Three in five women in their late teens have been victims of online bullies, according to new research revealing an alarming number of Kiwi adults encountering the problem.
While new measures have been brought in to tackle the problem in schools, a snapshot of voting-aged New Zealanders found one in 10 people aged 30 to 59 -- and a rate twice that for those in their mid- to late 20s -- have experienced it.
A new survey asked around 15,000 people if someone had used the internet, a mobile phone or digital camera to hurt or embarrass them.
Rates were highest among young people -- 46 per cent of all 18- to 19-year-olds, with the problem worse among females in that age group.
"Women aged 18 to 19 reported the highest levels of cyber-bullying among all groups, with roughly three in five experiencing cyber-bullying," said Harrison Steiner-Fox, who compiled the research using data from the ongoing New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS).
It was in step with previous research that has indicated one in three children are affected by it.
Another recent survey of nearly 750 young people aged 11 to 18, by Otago-based group Sticks'n'Stones, found 87 per cent thought cyber-bullying was an issue -- and 255 had experienced it the same year.
But the NZAVS figures revealed older New Zealanders weren't immune: 27 per cent of those aged 20 to 24 had been bullied, with 22 per cent of 25- to 29-year-olds and 9 to 13 per cent of 30- to 59-year-olds.
"It's definitely not just a young person's problem," NetSafe chief executive Martin Cocker said.
Of the 1000 related cases that his organisation handled last year, around half of those involved adults.
Canterbury University student Nikki Wheeler, who was bullied online for a year, was shocked by the new figures -- and wasn't surprised that even one in 10 adult Kiwis had been attacked.
"I think this number will rise as we are in a fast-paced world of progression, especially within the technology sector, and more and more people are using the internet more frequently than before."
She described cyber-bullying as something that left the victim feeling extremely lonely.
"You become paranoid that everyone is against you and believes the same opinion as that of the bully," she said.
"Cyber-bullying is becoming part of our everyday lives and it shouldn't be ... it's an awful experience no one should have to live through."
Advocate Ashleigh Smith said the death of her cousin, linked to cyber-bullying, was the most painful experience she had suffered.
"Four years later I still ask myself the 'what if' questions -- it is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life," the 18-year-old said.
"Cyber-bullying affects so many people throughout New Zealand. It has so many consequences, including victims taking their own lives. It's real, it's happening all around us."
In one of the most recent serious cases, family of Palmerston North 12-year-old Kyana Vergara -- whose death on January 11 is suspected to have been self-inflicted -- later discovered troubling social media postings in her accounts.
The survey was carried out as the Government introduced its Harmful Digital Communications Act -- which can see bullies fined up to $5000 -- along with new guidelines for schools.
The figures are among a range of new insights into Kiwi society just published by NZAVS researchers and featured in the Herald today.
Where to get help
• The Ministry of Justice offers a step-by-step flowchart on how to combat cyber-bullying.
• Cyberbullying.org.nz offers resources for students, parents and teachers on how to prevent or respond to cyber-bullying.
• NetSafe has a telephone helpline for anyone with cyber concerns: 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723).
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• The Word
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.