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From Which School? 2012: How to deal with cyberbullies October 17, 2011

Posted by Alex, Managing Director in Independent Education, New releases.
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Which School? 2012, our flagship annual guide to independent education in the UK, is currently at the printers. It features a new-look cover design (right), bringing this historic guide bang up-to-date. Let us know what you think.

Thanks to all those schools who opted to promote their facilities and values in this 87th edition, the most comprehensive edition that anyone in the John Catt offices can remember.

In addition to information about every independent school in the UK, Which School? 2012 also features an editorial section full of interesting and informative articles. One of which we have reproduced below, some advice on dealing with the growing problem of cyberbullying, by Donal Blaney, Senior Partner at specialist litigation solicitors, Griffin Law.

HOW TO DEAL WITH CYBERBULLIES

For most of us, bullying used to manifest itself physically or mentally. In the past bullies were content with stealing pocket money, punching those weaker than them, abusing others with hurtful taunts or ostracizing those they had determined to isolate. It was easy to determine who the bully was and for schools and victims’ parents to take matters in hand. Not so with today’s cyber-bullies.

Cyber-bullying at its simplest is the use of electronic means to intimidate or harm others.Usually this consists of the use (or rather misuse) of mobile phones, email and the internet. It is not restricted to schoolchildren. Indeed recent years have seen a marked increase in cyberbullying involving adults, particularly in the context of the breakdown of relationships and in the workplace.

Bullies mistakenly believe that such electronic media easily allow for anonymous victimization of others, or they think they will not be caught (and, if they are, that nothing will or can be done). Sometimes this is indeed the case. Just as skilled hackers are rarely caught, so it is with some cyber-bullies. The majority of times, however, bullies can be unmasked and be brought to justice.

Court orders have been obtained by sportsmen who are being impersonated on social networking sites, by politicians who are harassed invariably by their opponents or disgruntled constituents, by celebrities who are the victims of cyber-stalkers and, most gratifyingly, by parents whose children are being bullied by other children.

And what has astonished me is the way that many of the cyber-bullies whose identities have been unmasked are not other children at all – they are those other children’s parents who have chosen to engage in a proxy feud through their children!

How, then, should you deal with a potential cyber-bully who is causing your child’s life to be a misery?

1. Do not ignore the problem – the press has reported a worrying increase in the number of suicides and incidents of self-harm brought about by cyber-bullying that is often not even known about by the victims’ parents.

2. Do not respond – cyber-bullying is still bullying. Bullies are usually looking for a response from their victims. Often if their bullying is ignored, they lose interest. If a victim responds, particularly in kind, then he or she risks losing the moral (and legal) high ground.

3. Keep the evidence – keep a record of all instances of cyber-harassment. Do not delete text messages, emails, Facebook messages and the like. You will need them if the case ever comes to court. The more examples, the easier it will be to persuade a judge.

4. Hide but don’t run – there’s no point in making it unnecessarily easy for a cyberbully. As frustrating and inconvenient as it may be, changing your mobile number or leaving Facebook for a few weeks is a small price to pay while you determine how to proceed.

5. Check your insurance – do any of your domestic insurances provide cover for legal expenses, for example where personal injury has been suffered? Legal expenses cover is usually a very cheap add-on to buildings or contents policies and it is worth its weight in gold when a serious problem arises.

6. Involve the police – if the harassment is particularly virulent or ongoing, report the matter to the police. Sadly they are unlikely to take it as seriously as they ought to but the mere fact that the harassment has been reported to the police can often be helpful when a judge looks at your complaint.

7. Be realistic – nothing is certain when the courts are involved. Judges are only human. There is no guarantee that a tormentor will be unmasked each and every time. Some are better at hiding their tracks than others. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing something about it but there will be circumstances where the impossible cannot be achieved.

8. Be reasonable – judges are ready to come to the aid of victims who are suffering unendurable torment at the hands of cyber-bullies but only if you act reasonably in your dealings with the court and with your opponents. Seeking damages or costs running into tens of thousands of pounds won’t win you any friends.

9. Go for the jugular – equally, however, be prepared to pursue any bully if he ignores an injunction. The threat of jail, sequestration of assets and a fine usually concentrates their minds.

10. Keep perspective – as unsettling as cyber-bullying is, it rarely lasts more than a few awful weeks or months. In a loving home environment with restricted online access, even today’s children can learn that there is a life beyond cyberspace!

Which School? 2012 is our annual guide to independent education in the UK. Copies can be purchased via the John Catt Bookshop.

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