Hawke's Bay parents shocked by bully children

By Brendan Manning


A Hawke's Bay school leader has shown shocked parents offensive comments written by their children to fellow classmates in a bid to stamp out cyber bullying.

"Kids can say some horrible, horrible things, especially in the cyber realm where they think that somehow they're one step removed," Taradale High School deputy principal John Marshall said.

Justice Minister Judith Collins announced the new measures to tackle cyber bullying this week, following the deaths of several teenagers who took their own lives after being victimised online or by text messages.

The new laws will make it an offence to use a communications device to cause harm - punishable by up to three months in jail or a $2000 fine.

Inciting someone to commit suicide will also be made an offence, even if the victim does not attempt to take their own life, and will be punishable by up to three years' imprisonment.

Mr Marshall said it was hard to tell what effect the proposed new laws would have on cyber bullying, but he hoped they would help prevent more students becoming victims.

"I have on a number of occasions got hold of parents and suggested strongly to them that they have a look at what their kids are posting."

Mr Marshall said he had copied offensive posts and shown them to parents who had "quite a shock" when they saw what their children were writing.

"It's been a highly effective strategy in the past, most disappear pretty smartly."

Mr Marshall had also successfully complained to Facebook to have obnoxious comments removed and said proposals for a new agency which could deal with the social media website directly were a smart idea.

"It's likely to have a bit more clout."

Rotorua schoolgirl Hayley-Ann Fenton committed suicide in 2009 after receiving threatening texts from the wife of her 27-year-old boyfriend, Pelesasa Tiumalu, who was later jailed for having sex with a minor.

Her death helped spark the newly announced cyber bullying measures.

Ms Collins said the impact of bullying had increased considerably in the digital age.

"Tormenters are able to harass their targets 24 hours a day, seven days a week, wherever they go, and the trail of abuse lives on in cyberspace, following victims for years.

"No one should ever be subject to this kind of cowardly attack - now with the Parents shocked

right support and modern laws in place, victims will no longer have to suffer."

A new civil enforcement regime will also be set up, either independently, or within an existing agency such as NetSafe, to deal with complaints.

Ms Collins said the agency would help people get the support they needed to stop cyber bullying quickly, by liaising with website hosts and ISPs to request take-down or moderation of offensive posts.

"The agency will also be able to investigate and resolve complaints directly, with the most serious complaints being referred by the agency to the District Court which can issue take-down orders and cease-and-desist notices."

The Harassment, Privacy and Human Rights acts would also be amended to ensure they were up-to-date for digital communications.

Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand president Tom Parsons said cyber bullying could not be tackled solely with punitive measures.

"It's about education, so it's about the management of it, not the punishment for the incorrect use [of digital communications]."

A prison sentence for cyber bullying was "pretty damn tough", he said.

"From my experience, a lot of violators of that trust are indeed under 14, so they're not subject to that anyway...it's a complex issue."

The changes will come into force later this year.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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