy for protecting a bullying victim or other persons from new or additional bullying, including a means by which a person can report an incident anonymously.
  • School district anti-bullying policies must include a statement prohibiting students from deliberately making false reports of bullying and a disciplinary procedure for any student responsible for deliberately making a false report.
  • Once per school year, school districts must send a written statement describing the anti-bullying policy and consequences for violations to each student's custodial parent or guardian. This can be sent electronically or with report cards.

Parents, here's what you can do:

HB 116 does not specifically expand the definition of bullying to include all incidents that occur off school property, meaning its falls on the parents at home to monitor these instances. Stay involved and aware of your school's policies in regard to the above list of school amendments. 

Get apps to monitor what your children have access to. 'Mobicip' has a variety of parental controls with blocking, time limits, Internet activity reports, restriction levels and filtering. 'NearParent' allows families to compile lists of adults who they trust and who can assist their children when they are in need. 'GoGoStat's Parental Guidance' lets you see posts from your kids that contains vulgarities or when they post photos that shouldn't be public. 

If you have a child who may be suffering from bullying, group help can be beneficial. Starting an organization or attending meetings can provide education and resources in your area. Check the national bullying PACER site for events: here.

 

Be aware! Some suicide warning signs are:

  • Mood changes, mood swings
  • Changes in eating patterns; eating in excess or very little, saying "I'm just not that hungry"
  • Changes in clothing appearance
  • Cutting off communication
  • A want to be alone, even locking themselves in their bedroom

Only one in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted friend of abuse. Get to know your child's friends and families. Create an open network where communication and honesty is welcome and encouraged.

 

If your child comes home and says they're having a bad day, and it happens more than once, but won't talk about it, experts say get him or her to talk - it could save their life.

And, if you believe someone needs help, the number to call is 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433).

9 On Your Side's Scott Wegener reported for this story.

For more resources on Cyber-bullying, visit any of the follow sites:

Internet Safety

Government Cyber-Bullying

National Crime Prevention Council 

Education Issues Today

Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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