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Combating Cyber Harassment

Alyssa Keehan, Esq., CPCU, ARM
April 2024
Cyber Harassment Masthead
Prevention strategies for cyberbullying, sexting, deepfakes, 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 as well as technological advances.

Consider this 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, deepfakes, and electronic dating violence. Understanding the different types of cyber harassment students may face helps identify effective prevention strategies.

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 continue to increase. A 2023 survey indicated that over 26% of students responding had been cyberbullied within 30 days of the survey.

Sexting: Sending sexually explicit material via phone. One study found nearly 20% of students have sent sexually explicit text messages. By age 17, nearly one in three 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 an unrequested nude photo on Snapchat.
  • Sextortion — Student 1 threatens to post a naked photo of Student 2 unless Student 2 pays Student 1 money.

Deepfake images or video: Some programs use artificial intelligence to create false images or videos of a person engaged in activities, very often pornographic, the person didn’t participate in. Other programs can take real images of a person and “nudify” them. It is often difficult for a casual viewer to determine these images have been faked, altered, or created by a computer. Sexual deepfakes are a subset of Non-Consensual Intimate Imagery (NCII) and are a form of sexual harassment.

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.
  • Update your sexual harassment policy. Ensure it includes the types of cyber harassment mentioned above and is flexible enough to include technologies that may enter the mainstream in the future.
  • 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: Sexting Policies in Schools

Love Is Respect: Digital Boundaries

Cincinnati Public Schools: Bullying and Sexting Policy

Phillips Exeter Academy: Sexting Policy



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