The suicide of 13 year old Megan Meiers (pictured) made headlines around the world when it was revealed the teenager had been tormented on MySpace by adult neighbour Lori Drew.
But in a decision which angered many close to the case, no charges could be laid against the 47 year old mother for harassing the teenager on MySpace, an act which undoubtedly led to the girl’s suicide.
Tina Meiers, the mother of the teenage victim wanted Lori Drew charged but was told by prosecutors in Missouri that no state law applied in the case. Now the case of Megan Meiers has inspired Missouri legislators to introduce a new law making cyber bullying and harassment a crime. Under the new law, any adult who is found guilty of bullying or harassing a child under the age of 18 on the Internet, will face up to four years in prison.
Last year a survey of 45,000 children in the United States revealed that 85 per cent of kids between the ages of ten and fourteen had experienced cyber bullying. But the problem is not unique to the United States.
Psychologist Marilyn Campbell from the Queensland University of Technology told the PM program on ABC Radio that cyber bullying is a growing problem in Australia.
“It seems to be about 14 to 15 per cent of children have been cyber bullied, either on their mobile phone or by the Internet,” said Ms Campbell.
ABC reporter Lindy Kerin revealed that some Australian schools have already introduced the Cyber Citizenship course which is based on an American model developed to educate kids and decrease the incidence of cyber bullying.
Marilyn Campbell told Ms Kerin, “Schools are becoming more aware of cyber bullying. Even in some of the schools policies, they haven’t updated them to include cyber bullying. Bullying is really a social relationship problem that is really deeply embedded in society.”
Recently the Telstra Foundation announced they are launching a new $2 million program to reduce bullying and harassment of children using the Internet and mobile phones across Australia.
Not for profit organisations are being invited to apply for a grant of $75,000 to provide effective solutions for reducing cyber bullying of children and teenagers. Telstra Foundation Chairman, Herb Elliott said:
“We want to reverse this growing trend, and support programs and research that help keep kids safe while they make the most of the exciting opportunities the internet and mobile phones offer.
“In particular, the cyber safety grants will focus on funding programs to help educate parents about online technology, and simple steps they can take to create a safe online learning and social environment for their child.”
Cyber bullying and harassment on the Internet doesn’t just affect kids. Many adults have experienced at least one incident of cyber bullying or harassment on the Internet. If you are anything like me and write about controversial topics, you’ve experienced several. However, children and in particular teenagers, do appear to bear the brunt of cyber bullying and it’s negative effects. So more has to be done to educate kids and the wider community about this growing problem. I would hate to see a case like the tragic death of Megan Meiers repeated here in Australia.