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What Safer Internet Day means to an abuse lawyer

Internet bullying at its worst | Shine Lawyers

Lisa Flynn | Shine Lawyers Written by:
Lisa Flynn
National Special Counsel - Abuse Law

Safer Internet Day in 2018 is about creating, connecting and sharing respect. Its motto is that “A better internet starts with you”.

I like to think of this as a call to action for every individual and every organisation/ institution to really consider what we all can do to make the internet, which is now a huge part of our lives, safer for adults, and especially for children who are the most vulnerable sector of our society.

I hope that everyone uses this day as an opportunity to consider what more can be done? What more should be done? What more has to be done?

With the rise of online abuse being a contributing cause to the unnecessary deaths of so many young people, such tragic loss, begs the question – why aren’t we all, including organisations and institutions, doing more to stop it?!

We need action from the companies who own the social media platforms and the Apps to put people before profits and do whatever they can to detect and stop online abuse.

Facebook for example has media monitors, specifically employed to remove offensive or dangerous behaviour from our computer screens. But there is still not enough being done to stop the abuse, to report behaviour to authorities and to save lives If people exist to monitor this content, why aren’t they rising to also look at creating safeguards that protect all users of their platforms.

A similar block, should exist on Instagram and the various chat rooms that our children enter into.

“But what of our freedoms? You might ask.”  I don’t want somebody monitoring every conversation I have.” In this day and age, I’m not sure social media provides too many privacy protections, except, it seems, for the moment, many have assumed that social media platforms offer a license to humiliate, hurt and expose. Sadly, the wounded aren’t just at school age.

We need action from Schools to ensure that they have the ability to detect when a student is in danger and are equipped to deal with it

In schools we need no more tragedies like Dolly’s. Schools have a duty of care to those in their care and must take all reasonable steps to protect the safety of those in their care. This can extend to safety of students in online environments and schools can be found culpable for online bullying in some situations.  Allowing unmonitored internet access through school computers, by students on smart phones and other devices at or during school or in connection with school activities pose potential liabilities for schools.

It is really important that the people in our schools are properly informed and trained about what is out there, what safeguards can and should be used and how to support someone who is in danger from online abuse and how to stop the abuse.

We need all parents and caregivers to take responsibility to make the on-line world safer for their children

There is a common misapprehension that the world of cyberspace is complex and therefore there is nothing a parent or a caregiver can do. However, a parent CAN teach respect to their children. They CAN teach kids on the effects of bullying, they CAN try to stop the cycle, if they’re aware of it.

As parents we need to be informed about the dangers and we need also to understand what safeguards can be put in place. We can’t turn our heads and plead that the internet is “beyond us”. We need to get tech savvy so we can protect our kids – as ferociously as we do in the physical world.

We need to understand that this is not just a kid’s issue……..

What we are seeing is that if respect online is not addressed at school age and within households, sadly, this form of bullying starts at school, travels into universities and permeates our workplaces. There are few escapes from a keyboard warrior and this is why a day like Safer Internet Day must exist to encourage lobbying, laws and legal ramifications for the abuse of that so many people experience online.

 It’s alarming but about 20% of Australians have experienced image based abuse. That kind of abuse is when intimate, nude or sexual images are distributed or threatened to be distributed without the consent of those pictured.  Online abuse includes coercion and controlling behaviour of the victim by the abuser and is not limited to revenge porn.

  • 25% are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders
  • 24% are women aged 18 – 24 years
  • 19% are LGBTI
  • 18% are those who speak a language other than English at home

*Henry, Nicola & Powell, Anastasia & Flynn, Asher & Gendered Violence and Abuse Research Alliance & RMIT University. Centre for Global Research et al. (2017). Not just ‘revenge pornography’: Australians’ experiences of image-based abuse: a summary report. RMIT University, Melbourne.

And we need the laws to catch up……

While there are Commonwealth laws prohibiting image based abuse including grooming, indecent images, child sexual exploitation, stalking, threats of violence or the use of a carriage service provider to harass, menace or cause offence, not every state has specific criminal laws about image based abuse and it’s about time that that started to change

In NSW, Victoria, SA and ACT it is an offence to record, distribute or threaten to distribute an intimate image without consent. There are no criminal laws prohibiting image based abuse in Tasmania, Qld, NT and WA*. Shockingly, no states or territories currently have laws imposing civil penalties for image based abuse.

That means for every student harassed at school or a university, little can be done and little is done to protect those made vulnerable online.

We also need workplaces and our Universities to take tough approaches to online behaviour that is not respectful and safe

The Skynet scandal at ADFA involved ADFA cadets sharing and illegally downloading material including pornographic material and using that to bully and intimidate other cadets.

It came after the government announced a $5 million package of six inquiries into sexual misconduct in the defence forces.

Similar harassment has been reported across universities by award winning journalist, Nina Funnell who exposed a culture of bullying, harassment and boys clubs where the internet was used to promote vile objectification of women on campus. The page was still allowed to operate. The boys continue to be educated at university.

This tolerance needs to stop.

So, what does Safer Internet Day mean to me?

It appears, in every corner of the earth, keyboard warriors exist everywhere. They bully, threaten, abuse and avoid penalty. It’s time we fought harder to stop them.

We all need to do our bit.

This year, Safer Internet Day’s slogan is ‘create, connect and share respect: A better internet starts with you.” It does and we need to change that culture from our kids to our cadets; our playgrounds to our multi-nationals. We also need to look at what we ourselves need to change.

Written by Lisa Flynn on . Last modified: February 7, 2018.

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