Cyber-bullying in focus

Youthline Dunedin mentors Olivia Scobie (left) and Sarah Zydervelt often take calls from...
Youthline Dunedin mentors Olivia Scobie (left) and Sarah Zydervelt often take calls from teenagers affected by cyber-bullying. Photo by Jonathan Chilton-Towle.
Online harassment is spilling over into the school yard, a Dunedin educator says.

Dunedin Secondary Schools Partnership manager Gordon Wilson said he received reports about cyber-bullying from local schools on a weekly basis.

He believed cyber-bullying in Dunedin was as bad as elsewhere in New Zealand.

''Is it happening in Dunedin, yes it is. It's a community issue not a school issue,'' he said.

His experience suggested a large proportion of the problem would be going unreported. As most schools monitored device use, the bullying usually occurred outside school but overflowed into the school yard.

Mr Wilson was not aware of any studies on how widespread cyber-bullying was in Dunedin.

Nationwide, NetSafe, a non-governmental organisation that promotes cyber-safety, receives about 75-80 queries a month about bullying and harassment across a variety of platforms.

According to Netsafe, one in five high school pupils reported being cyber-bullied in a 2007 survey.

Last year, the Government introduced the Harmful Digital Communications Bill and, on Monday, the Council of Social Services Dunedin and Dunedin Community Law will host a forum for local stakeholders to discuss the Bill, which would create an

enforcement regime to deal with cyber-bullying. It would become an offence to send messages and post material online with intent to cause harm, punishable by up to three months' imprisonment or a $2000 fine.

Youthline Otago manager Daniel Larsen said cyber-bullying was a ''frequent trigger'' for people calling for help.

Unlike schoolyard bullying, online harassment was more intrusive and violating, and was harder to escape.

Victims could take some measures, such as ''blocking'' the bullies but it was difficult to remove offensive material.

Mr Larsen said the proposed law would send a clear message that people were responsible for their actions whether they were in the online world or in everyday life.

An open discussion on the Harmful Digital Communications Bill will be held at Dunedin Community House from noon to 1.30pm on Monday.


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