Bullies turn to hi-tech torment


Cellphones and the internet now mean bullied school pupils often get “no respite”, the children’s commissioner says.

“While parents may have been on the receiving end of a small group of bullies in their days at school, their children are potentially exposed to hundreds or thousands of bullies via mobile phone and internet technology,” commissioner Cindy Kiro writes in a report to be made public today.

The report into school safety, headed by Office of the Children’s Commissioner adviser Janis Carroll-Lind, follows calls for a national inquiry by parents of bullying victims at Hutt Valley High School.

In December 2007, nine boys at the school were dragged to the ground and violated by a pack of six classmates.

The report, to be unveiled at a school violence summit in Wellington today, criticises some schools for not even having a policy to deal with bullying and violence.

It cites cases of severe violence in schools being ignored by teachers and of pupils who were too afraid to go to school.

In one case, a student took a knife to school to protect himself after another threatened to stab him. Some schools either have no systems in place to deal with bullying, or the systems are not robust enough to cope when things go wrong, the report finds.

“There is evidence to suggest that in schools where things went wrong, it went horribly wrong.”

Dr Kiro said it was “disappointing” to find that while many pupils were either bullied or knew of others being bullied, most felt there was no point speaking out.

Children who witnessed bullying needed to feel safe to speak out and not condone it, she said. “There’s an awful lot bystanders can do.”

It was also important for parents to understand new forms of bullying, which were potentially dangerous because they could attract a large audience. “In terms of cyberspace, the potential audience is enormous and you can never take it back.”

The report notes that besides negative text messages, mobile phones can be used to gather a large number of pupils in a short time “for example, to the ‘top field’ to witness a fight”.

“Furthermore, mobile phones can film the fight so victims can potentially be re-victimised over and over when the video footage is circulated among a wide network of ‘spectators’.”

It recommends policies restricting mobile phone use at school. It also says many teachers do not use or understand “interactive online technologies” such as chatrooms and email used by their pupils. They need training to understand and address the issues relating to cyber-bullying.

The report also notes there have been instances where serious assaults occurred in schools, warranting police intervention, but police were not notified.

Children as young as five participated in the research. The youngest children reported being called names or being excluded from activities, though some had also been physically bullied with objects like sticks.

Pupils interviewed for the report suggested ways to tackle bullying, including cameras in schools, more teachers on duty, playground supervision, student advocates and red cards for bullies.