ONLINE harassment among young schoolkids in Spain has increased by 65% in the last five years, which adds up to around 6,500 victims during that period
And Ana was one of those victims, whose life became a living hell when she was 12. Initially, it was a case of whispered insults and furtive shoves at her Pamplona school, in northern Spain. Then the campaign really took off.
“You disgusting whore. You’re so easy. You’re a slut,” shouted the ringleader. “Why don’t you just die! I don’t want to breathe the same air as you!”
The campaign lasted four long years, during which time Ana found herself entirely alone as the bullies prevented other students from approaching her.
One humiliating episode involved her gym clothes being pulled from her rucksack and thrown in the air. “Watch out! The virus is contagious!” came the accompanying cry.
Insults became a daily reality for Ana, who was persecuted by text and on social networks, even in the safety of her own home.
In 2016, she was no longer able to cope with her situation at her Pamplona school and left. The insults and attacks from her classmates had made her so anxious and depressed, that she needed therapy and drugs to overcome the trauma, according to the statement read out in court.
Her parents, who’d also had enough of their child’s bullying, had, fortunately, taken action. Ana’s main tormentor was sentenced to 14 months’ probation and ordered to comply with a 300-metre restraining order.
Just 842 cases of cyber-bullying among minors were reported in 2012, compared with 1,364 between January and October, 2017, according to data by the Interior Ministry’s Crime Statistics System.
And, in total, the Spanish Government has, in fact, 6,500 cases on record from that period. Carmena del Moral, legal analyst for Save the Children, said: “Children are gaining access, from an increasingly-young age, to very powerful weapons, and a world without rules: the internet.”
Carmena is convinced that the extent of the problem is even greater than statistics suggest. “Many cases are not reported and remain under wraps,” she said. “The reasoning behind the data implies that some 82,000 minors are being targeted.”
She has published her own study, based on the personal accounts of 21,500 students, aged 12-16, in which 6.9% admitted to having been cyber-bullied.
According to her research, 4.2% of the victims believe they were victimised for their sexual orientation; 5% said it was down to the colour of their skin or their religion; and 16% said it was because of their physical attributes.
WhatsApp, internet forums, social networks and emails are all useful tools for the cyber-bully, and victimisation has risen in direct proportion to their popularity. In addition, cellphones have become the cyber-bully’s partner in crime.
According to the report, “Digital Society in Spain 2017,” 86% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 have a cellphone and use it for messaging (81.7%) and access to social networks (77.5%).
“Compared with traditional bullying, in which children are in a safe environment when they get home, we are now up against a phenomenon that carries on 24 hours a day, and seven days a week,” said Carmena. “There is no respite for the victims.”
Bullying, both virtual and in person, drove 16-year-old Arancha to commit suicide in Usera, Madrid, in 2015, in a case that hit the headlines.
One of the many messages she received from her tormentor, read: “You slut, what are you saying about me? F*** you! Give me 50 euros or I’m going to bring my cousins and more people to beat you up.”
The most recent report from the Attorney General’s Office expresses its concern over the escalation of the problem, and the fact that many of the bullies are under 14 and too young to be penalised.
“Incidents of bullying happen more outside the classroom than in them, if that’s possible,” it adds. “This is because access to new technology is happening at an increasingly early age.”
Researchers have found that cyber-bullying is also used to establish controlling relationships. “The most common incidents among Secondary [ESO] students are from anonymous people, with false profiles, who start to bully minors by asking for intimate photos of them,” says Diego Lucena.
He is the co-ordinator of a bullying-prevention project, which is functioning in 10 High Schools and 18 Junior Schools in the Madrid region, in collaboration with the Spanish Footballer’s Association (AFE).
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