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Call for new cyber-bullying laws

By Abigail Hartevelt of The Daily Post -
Hayley-Ann Fenton, 15, took her own life after her "first love" broke up with her. Photo / supplied
Hayley-Ann Fenton, 15, took her own life after her "first love" broke up with her. Photo / supplied

The text bullying of a Rotorua teenager who took her own life after receiving a series of abusive texts from her boyfriend's wife has prompted a coroner to call for a new law.

Hayley-Ann Fenton was 15 when she took her own life by taking her father's heart medication after receiving threatening text messages from Pelesasa Tuimalu's wife, Elina.

Her death has prompted Coroner Wallace Bain to call for a law change which would cover new forms of cyber communication, particularly cyber bullying

In July of 2009 Tuimalu, then 27, decided he wanted to end his six-month relationship with Hayley-Anne and began to communicate with her by text message.

During a period of texting Hayley-Anne sent Tuimalu a message which said "... I can't handle just being friends cause I love you too much and I can't live without you so um I'm gonna go now I love you and only you bye I'm so sorry tell everyone I said goodbye I love you with all my heart.''

Later that day, after Hayley-Anne had sent a series of text message to Tuimalu, she received one back and believed to be from him, but it was actually sent by his wife.

It said: "F*** off stop texting me or my wife going to come kill you.''

Hayley-Anne replied saying: "Okay sorry.''

But two minutes later she got another text, also believed to be from Tuimalu but actually from Elina, saying "Don't text me again just f*** off I don't care if you kill yourself I not even like you a********.''

Hayley-Anne replied with a number of texts including one which said: "I'll stop texting now if that's what you want I'll stop see you and I'm not going to kill myself.''

Within half an hour Hayley-Anne emerged from her bedroom and it was noticed she was unwell.

She was taken to Rotorua Hospital, and died at 6.05am the next day.

Dr Bain said the overarching cause for Hayley-Anne's death was the "shocking, bullying'' texts received from Elina.

"Words struggle to describe the language used and the context of it. This 15-year-old girl was alone.''

Some of the messages were received late at night, or early in the morning when she had no one around who she could confide in, Dr Bain said.

In his findings Dr Bain goes into great depth about cyber communication, which, he says, has exploded.

"Communities and, in particular, parents are struggling to come to grips with it. However, it does seem to me that it is still in its infancy and, properly addressed, some reforms can be made.''

Bullying was not new, Dr Bain noted, but the means of communication now available through cyberspace was new and presented particular problems in being able to deal with the matter.

Dr Bain goes on to list 22 different examples - as reported in the media - of this.

He does note that the Law Commission was dealing with the issue of cyberbullying at the moment.

"In my view it should seriously consider bringing together an additional law to what already exists which is specific to social media and, in particular, bullying by way of text, email, Facebook, Twitter and others.''

Existing criminal and civil law was capable of dealing with many types of harmful communication, but it pre-dated the internet.

Serious consideration should be given to a law which was clearly accessible to the public and covered the harmful effects of the new ways of communicating.

He concluded his findings by recommending that there be a new law enacted "to adequately provide culpability and a penalty provision which has a deterrent effect that covers the new forms of cyber communication ... and is particularly hard on abusive and malicious content''.

A year after Hayley-Anne's death, Tuimalu was charged with having a sexual relationship with the underage teen and pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual connection. He was jailed for four years and three months. His wife was earlier given a nine-month suspended sentence for intimidating Hayley.

SUICIDE: WHERE TO GET HELP

If it's an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. Or call Youthline 0800 376 633, Lifeline 0800 543 354, Depression Helpline 0800 111 757, What's Up 0800 942 8787 (noon-midnight).

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