Just like the times, child sexual abuse (CSA) is evolving and the spectrum of interpersonal mistreatment is expanding. We are in the midst of a digital age where our phones are an extension of our arms, keeping us constantly connected to one another, and the Internet is a necessity to our children’s daily routine.
It may be a new bottle, but it’s the same old wine. Sexual abuse is viral. Cyberbullying is linked with sexual abuse – this destructive behavior takes on multiple forms and is more common than you think. Nearly 40% of child sexual abuse is committed by older or larger children, and can occur through online solicitation and harassment.
Cyberbullying is commonly known any type of personal attack or harassment online. It can take the form of malicious gossip, compromising pictures and videos, and false profiles of targeted individuals. It can easily be committed anonymously and can be impossible to trace to the source. Once slanderous material is posted, it’s difficult to erase.
Just as physical CSA is often kept a secret, victims of cyberbullying often suffer in silence. The only way to break down the barriers is to talk about it.
The Facts of Cyberbullying
Like physical sexually abuse, cyberbullying can have an extremely negative impact on the victim. According to Osteopathic.org, children who have been bullied are more likely to be afraid to attend school, take up alcohol and drug use, receive poor grades, experience health issues and have low self-esteem. These victims are also more susceptible to being forced into unwanted sexual activity, bullied into sending scandalous or sexually suggestive photos and/or videos through abundance of social networks, apps, and servers – the newest being SnapChat.
SnapChat is a photo messaging app, allowing users to send photos and videos to friends, with the central selling point being that the media disappears “forever” after a brief, user-specified amount of time. This app may encourage the act of sexting, as it is seemingly safer than sending sexually explicit photos and/or videos via text messaging. In fact, 1 in 5 teenagers reported having sent or posted nude photos of themselves, and half of them were requested to send that photo. The allure of the data erasing and the normality of sexting in today’s culture may justify any coercion, manipulation or pressure that took place to get a SnapChat user to utilize the app in such a way.
Statistics show that online harassment is very common. Over 50 percent of teens report being bullied and about the same amount admit having bullied someone themselves. 30 percent report having been threatened online and over 50 percent don’t inform their parents of the bullying. Less than 20 percent of incidents are reported to the police. About 20 percent of teens report having posted explicit photos of themselves online, which makes them vulnerable to bullying and humiliation, according to bullyingstatistics.org.
Is There a Solution?
What can parents do to combat the problem? Experts suggest assuming that teenagers will not disclose to them that they are being bullied. In the case of sexting, it is unlikely that children will admit to their parents that they are participating in sexually explicit behavior via their social devices. Pair that with the embarrassment and shame that accompanies being bullied into engaging in this act, or harassed afterwards, and the victim will likely suffer silently – without any physical evidence to suggest otherwise.
Cyberbullying can be combated with parental involvement. Parents can talk to their kids and take measures to be aware if their child is being bullied, keeping an eye out for signs of withdrawal and depression, reluctance to go to school and sudden changes in grades or social activities. As parents, make use of privacy controls on electronic devices. Keep an open line of communication with your child. Protect your kids from negative entertainment and make positive TV shows and channels available to them. Go out for weekly dinners and share casual activities to establish a trusting relationship.
For serious types of bullying, like threats of physical harm, victims shouldn’t hesitate to notify law enforcement.
A National Issue
Government has taken notice of online bullying and 48 states have laws addressing the issue and bills are pending in several others including Delaware, New York, Indiana, Maine and Kentucky. Many organizations have been formed to raise awareness the public and teens about cyberbullying and ways to prevent it. Certainly, it has become one of the hot-button issues in schools and among teens and children.
Bullying, in some form or another, will continue to happen; however, with education and effective parent-teacher-child communication, we can begin to decrease the frequency of cyberbullying.