Will to end online harassment mounts

RIGHT now, there is a clarion call to action over all forms of bullying - including cyberbullying - as well as for stronger laws and greater police powers.

In January, the federal government released a discussion paper titled Enhancing Online Safety.

It flagged the creation of specific federal cyberbullying offences, including those for minors.

The government has also proposed appointing a children's e-safety commissioner with the power to demand social media sites rapidly remove material that is harmful to children.

Submissions on the paper closed earlier this month.

National Centre Against Bullying chairman Alastair Nicholson has publicly called for jail sentences for bullying.

He said situations where people were incited to take their own lives were very serious offences and the law needed to reflect that.

The former Family Court chief justice said, while proving such a scenario could be difficult, it should not be put in the too-hard basket and he looked to the New Zealand example.

In New Zealand, inciting someone to take their own life carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The New Zealand government is also looking to introduce legislation where inciting someone to kill themselves, even if they don't, can attract a three-year jail sentence.

"The message needs to get across that this behaviour is not acceptable," Mr Nicholson said.

That there are no laws against bullying stunned Tasmanian Cassie Whitehall when her 15-year-old sister, Chloe Fergusson, took her own life in 2013 after being verbally, physically and cyber- bullied.

Since then, Ms Whitehill has campaigned for change through Chloe's Law.

Ms Whitehall created the Chloe's Law Facebook page on September 14.

"Initially, it was created in anger that my sister was gone and there was nothing I could do about it," she said.

"I thought it would be a page where close family and friends could remember Chloe and share fond memories, but in less than 24 hours, there were over 10,000 likers, three days later there were over 20,000 and I realised that this is what people were looking for.

"Suddenly I was inundated with messages of support and people's own personal stories of bullying, and I knew that I had to lead the way - it was a call for change."

The campaign started out as a plea for law reform to introduce specific anti-bullying laws, including anti-cyberbullying laws in the family's home state of Tasmania, and to introduce stronger penalties for bullying offences.

It grew to include all states and territories of Australia.

In October, the Chloe's Law petition was launched in Tasmania.

In four weeks, it had more than 5000 signatures and was presented to the Tasmanian Parliament.

Shortly after, the campaign launched its national senate petition calling for a cyberbullying clause to be introduced into the telecommunications laws. This petition has more than 47,000 signatures and with the support of Senator Eric Abetz, will be presented to the Australian Senate.

Further petitions will be launched in South Australia and Queensland and on to other states.

A federal petition, started by Em Mastronardi, called Charlotte's Law - Tougher Cyber Bullying Legislation, has garnered 91,000 signatures since Charlotte Dawson took her own life last month.

The television personality had a long and publicised battle with depression and bullying.

Calls for cyberbullying laws reflect the need to tackle serious online abuse - not just for kids, but for adults too.

"The police also need the resources to be able to enforce them, and act against those who relentlessly harass others online," the petition read.

"Social media companies like Twitter must also take a more active role in the prevention of cyberbullying."

When teenager Courtney Love took her life in 2012, her mother, Ness Love-Monk, tried to get her social media accounts closed and YouTube videos taken down. She was ultimately successful with the help of police.

Lake Illawarra Local Area Commander Wayne Starling welcomed any measures which would make it easier to remove damaging material.

"Despite several requests by police it took an unacceptable period of time to remove footage from the internet," Superintendent Starling said.

"By that time, the damage had been done as numerous other kids had seen and circulated it.

"Social media is an excellent communication tool but professionally, I have found unsatisfactory delays in removing information that is harmful to our youth.

"I also know of at least one beautiful, but troubled young kid self-harming in an identical way as was displayed on the internet."

Superintendent Starling said he also supported improving legislation and strengthening police powers to help them deal with cyberbullies.

"I strongly believe in an individual's rights, however I find cyberbullying abhorrent and believe that people should be prosecuted who intimidate, bully or harass people via the internet," he said.

Friday, March 21, is the National Day against Bullying and Violence.

To find out how to get involved in the day visit bullyingnoway.gov.au.

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■ See next week's Kiama Independent for Education - a line of defence against bullying.

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