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Combating Cyber Harassment

Alyssa Keehan, Esq., CPCU, ARM
October 2020
Prevention strategies for cyberbullying, sexting, and electronic dating violence

Your K-12 school’s efforts to minimize harassment should address cyber threats as well as traditional in-person incidents. Rates of cyber harassment among students are increasing due to constant use of phones and computers.

Consider this United Educators (UE) claim: A male student sent texts to a female student and her friends, claiming he and she had a sexual relationship. He emailed them a video in which his avatar described sex acts to a character representing the female student. Because of this bullying, the female attempted suicide.

Cyberbullying, as depicted in that example, is only one type of cyber harassment. Others include sexting and electronic dating violence. Understanding the different types of cyber harassment students may face helps identify effective prevention strategies.

Types of Cyber Harassment

Cyberbullying: Intentionally harassing or intimidating another person by electronic means. Rates of cyberbullying for middle and high school students increased by 35% from 2016 to 2019. About 15% of middle and high school students have cyberbullied someone.

Sexting: Sending sexually explicit material via phone. More than 10% of middle school and high school students have sent or received sexually explicit text messages. By age 17, one in four students has received a sexually explicit image, and one in five has sent such an image. Juveniles and adults who send sexually explicit images to minors may be violating child pornography and sexting laws, which vary by jurisdiction. Consider these types of sexting:

  • Consensual — Two students in a sexual relationship send each other explicit texts.
  • Nonconsensual — Student 1 sends Student 2 a Snapchat containing an unrequested naked photo.
  • Sextortion — Student 1 threatens to post a naked photo of Student 2 unless Student 2 pays Student 1 money.

Electronic dating violence: Using technology to embarrass, harass, or threaten a romantic partner. It occurs between two people engaged in a romantic or intimate relationship. Teenagers are at a higher risk than adults; about one in 10 high school students has experienced electronic dating violence, such as cyberbullying, posting embarrassing content without permission, or sextortion. Sometimes one or both partners control the other’s electronic access. In extreme cases, one partner may prevent the other from using a computer, social media, or phone without the partner’s supervision.

Prevent Cyber Harassment

Strategies to limit the risks cyber harassment poses include:

  • Adopt a technology use policy that defines misconduct and states consequences. Work with local legal counsel to determine whether actions constitute misconduct if they occur off school property or use equipment your school doesn’t own.
  • Establish procedures for responding to complaints. Develop and publicize a process for reporting cyber harassment. Identify who should receive such complaints. Legal counsel also can advise on the proper reporting process and handling of evidence.
  • Educate students, parents, and educators on cyber harassment identification, prevention, and response. Include applicable state laws and school policies.
  • Know your state’s laws. cyber harassment laws vary by jurisdiction and can include those related to child pornography, revenge porn, mandatory reporting, and sexting. Consult legal counsel for jurisdiction-specific guidance.

To continue preventing all forms of cyber harassment on your campus, follow technological advances and update policies accordingly.


More From UE

Combating Cyberbullying and Sexting

Additional Resources

Cyberbullying Research Center: Website

Cyberbullying Research Center: Sexting Policies in Schools

Loveisrespect: The Pressure to Sext ─ What You Need to Know About Sexting Coercion

AASA: Sexting

Cincinnati Public Schools: Bullying and Sexting Policy

Phillips Exeter Academy: Sexting Policy

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