Around the schoolyard it’s easy to spot a bully, but when harassment takes place online, "cyber bullies" often torment their victims behind the mask of anonymity, making it difficult to hold them accountable.
Just who are these cyber bullies? Are they vengeful youth lurking in online chatrooms, or are they "friends" on Facebook? What’s the profile of a cyber bully?
While research suggests that anyone is just as likely to be a bully or a victim as anyone else, below are a few common profiles of youth-tormenting cyber bullies, courtesy of the Newark Police Department in the East Bay.
The Peer Predator
It’s not surprising that most cyber bullies are the same age as their victims and equally as likely to be a boy or girl. These peer predators are more apt to be the Facebook "friends" of their victims.
According to a 2004 study by the Journal of Adolescence, 68 percent of these offenders - typically ages 9 to 14 - use the Internet for four or more days per week, while those whose use the Internet most often for chatrooms are three times more likely to harass others online than those who don’t. As the peer predator passes age 15, bullying becomes more violent and often evolves into sexual harassment.
On Facebook, he is the 17-year-old boy or girl everyone has a crush on; but in real life, he is a middle-aged man, logging into Facebook from his garage to seek out shy, withdrawn, or handicapped children who are vulnerable to his advances.
Most often men - though women can be offenders as well - these perverts gain the trust of their victims and convince them to take pornographic photos of themselves, which the pedophiles often promptly share online with the victim’s peers. In one tragic example, a teenager killed herself after a string of harassment emanating from an incident where a mystery man posted a photo exposing the teen’s chest.
It’s probably a teen’s worst nightmare to be "friended" online by their parent or a friend’s parent on Facebook or other social media. But when parents impersonate teenagers online in an attempt to take justice into their own hands, or "investigate" activity in their child’s social network, it can get really nasty, quick.
In 2007 in Missouri, a mom posed as a foreign 16-year-old boy to feign interest in a teenage girl - a former friend of her daughter’s - to investigate what she was saying about her daughter online. After online manipulation and harassment, the girl committed suicide at the Missouri mom’s urging.
Holding Cyber Bullies Accountable
Too often these faceless bullies torment their victims without facing consequences for their actions. For youth victims, however, their tormentors aren't faceless - the profile of a cyber bully is often the kid sitting next to them in class; perhaps a soccer teammate, or a Facebook friend. In other words, the bully can be someone they know but are too embarrassed to report.
Stopping the peer predator, the pedophile, the parent/impersonator and other online tormentors is possible by encouraging victims to speak out. Identify and report cyber bullies to school administrators and law enforcement when necessary.
And, talk to your children today about these threats.
To report a non-emergency crime in Pacifica, you can call the Pacifica Police Department on the non-emergency business line (650-738-7314) or come into the department to have an officer assist you and/or take a crime report. Alternately, you may be eligible to file a report online by clicking here. If you have an emergency, call 911.
This story originally appeared on our sister site from the East Bay, Newark Patch.
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