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Law enforcement prepares to deal with cyberbullying PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 15 March 2018 12:13

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ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times



Millions of people use the Internet on a daily basis for many purposes including shopping and using social media. For many, however, spending time online can also include being harassed. 

“Research has found that online harassment is a common phenomenon in the digital lives of many Americans, and that a majority of Americans feel harassment online is a major problem,” a Jan. 4 Pew Research poll noted. “Even so, there is considerable debate over what online harassment actually means in practice. Survey answers indicate that Americans broadly agree that certain behaviors are beyond the pale. For instance, in various contexts most agree that online harassment occurs when people make direct personal threats against others. At the same time, the public is much more divided over whether or not other behaviors – such as sending unkind messages or publicly sharing a private conversation – constitute online harassment.”

With all that in mind, Liberal Police Chief Dennis Mulanax said there are measures the police department takes when such a case comes to officers. 

“If the victim wants to pursue that, we explain to them what legal elements there are and how to deal with such a situation,” Mulanax said. “That also involves them ultimately testifying in court, and this is a matter much like online scams – if someone is harassing you over your computer or cell phone, what have you, it’s mostly best to ignore it because once you start engaging in that situation, it feeds that fire for both parties to keep responding back and forth. A lot of it can be dealt with by some simple prevention and not engaging in that behavior and shutting it down from the get-go. Online harassment is a very broad topic and there’s different ways to respond as far as law enforcement goes depending on what type of situation it is. And a good thing about being online is it’s about like screening your calls, you can screen the things you see online and can be very selective about what you do and the behaviors you have.”

Overall, 41 percent of Americans have experienced online harassment, defined in the survey as offensive name-calling, purposeful embarrassment, physical threats, stalking, sexual harassment, or harassment over a sustained period of time, according to a July 2017 Pew poll. 

“The emotional impact of online harassment tends to be felt more acutely among women,” the poll noted. “For example, 35 percent of women who have experienced any form of online harassment say they found their most recent incident to be ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ upsetting, more than twice the share among men who have been targeted online (16 percent). There are also gender differences in views of online harassment as a public issue. Seven-in-ten women (70 percent) say they see online harassment as a major problem, compared with 54 percent of men. Younger women – those ages 18 to 29 – are especially likely to say this, and 83 percent say it is a major problem, compared with 55 percent of men in the same age group.”

It is especially important for those younger age groups to be aware of online harassment, Mulanax said. 

“Teenagers are typically perceived as more vulnerable so if they have any questions or concerns, it’s important for them to talk to someone they feel is more responsible, like a parent or teacher or someone like that and let them know what’s going on and get advice on how to respond, which could include a visit with law enforcement if they feel it’s severe enough,” Mulanax said. “As I said at the community meeting a couple weeks ago, I strongly encourage parents to intentionally get involved in their children’s lives. A significant portion of teens’ lives are spent online and on phones, so there should be a significant amount of time and effort spent on getting involved on what’s going on. Prevention is always best. Parents typically like to be trusting of their children and we want to think our children are always doing the right thing, but the reality is we all need to check our behavior and be accountable. As parents, we need to intentionally be in our children’s lives because they can be very creative and we need to all be on the lookout for problematic behavior and we all need to be cautious and preventative.”

The July 2017 Pew poll also talked about the different types of online harassment that can occur. 

“Overall, 44 percent of men and 37 percent of women have faced some form of online harassment,” the poll noted. “Men are somewhat more likely than women to have been called offensive names online (30 percent vs. 23 percent) or to have received physical threats (12 percent vs. 8 percent). By contrast, women – and especially young women – receive sexualized forms of online abuse at much higher rates than men. Some 21 percent of women ages 18 to 29 have been sexually harassed online, a figure that is more than double that of men in the same age group (9 percent). Further, 53 percent of young women say that someone has sent them explicit images they did not ask for (compared with 37 percent of young men). Overall, 11 percent of women have specifically been harassed because of their gender, compared with 5 percent of men.”

Mulanax also said the department’s investigation of such cyber crimes is just as important as investigations of other crimes. 

“Crime is crime no matter what, and our job and goal is to investigate all crimes,” Mulanax said. “Our goal is for compliance and a lot of times when we investigate one incident, it’ll turn into another incident and one door will blow open more doors. Something I teach and lead by is when a victim comes to us with a crime, in that person’s mind, that is the most important thing happening at that time and it’s imperative for officers to deals with that situation and realizing it’s very important and it should be treated as such. When someone comes to our department and asks for help, we’re never going to say ‘We don’t have time for that, we have better things to do.’ We will do whatever we can to assist that person right then and there for the victim’s need aspect and we serve the public, which is something we strive to improve always.”

Mulanax also talked about some ways people can protect themselves against online harassment. 

“Number one is don’t engage in it. For bullying, a common psychological aspect of that is profit and when the bully gets results from their bullying behavior, it feeds that fire even more,” Mulanax said. “So as soon  as we feel we’re a victim of that, we want to do things to prevent it. We also need to hold everyone accountable so if we know who that bully is, we need to go to them and get the situation shut down. If there’s one victim of a bully, it’s likely there have been multiple other victims. Another thing we encourage is saving those messages to your phone or computer and inform your provider so they’re aware this activity is taking place on their site.”

• To read the full Jan. 4 Pew Research poll, visit http://www.pewinternet.org/2018/01/04/crossing-the-line-what-counts-as-online-harassment/. 

• To read the full July 2017 Pew Research poll, visit http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/07/14/men-women-experience-and-view-online-harassment-differently/

 

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