Politics Stigma Reduction Suicide — 06 April 2018

A SENATE inquiry has made nine recommendations to reduce the incidences of cyber-bullying and ensure that serious offenders are adequately pursued.

Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett took her own life to escape online bullying. Picture: AAP Source: Supplied to news.com.au

THE alarming increase in the number of youth suicides in Australia due to cyber-bullying prompted the Senate to commission an inquiry to determine the adequacy of our current laws.

 

Tabled in federal parliament yesterday, the inquiry, led by Senator Louise Pratt, found that “existing Commonwealth, state and territory criminal offences adequately capture serious cyber-bullying behaviours”.

The deaths of 14-year-old Amy “Dolly” Everett in January this year and 13-year-old Libby Bell in August 2017 have shone a light on the issue in recent times.

Queensland teen Emily Stick took her own life in February.

Queensland teen Emily Stick took her own life in February.Source:Supplied

Despite the adequacy of the nation’s current offences, the inquiry made nine recommendations to reduce incidences of cyber-bullying and ensure that serious offenders are adequately pursued by authorities.

The inquiry expressed concern about evidence implying that some cases of serious and possibly criminal cyber-bullying had not been pursued in the courts.

“This may be due to a lack of understanding of, or willingness to, apply these provisions,” the report said.

“The committee recommends that law enforcement agencies appropriately investigate and prosecute serious cyber-bullying complaints.”

While the inquiry noted penalties for offences committed by minors should not be increased, the report recommended increasing the maximum penalty for using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence from three years’ to five years’ imprisonment.

“The maximum penalties for cyber-bullying should recognise the serious harm that cyber-bullying can cause. This includes high levels of distress and mental health problems, and there may also be some degree of link between cyber-bullying and suicide,” the report found. 

The committee also urged the Australian government to develop and publicise a clear definition of cyber-bullying to acknowledge the complexity and scope of the issue.

The inquiry asked the government to approach cyber-bullying as a social and public health issue, and highlighted the importance of improving prevention, early intervention and education initiatives.

Praising the role of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, the inquiry recommended public promotion of the office, and the possible expansion of the cyber-bullying complaints scheme to include complaints made by adults.

The committee acknowledged the benefits of social media platforms, but stressed that social networking sites are primary vehicles for serious cyber-bullying.

Combating the issue, the inquiry found, requires the government placing and maintaining regular pressure on social media platforms to prevent and quickly respond to cyber-bullying cases on their sites.

Libby Bell, 13, took her own life after she became the victim of bullying. Picture: Instagram

Libby Bell, 13, took her own life after she became the victim of bullying. Picture: Instagram Source: Instagram

The report also recommended the creation of a duty of care on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, to ensure the safety of their users.

“[The Committee] wishes to make it clear that it is up to social media platforms to make their platforms safe environments, reduce the incidences of cyber-bullying and promptly take down all offending material,” the report said.

The final recommendation urged the Australian Government to require social media platforms to publish data on user complaints and the platforms’ responses, to motivate social networking sites to address cyber-bullying.

The committee’s report is based on 34 submissions received from organisations including the Attorney-General’s Department, the Law Council of Australia and the Alannah and Madeline Foundation.

Julia Arena is a law clerk with Andersons Solicitors.

If you or someone you love is in crisis or needs support right now, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Young people aged 5 to 25 years can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. 

This piece by Julia Arena was first seen on ‘News.com.au’, 29 March 2018.

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