Everyone deserves to have a safe online experience free of being bullied.  However, in today’s fast paced world where new ways to communicate are constantly invented and upgraded this means there are more ways for bullies to bully their victims.  With the advent of the Internet, particularly social media, and the mobile smart phone, cyberbullying in New Zealand has become a serious issue.

A bully can hide behind a screen and press away at keys, saying things they might not ever say in person.  Online and mobile phone communication allows for impulsive and hateful speech and actions – like Facebook likes and shares of trolling posts – to be carried out easily.  And once it starts, it is hard to break the momentum. Oftentimes, online bullying can take on a life of its own with tentacles than can reach to every corner of the globe.  Cyberbullying is a problem in New Zealand and around the world.  It affects men and women, boys and girls.  It affects individuals at home, at school, at work and it can happen at any time of the day.

Cyberbullying Statistics in New Zealand

A study conducted by New Zealand Attitudes and Values (NZAV) have come up with some disturbing statistics when it comes to cyberbullying in New Zealand.  The organization surveyed approximately 15,000 people to find out how many of them had been a victim of bullying in a cyber environment. According to the study, three out of five women in their late teens have been a victim of cyberbullying. Other statistics include:

  • One in ten people between the ages of 30 and 59 have experienced cyberbullying.
  • One in twenty people in their late 20s have experienced cyberbullying
  • 46 percent of women aged 18 and 19 had the highest incidence of cyberbullying with three out of five individuals experiencing cyberbullying.

According to Newshub in the article entitled, “Sexual Threats Shockingly Common on the Internet – Survey”, reveals that much of the cyberbullying directed at girls and women is sexual in nature.  That means that 52 percent of women and girls have been victims to sexual cyberbullying at one time or another.

Here are more shocking cyberbullying statistics for New Zealand:

  • 6 percent of women who were victims of sexual cyberbullying were reported to have had suicidal thoughts.
  • 8 percent said it interfered with work or school.
  • 9 percent said they sought professional mental health services because of the experience.
  • 10 percent said the sexual harassment through cyberbulling was graphic.
  • 11 percent said they felt frightened by the experience.
  • 14 percent said they felt abused or violated.
  • 17 percent said they were left feeling vulnerable and helpless because of the bullying.
  • 21 percent said they were depressed as a result.

According to John Fenaughty, the Research Manager, 30 percent of secondary school students in New Zealand have reported being cyberbullied.  He goes on to say during the interview that what makes these numbers so distressing is that cyberbullying, also known as covert bullying, is a way to harm their social standing, something that is very important for young people.

Unfortunately, the statistics get darker. According to www.internetsafetystatistics.com, a study that surveyed 9 year olds in 35 countries came to a starling conclusion: New Zealand has the second highest rate of bullying in the world.  New Zealand is also said to have the highest rate of suicide among males age 15 to 24 years old.

Workplace Cyberbullying in New Zealand

Cyberbullying isn’t just something that happens to kids in school, it happens in the work place to adults, too.  In fact, workplace bullying is on the rise, according to www.stuff.co.nz and employers need to pay attention.  Anywhere from 16 to 20 percent of individuals in the New Zealand workforce have experienced bullying, but it’s tough to say how much of that is cyberbullying.  In reality, workplace bullies probably use a variety of methods to carry out their actions, which include cyberbullying and other forms of bullying.

Worksafe New Zealand

The website, Workplace New Zealand, offers substantial information on workplace bullying, such as bullying key points, preventing and measuring bullying in the workplace, advice for employers, and flow charts that help an individual determine if they are indeed the victim of bullying or cyberbullying in the workplace and what can be done about it.

Real Life Examples of Cyberbullying in New Zealand

Example #1:  In September of 2015 a 13-year-old girl from Auckland was rushed to the hospital after a suicide attempt.  According to her family, the girl was a victim of cyber bullying and this was her response, the only way she knew how to deal with the way the bullying was making her feel. Fortunately, she survived.  Her mother encourages people to never “like” a bullying comment on Facebook.

Example #2:  In March of 2016, a 12-year-old girl committed suicide in Palmerston.  Her family blames the suicide on online bullying.

Example #3:  In October of 2015, plus-size models in New Zealand were fat shamed by online trollers after they published a photo shoot of them promoting a plus size fashion show.  One person, a wedding planner from Auckland, started the cyberbullying with a trolling comment.

Example #4:  In February of 2013, a young girl’s sudden death left her friends and family in shock.  Fifteen year old Stephanie Garrett, who had attended the local high school, North Freyberg High School, as a new student was found dead of what may have been suicide.  Her friends spoke up to reporters and said that Garrett had been cyberbullied in the days leading up to her death and had often cried herself to sleep.  According to the teenagers, people, acting as trolls, were posting offensive comments about Garret on the social network Ask.FM.

Example #5:   In 2013, a group of boys picked up a group of girls in West Auckland and what happened next led to the creation of the new legislation. The girls had been drinking and the boys bragged on social media that they had sex with the girls. Five girls filed a formal complaint.

Example #6:  In July of 2012, a 15-year old school girl, Haley Ann Fenton, from Rotorua, New Zealand died after intentionally overdosing on her father’s heart pills.  It was the coroner who spoke out about the death and called for a new law to be passed to protect young girls from ever doing this again.

It was reported that the school girl was receiving disturbing, relentless and abusive texts from an ex-boyfriend’s wife.  Her ex-boyfriend, 27-year old Pelesasa Tuimalu, had ended their relationship just four days before the young girl’s suicide.

One of the texts said, Stop f***en texting my husband you ugly bitch or I’ll f***en smash your face”. Another said, “Don’t text me again just f*** off I don’t care if you kill yourself I not even like you arsehole”.

What makes this case so sad is that Haley asked for help. At 4:30 pm, the day before she died, Haley asked her family for help, but there was nothing that could be done by them or the doctors.  It was too late for Haley.

Unfortunately, police could not charge Mr. or Mrs. Tuimale with aiding in Haley’s death.  However, Mrs. Tuimale was charged with intimidation over texts. She was convicted and discharged.  Mr. Tuimale was charged with having sexual contact with a minor and was sentenced to four months and three years in prison.

Example #7:According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, revenge porn in itself is a phenomenon.  This new form of cyberbullying that can permanently damage someone’s reputation consists of distributing what is considered pornographic material without the individual’s consent.  It doesn’t matter if the individual gave consent for the material to be made or not, without their consent to distribute, this is considered revenge porn and is illegal in New Zealand.

In one case, according to the NZ Herald News, a woman was threatened by her ex-boyfriend, who had compromising photographs of the woman.  He threatened to show her parents, her new boyfriend and even the university she attended if she didn’t have sex with him.

This is how it happened.

The young woman had met the man, a young plumber, online and they started dating.  However, after their relationship became intimate, she found intimate photos of herself on his phone, photos she did not know were taken and for which she did not give him permission to take.  Over time, after the relationship soured and he had deleted the photos, she soon learned he had taken more photographs of her without her knowledge and while she was sleeping.

He threatened to show them to her new boyfriend and family members as well as the university. The woman went to the police, who used the new legislation in The Harmful Digital Communications Act to arrest the man, who would then face up to two years in prison and $50,000 in fines.

Cyberbullying and Mental Health in New Zealand

According to NZ Herald News, “an alarming rise in cyberbullying threatens the mental health of a generation of young New Zealanders.”

The result?  Low self-esteem, depression, isolation, and even suicide of young and not so young New Zealanders, which can seriously undermine a person’s life, self-worth, sexual-worth, social skills and relationships with others. According to the article, this warning come from respected professionals such as academics and educationalists as well as the Justice Minister, people who understand and witness first hand the devastating effects of cyberbullying on an individual and oftentimes an entire family.

People, especially children, who experience cyberbullying have a hard time with everyday life because of the way it makes them feel.  When someone feels unworthy, they begin to behave in ways that signal this, such as self-mutilation, sleeping all day, avoiding school, isolating, crying, eating too much or too little, avoiding social situations, engaging in sexual promiscuity, drug use, bullying others and attempting suicide.

Furthermore, the more a person engages in these self-destructive behaviours, the chances of death by overdose or attempted suicide can increase.  In short, cyberbullying can cause an avalanche of negative emotions and actions to snowball if there are no coping mechanisms in place to face the bullying head on and report the it to the police.

Experts agree that the Internet has been allowed to run wild.  It is left unchecked, especially when it comes to social media, and parents really don’t know what their kids are doing online. There are even apps created to keep activity online a secret, thus keeping parents totally in the dark.  And that is a huge problem.

While it is easier to shield children from offensive material contained in magazines and books or at the movie theater or on TV, parents tend to lack confidence in online technology and thus fail to institute the same rules.

They just don’t know how to monitor and evaluate their child’s activity online and according to the New Zealand Herald, this is “the missing link”.

In fact, according to Newshub, three out of four parents in New Zealand have no idea what their kids are doing online. Kids are visiting websites, forums, chat rooms, and downloading apps. There is no way to monitor who is on the other side of a chat room’s user name the way a parent can monitor who their child plays with in the neighborhood, for example. There is often no way to determine who a child is interacting with online, whether that individual is a man or a women, their age or their intentions.

Protecting children from online perpetrators is a parent’s job.  Local schools, government organizations, and other institutions can only do so much.  It is up to the parent to monitor their child’s online activity on a daily or bi-daily or weekly basis.  Rules should also be put into place and strictly enforced.  Some rules could include the following:

  • Limiting Facebook friends to a certain number and/or region.
  • Sharing all passwords with parents.
  • No chat rooms or only a certain number of chat rooms per approval by parents.
  • Only 10 hours of Internet use per week.
  • Speaking with friend’s parents about their online and mobile phone rules.
  • All contacts on phone must be known and approved by parents.
  • Child can only visit certain websites.

At the same time, many kids are being quiet about being bullied online or through their phone.  They don’t want to lose access to the Internet or have their phones taken away.  This may be the only way the parent knows how to solve the problem.  In the meantime, the child, who may not have any coping skills, may simply try to ignore the situation or solve it on their own.

This can really become disastrous as it may only end up egging the bully on even more and causing even more harassment than what was originally experienced.  Bullies enjoy getting a rise out of their victims, so the more the victim engages with the bully, the more they will continue to bully the victim.

A big problem is that kids simply don’t know what to do when they are being cyberbullied. Of course, they know that an adult would tell them to tell an adult, that is the next step, but oftentimes they don’t tell anyone, not even other friends.  Being bullied is embarrassing.  It’s humiliating and because feeling of low or no self-worth often accompany being bullied, the victim may feel like they deserve to be bullied or that they can’t face another day with being bullied. They are living totally in the present and cannot see a future without being bullied, without feeling that way.

During a vital time such as this, victims of cyberbullying need support. They need the support of parents, police officals, peers, school, and local organizations to help them put them safely stop being cyberbullying.

The Harmful Digital Communications Act of New Zealand

Cyberbullying is not new to New Zealand and has been a major problem for all age groups for many years.  With lax laws that were never quite clear on what constitutes cyberbullying in New Zealand and how to prosecute it, as well as outraged parents and medical professionals calling for legislation to help protect New Zealand’s children, it was time to finally pass a law.

This act was designed to help minimize the time it takes a victim to take action against the party doing the cyberbullying. It essentially criminalizes cyberbulling by taking the following measures:

  • Simplifies the process of getting harmful communications off the Internet as soon as possible.
  • Criminal measures taken against the perpetrator posting harmful digital communications.
  • Includes revenge porn in the definition of cyberbullying.

The bill outlines Ten Communication Principals. If an individual feels they have been a victim of one or more of these communication principals online, they can make a formal complaint to an “Approved Agency”.

The Ten Communication Principals per The Law Library of Congress:

1. A digital communication should not disclose sensitive personal facts about an individual.

2. A digital communication should not be threatening, intimidating, or menacing.

3. A digital communication should not be grossly offensive to a reasonable person in the position of the affected individual.

4. A digital communication should not be indecent or obscene.

5. A digital communication should not be used to harass an individual.

6. A digital communication should not make a false allegation.

7. A digital communication should not contain a matter that is published in breach of confidence.

8. A digital communication should not incite or encourage anyone to send a message to an individual for the purpose of causing harm to the individual.

9. A digital communication should not incite or encourage an individual to commit suicide.

10. A digital communication should not denigrate an individual by reason of his or her colour, race, ethnic or national origins, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or disability. (Id. s 6(1).)

Anyone who is found guilty of any of these ten communication principals could face up to two years in prison and up to $50,000 in fines.

On the other hand, the new legislation has received criticism and accusations of curbing free speech. Critics have alleged that the law won’t help to protect children and that it’s a “case study in bad lawmaking”.  Basically, critics believe the law makes it illegal to offend anyone in any way online.  Legislators, however, understand that this dark side of the Internet, where hate is easily perpetuated, needs to be controlled.

What Else is Being Done about Cyberbullying in New Zealand?

This past May 16-20 was New Zealand’s first national bully free week properly named “Bullying-Free New Zealand Week” and organized by bullyingfreenz.com.  Students across the country submitted projects they worked on during the week and two schools walked away with prizes of $500 each.  Te Poi School, one of the winners, worked on many projects, including youtube videos, that emphasized conflict resolution and topics such as how to make good choices, conflict resolution and how to be a good friend.  The other school to win was Aparima College who created a campaign called “Sweeten up your Day” to raise awareness about bullying, including cyberbullying.

The website, netsafe.org.nz, advertised a unique way to help prevent or stop cyberbullying in New Zealand.  The campaign, called “The Compliments Campaign”, was created by a group of Kiwi teens called Web Rangers who want the Internet to be a safe place. It took place last February 9, 2016 but should be something done everyday. Basically, the campaign encouraged New Zealanders to spread positivity throughout the country as a way to “stand up to bullying and negativity with positivity and kindness.”

In one particular Youtube video done by the Web Rangers, and simply called “Cyberbullying”, viewers are left with chills.  Imagine a beautiful sunset. What sound usually accompanies the rising sun?  The lovely singing of birds because it’s a new and glorious day. But instead of birds tweeting, the viewer hears the tweeting sounds of texts streaming through a phone. One after the other. Each one horrible. Each one hateful. Each one an example of cyberbullying.  Suddenly, the tweets turn into a cacophony of voices hurling one insult after the other. This is a powerful anti cyberbullying video.

New Zealand Cyberbullying Contact Numbers:

If you, your child, or someone you know is being cyberbullied, here are some contact numbers where you can get help:

Only for emergencies: 111

Lifeline (available 24/7):  0800 543 354

Suicide Crisis Helpline (available 24/7):  0508 828 865

Youthline (available 24/7, accepts texting):  0800 376 633; email:  [email protected]; live chat (7pm-11pm): http://livechat.youthline.co.nz/mibew/chat?locale=en&style=youthline

Kidsline (available 24/7): 0800 543 754

Whatsup (available 1pm to 11pm)  0800 942 8787

Depression Helpline (available 24/7):  0800 111 757

Rainbow Youth (available weekdays llam to 5pm):  09 376 4155

Cyberbullying is a crime in New Zealand.  If it is in the form of text, image, Facebook post, Instagram Post or other online or mobile method, it is a crime.  If it happens once, it’s a crime.  If it happens a hundred times, it’s a crime.

Cyberbullying affects people of all ages, crosses all gender lines and socioeconomic lines as well.  Anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying, and without having the proper education or information about why cyberbullying is or how to stop it, the victim runs the chance of suffering mentally and/or physically from the abuse.