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Education about existing laws is needed to reduce cyberbullying – not new laws, experts say

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It’s hard to know what to do with cyber bullies, the consequences of their actions are real and severe though.

But turning them into criminals probably isn’t advisable says a submission from a group of experts. What is required is a consolidation of approaches across the states and territories.

Presenting their submission to the Senate Inquiry on cyberbullying laws, Australian Universities Anti-bullying Research Alliance (AUARA), argued that criminalising children for cyberbullying would be counter-productive.

Specific laws to punish children and young people for cyberbullying are unnecessary and would not prevent the behavior; nor would they be feasible to police and enforce, according to AUARA, which is comprised of a group of internationally recognised experts on bullying and childhood aggression from the psychological, legal, and educational fields.

There is no need for a dedicated law, according to Professor Marilyn Campbell, a researcher at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) who recently released a book on cyberbullying. “The existing laws are adequate, just not well known in the community. Making another law will not automatically stop the behaviour,” she says.

Professor Phillip Slee, an expert in child and adolescent mental health at Flinders University, says punitive laws would lead to negative consequences for young people. “Criminalising young people and misbehaviour leads to school disengagement, academic failure and dropout, and ultimately involvement in the juvenile justice system,” he says.

The AUARA experts agree that other steps are needed to address bullying, “There needs to be harmonisation of laws across states and territories,” says Associate Professor Barbara Spears, an expert in bullying and social media at UniSA.

“We need a co-ordinated whole-of-government approach, addressing all forms of bullying, which connects the world-leading resources we have here in Australia, such as the e-Safety Commission, the National Safe Schools Framework and the evidence-based resources on the National Student Wellbeing Hub.”


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