cyber 1The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has a page for victims of cyber-bullying. It says:

  1. Talk to Someone
  2. Keep a Record
  3. Stay Positive
  4. Try to work it out yourself (if it’s safe)
  5. Block the bully and don’t respond.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is all good advice. But there is one piece of information that is missing – cyber-bullying is illegal. There are actually legal punishments in place for when it occurs. It seems as if people think that anti-bulling laws are like the weird Australian law that says you can’t walk on the right hand side of a footpath – it exists, but nobody bothers to enforce it. I think that’s partly because our education does not emphasise the fact that cyber-bullying is illegal.

Maybe things have improved since I was in school, but we were never told that cyber-bullying is actually illegal. Our parents probably didn’t know. Most websites neglect to point this out.

I think education should make this much clearer: abuse – online and IRL – is criminal behaviour.

In 2011, Victorian laws about stalking were expanded to include bullying. The expanded law was named ‘Brodie’s Law’ after a young girl, Brodie Panlock, who was driven to suicide by bullies in her workplace. The law now covers:

“- making threats to the victim;

– using abusive or offensive words to or in the presence of the victim;

– performing abusive or offensive acts in the presence of the victim; and

– directing abusive or offensive acts towards the victim.”

Let’s break this down a little. According to ‘Lawstuff‘ (their website was obviously made by someone really old – but according to the Australian Human Rights Commission, they are legit), cyber bullying is a crime under Victorian laws when it involves:

Lawstuff has a bunch of real life examples of people who have been charged under this law. Check it out if you’re interested… but here’s the fun part! Jail time:

  • Threatening to hurt someone, stalking someone, and/or defamation can land bullies a maximum 10 years in jail.
  • Encouraging suicide – max. 5 years in jail
  • Threatening and harassing messages – max. 3 years in jail.
  • Hacking people’s profiles – max. 2 years in jail

Of course, things get a bit complicated when the people involved are underage. Most underage bullies probably won’t get jail time. Instead, they might face things like:

  • Good behaviour bonds (max. 3 years).
  • Order to attend counseling.
  • Intervention orders (restraining orders).
  • Website administrators can block accounts and phone companies can suspend service if bullies use them to harass people.
  • Every school should have a specific anti-bullying plan – these vary between schools. Expulsion may be an option. Most school-related bullying will be handled by the school.
  • If harassment involves child pornography (indecent photos/videos of anyone under 18), anyone who passed on the material or downloaded it can be listed as a sex offender. If they are over 18 they will definitely put on the sex offenders list. If they are underage, they might get lucky and not end up on the list.

cyber 2

Yes, going through the legal system sounds like a horrible, stressful experience for teens. But maybe more people should do it – if we don’t take cyber-bullying to the police, of course bullies won’t be punished under the new laws.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you do decide to report cyber-bullying to the police:

  • YouthLaw offers free advice to anyone under 25 years old. You should also be able to get free advice from Community Legal Centres.
  • Always report threats to your life or safety – threats of physical violence will be taken the most seriously by police.
  • If you’re going to the police, you’ll probably want the support of your parents or another adult that you trust.
  • Any retaliation will be considered by the police (that is, if you cyber-bullied the bully, you will have to take responsibility for that).
  • You will need a record of the abuse – take screenshots including timestamps, etc. Once you’ve recorded it, delete the material so that you don’t have to look at it every time you go online.
  • You can try reporting the user to the website admin – this mechanism is improving on many sites. In the meantime, BLOCK BLOCK BLOCK!
  • Most importantly, stay safe. If you think taking it to the police is going to be too stressful and bad for your mental health, don’t do it. If you’d rather just move schools and forget about it, go for it. Set your own boundaries.

Obviously, not everyone can afford the money and energy to take their bullies to court. But I still think teens and young adults should be told, repeatedly, that this behaviour is illegal. Victims should feel supported by the legal system as well as their immediate community. When victims know that the law is on their side, maybe they will feel more confident in telling others what is happening.

For example, part of the problem with cyber-bullying is that teens often think that their parents or other adults won’t take it seriously, and they don’t ask for help. This is a legitimate concern, seeing as adults like to give advice like ‘just don’t go online!’ (and cut ourselves off from our social groups and source of news, trivia facts and entertainment? No thanks). Knowing that bullies are breaking the law, which adults have to take seriously, could help with this problem.

Also, bullies should know exactly what they’re risking. People often say that underage bullies just don’t understand the effect they can have. I guess basic human compassion is too much for them, but surely even the worst bullies can grasp the concept of “legal” vs. “illegal.”

For more general advice, information and support, call Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800 – it’s a free 24 hour service). You can also check out websites like Headspace, Beyond Blue, It Gets Better Australia, Reach Out, and The Line

– Rose Wilson-Harrison

– Photos Cameron Wisth

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One Response to “CYBER CRIMES”

  1. Jamie Says:



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