Online threats and harassment made 17-year-old Rachel Neblett’s life unbearable. On Oct. 9, 2006, the Mount Washington cheerleader took her own life. It was only after Rachel’s suicide that her father, Mark Neblett, learned the extent of the cyberbullying.
Rachel is one of approximately two dozen teens each year in this country who turn to suicide after being bullied at school or online. Each day, 160,000 students will miss school for fear of being bullied or harassed.
The anonymity and immediacy of computers and mobile devices have made cyberbullying the most prevalent type of bullying between teens. The National Crime Prevention Association says more than 50 percent of all American teens have been a victim of cyberbullying. Most instances of bullying go unreported.
With school back in session, I’ve joined with the Kentucky Center for School Safety and the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group to urge students, parents and educators to help us fight cyberbullying and cyberharassment.
According to the Kentucky Department of Education, there were more than 6,000 incidents of bullying, felony stalking, harassment or verbal abuse during the 2011-12 school year that resulted in an expulsion, out-of- school suspension or corporal punishment. Research has shown that both victims and perpetrators of bullying, including physical violence, injury and cyberbullying, are at a higher risk for depression and suicide than their peers. The long term effects of bullying of any kind can last well into adulthood.
Online bullying and harassment is an issue my office takes very seriously. After hearing from concerned parents, like Mark Neblett, school officials and community leaders across Kentucky, I crafted cybercrimes legislation to bring our laws up to date with changes in technology. It also created the crime of cyberstalking.
In 2010, I led a nationwide effort to address abusive, harassing and inappropriate comments on the Internet message board website Topix.com. Today, all reports of abuse on Topix are reviewed and removed free of charge and priority is given to abusive comments that involve children.
We continue to work with Topix to ensure that Kentuckians, particularly our kids, are not harmed by harassing and abusive posts. Inappropriate posts that aren’t removed from Topix in a timely manner can be reported to firstname.lastname@example.org .
To help us fight cyberbullying, please follow these tips.
• Tell a trusted adult if you have been bullied, cyberbullied or harassed.
• Don’t open messages from people you don’t know.
• Don’t react to the bully or respond to harassing e-mails or posts.
• Block the bully from sending you e-mail or posting to your social networking account.
• If you are threatened, inform the police.
• Don’t email when you are angry and never post “questionable” pictures of others.
• Strongly encourage your child not to respond to cyberbullying.
• Try to identify the individual doing the cyberbullying and do not erase messages and pictures.
• Contact your child’s school if the cyberbullying is occurring through school.
• Contact police if cyberbullying involves threats of violence, extortion, obscene or harassing phone calls, harassment, stalking or hate crimes.
• Monitor your child’s online activities and discuss what is appropriate to post online.
• Seek help if your child’s grades decline, they lose interest in socializing or show aggression or violence toward others.
• Educate your students, teachers and staff about cyberbullying and its dangers.
• Make sure your school’s anti-bullying rules and policies address cyberbullying.
• Investigate reports of cyberbullying immediately.
• Monitor students’ use of computers at school.
• Notify the police if the known or suspected cyberbullying involves a threat.
For more information on bullying and cyberbullying, please visit the following websites:
• https://www.kycss.org/cyberbullying.php .
Although there are often no visible signs of abuse, the wounds associated with cyberbullying and harassment run deep. It has become a life or death issue. But there is a cure.
By recognizing the signs of bullying of any type and taking action, we can stop this insidious problem. Working together, we can ensure a brighter future for all Kentucky kids.