Study probes the legalities of cyber-bullying

September 26, 2007

A research team led by Queensland University of Technology wants to help stop today's school cyber bullies from becoming tomorrow's boardroom bullies.

The three-year study into cyber bullying is one of 13 QUT projects awarded a total of $3.19 million by the Australian Research Council in its latest funding round of Linkage Project grants.

Research team leader Dr Marilyn Campbell, from QUT's Faculty of Education, said the legal implications of cyber bullying were not fully understood and the law was now "playing catch up".

"The study will guide schools on policies and practices that will assist and protect victims, educate students and families and help schools avoid liability and keep them out of court,'' Dr Campbell said. "We're aiming to inform the development of intervention and prevention strategies and potential reform of the existing law and policies.''

Cyber bullying is perpetrated electronically via e-mail, instant messaging, uploaded files, text messages and blogs.

Dr Campbell said nerds were indeed having their revenge, with technology creating a new breed of school-age bullies which co-existed with the face-to-face variety.

"There is now the potential for more adult bullies to emerge," she said. "Legally, it poses some interesting problems. Children under 10 have no criminal liability and older kids are hard enough to pursue, yet schools are concerned about possible civil action.

"In any case, children fear retribution if they dob in bullies, so adults who intervene need to do so sensitively or risk making the problem worse."

Dr Campbell said researchers would work with focus groups of students, teachers, principals and parents to look at the incidence and consequences of cyber bullying, seeking helpful approaches. The next step will be to look at school's policies and procedures and how they deal with the problem.

Dr Campbell said QUT research in 2002 and 2007 with small samples showed 14 per cent of children reported cyber bullying.

The project is a joint collaboration involving QUT, Macrossans Lawyers, the Queensland Independent Education Union, the Queensland Teachers' Union, Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Brisbane Catholic Education, the Queensland Chapter of Australian and New Zealand Law Association and Emil Ford & Co - Lawyers.
-end-
Other QUT projects to receive funding under the ARC grants scheme include:

Queensland University of Technology

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