Kathleen G. Kane - Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General - Protecting Pennsylvanians

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August 17, 2006

1 of 3 Teens & 1 of 6 Preteens Are Victims of Cyber Bullying;
Teenager Recounts Harrowing Tale of Online Death Threats

CyberBully1-366x244PHILADELPHIA - As Pennsylvania's kids prepare to go back to school, Attorney General Tom Corbett, Bucks County District Attorney Diane Gibbons and State Director Bruce Clash of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids today released the results of a nation-wide poll on cyber bullying and called on every school in Pennsylvania to have a proven bulling prevention program.

The poll, commissioned by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, shows that one in three teens and one in six preteens have been victims of cyber bullying. Estimating that more than 13 million children aged six to 17 were victims of cyber bullying, the poll also revealed that more than two million of those victims told no one about being attacked.

"Bullying has gone far beyond a whisper in the hall or a push on the playground," Corbett said. "Like everything else, bullying has met the information super highway. With nearly three-quarters of this country's kids online, bullies now have the Internet at their fingertips to electronically assault other children. They are teenage predators."
Key findings of the poll of 1,000 kids nationwide were:

  • One-third of all teens (ages 12-17) and one-sixth of children (ages 6-11) have had mean, threatening or embarrassing things said about them online.
  • 10 percent of the teens and four percent of the younger children were threatened online with physical harm.
  • 16 percent of the teens and preteens who were victims told no one about it.
  • About half of children ages 6-11 told their parents. 
  • Only 30 percent of older kids told their parents.
  • Preteens were as likely to receive harmful messages at school (45 percent) as at home (44 percent).
  • Older children received 30 percent of harmful messages at school and 70 percent at home.
  • 17 percent of preteens and seven percent of teens said they were worried about bullying as they start a new school year.

CyberBully-10stepsCyber bullying is defined as the use of electronic devices and information, such as e-mail, instant messaging, text messages, mobile phones, pagers and Web sites, to send or post cruel or harmful messages or images about an individual or a group. Unlike standard bullying, the perpetrator can be anonymous, and there is no refuge for the victim since cyber bullying can go on 24-hours a day for the world to see.

At a pre-recorded interview, 13-year-old cyber bullying victim Jessi from Newburg, Pa., described her ordeal. Fellow classmates discovered the password to Jessi's Xanga site and altered the content to make it appear that she made disparaging remarks about everyone in the eighth grade. Other students responded to these comments with vicious personal attacks against Jessi and even called for her death. Her pediatrician pulled her out of school, and Jessi now has decided to attend a cyber school this year out of fear for her own safety.

"Schools should be safe havens of learning - not places where children fear for their safety and well-being," Corbett continued. "With twice as many kids being victims of cyber bullying as opposed to face-to-face bullying, we must find ways deal with this very serious issue. We are calling upon all Pennsylvania schools to adopt a comprehensive anti-bullying program."

Research has found that the Olweus Bullying Prevention program started in Norway and now implemented in Pennsylvania and other states has the strongest results on reducing bullying. It has proven to help cut bullying in half and is one of 11 Blueprints for Violence Prevention programs sponsored in this state. More information on this program can be found at www.clemson.edu/olweus.

Corbett said that cyber bullying can be a crime, and research shows that bullying can lead to later acts of crime. A recent study showed that four of every ten boys who bullied others had three or more convictions by the time they turned 24.

District Attorney Gibbons released 10 steps on how to prevent cyber bullying. Key steps include:

  • Teach your kids to tell adults if they are bullied.
  • Every school must have a proven anti-bullying program.
  • Watch for signs that your child may be a victim.
  • Keep computers in common areas of homes.

"No child should have to endure the constant harassment that cyber bullying can produce," Gibbons said. "As the new school year begins, we ask all parents in Pennsylvania to arm themselves against this threat to children's safety by following these simple steps designed to curb cyber bullying. We must work together to stop this growing epidemic."

There are several proposed pieces of legislation before the Pennsylvania General Assembly that would help schools address bullying. State Senator Jane Orie plans to introduce new legislation this fall that not only would require bullying prevention programs, but also would ensure that cyber bullying is addressed by all school districts.

Pennsylvania State Director Bruce Clash of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids said, "The extent of cyber bullying is clear - with the growing number of kids online, and many equipped with cell phones, millions of kids in the coming school year will be assaulted on the Internet highway both in school and at home."

Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is a national, nonprofit, bipartisan organization of more than 3,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, other law enforcement leaders and violence survivors.