The need to address cyberbullying in Canada

Following the suicides of Rehtaeh Parsons and Amanda Todd, on November 20, 2013, the Federal Government introduced Bill C-13, Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act. This legislation will make it a criminal offence to distribute intimate images without the consent of the person depicted.  On February 3, 2014 the Honourable Steven Blaney, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, announced an education public awareness campaign, Stop Hating Online.  Awareness among youth and parents is critical to addressing the growing issue of cyberbullying in Canada.

Laptop computers and smartphones are not only used for communication, but also for entertainment and as a source of information. They are the predominant means to stay in touch with friends and communicate with colleagues. Canadian children 8-18yrs spend an average of 42 hours per week using the media. The educational and security benefits of the technological revolution are important. Millions of social networking messages are sent every second around the world filled with personal information. Messages sent are often anonymous, with explicit sexual content known as “sexting”.  Pornographic websites including child sexual abuse imagery and the luring of unsuspecting victims are flourishing. Trafficking is a multimillion dollar enterprise. Many people do not realize the serious consequences of sharing or posting intimate images online; the information once out there, is permanent.

Bullying used to be restricted to face to face and often restricted to school hours. Now it follows kids home on their Smart phones. Cyberbullying is 24/7.  Two in five parents report their child has been involved in a cyberbullying incident and educators consider cyberbullying (76%) as big an issue as smoking (75%) and drugs (75%).  All ages are affected. Most victims are school children in grades 7-10. However, the practice has spread to Canadian University campuses. One in five students has been victimized using Facebook, texting and emails. Ottawa students have demanded an open discussion on campus.

Cyberbullying includes:

  • Sending mean or threatening instant messages.
  • Posting embarrassing photos of someone online.
  • Creating a website to make fun of others.
  • Pretending to be someone by using their name.
  • Making threats over the phone or through text messaging.
  • Harassment by repeated tormenting online, with texts, phone calls and/or emails.
  • Sexual Exploitation by sharing videos or photos with nudity of people under 18.
  • Hate crime based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, etc., using cyberbullying.

Children and adolescents who are cyberbullied may suffer immediate and long lasting impacts.  Victims feel isolated with low self-esteem and anxious, feel vulnerable and powerless, exposed and humiliated, worthless. They stay away from school and their grades plummet. Their personalities seem to change as they become aggressive, secretive, anti-social and may run away. Without help and support, they may become depressed and indulge in alcohol and drug abuse. Self-harming behaviour and suicidal thoughts may lead to an attempt to take one’s own life.

Prevention is the optimum remedy for cyberbullying. Trusted adults including parents should make contracts with their children permitting only the safe use of the internet and social media.  Children who are victims to cyberbullying should be encouraged to leave the conversation, talk to a trusted adults or empathetic, experienced professionals who may be found at school or at confidential and toll-free site such as Kids Help Phone.

The unwanted messages should be stopped by reporting to the internet provider, the school administrator and the police. Friends can help in reporting the cyberbullying personally or in an anonymous letter. Parents and adult confidantes of the victim can assist by supporting the victim, and listening and discussing the cyberbullying. Much cyberbullying activity is criminal and should be reported to the police. Adults can assist the victim by recording the offenders communications to the victim and blocking the abusive social internet connections using FaceBook, YouTube – Safety Centre, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Reddit.

Offenders need help. Many use alcohol and drugs. 60 percent of young bullies will have criminal records by age 24 years (PREVNet).

Victims, service agencies and their advocates applaud the Federal Government’s intention to include cyberbullying in the Criminal Code. We look forward to protection of users of communication especially our vulnerable youth. What is missing from the proposed legislation though, is the right to supports for victims of cyber crimes such as necessary counselling and financial support as they reorganize their lives.

Guest blog by: Dr. Steven Rubin
Victimology Graduate Certificate Program, Algonquin College

The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime offers support, research and education to survivors and stakeholders.

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