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    August 2019

    Combating Cyberharassment at K-12 Schools

    sad middle school girl staring at cell phone

    School-based efforts to minimize harassment should address cyber threats as well as traditional in-person incidents. Rates of cyberharassment among students are increasing, due to constant use of phones and computers. Consider this United Educators (UE) claim: 

      A male student sent text messages to a female student and her friends, claiming he and she had a sexual relationship. He emailed a video to them, in which his avatar described sex acts to a character representing the female student. Because of this bullying, the female student attempted suicide.

    Cyberbullying, as depicted in the previous example, is only one type of cyberharassment. Others include sexting and electronic dating violence. Understanding the different types of cyberharassment students may face helps identify effective prevention strategies.

    Types of Cyberharassment 

    • Cyberbullying is the intentional harassment or intimidation of another person by electronic means. Rates of cyberbullying for middle and high school students increased by 35% from 2016 to 2019. About 15% of middle and high school students have cyberbullied someone.
    • Sexting is sending sexually explicit material via phone. More than 10% of middle school and high school students have sent or received sexually explicit text messages. By age 17, one in four students has received a sexually explicit image, and one in five has sent such an image. Juveniles and adults who send sexually explicit images to a minor may be in violation of child pornography and sexting laws, which vary by jurisdiction. The examples below depict several types of sexting:
      • Consensual—Two students in a sexual relationship send explicit texts to each other.
      • Nonconsensual—Student 1 sends Student 2 a Snapchat containing an unrequested naked photo. 
      • Sextortion—Student 1 threatens to post a naked photo of Student 2 unless Student 2 pays money to Student 1. 
    • Electronic dating violence is the use of technology to embarrass, harass, or threaten a romantic partner, according to two researchers on the subject. It occurs between two people engaged in a romantic or intimate relationship. Teenagers are at a higher risk than adults; about one in 10 high school students has experienced electronic dating violence, such as cyberbullying, posting embarrassing content without permission, or sextortion. Sometimes one or both partners control the electronic access of the other. In extreme cases, one partner may prevent the other from using a computer, social media, or phone without the partner’s supervision.  

    Prevent Cyberharassment 

    To limit the risks posed by cyberharassment, consider these actions:

    • Adopt policies. Adopt a technology use policy that defines misconduct and states the consequences. Work with local legal counsel to determine whether actions constitute misconduct if they occur off school property or use equipment not owned by the school.  
    • Establish procedures for responding to complaints. Develop and publicize a process for reporting cyberharassment. Identify who should receive such complaints. Legal counsel also can advise on the proper reporting process and handling of evidence.
    • Provide education. Train students, parents, and educators on cyberharassment identification, prevention, and response. Include applicable state laws and school policies.
    • Know your state’s laws. Cyberharassment laws vary by jurisdiction and can include those related to child pornography, revenge porn, mandatory reporting, and sexting. Consult legal counsel for jurisdiction-specific guidance.

    To continue preventing all forms of cyberharassment on your campus, follow technological advances and update your policies accordingly.


    Combating Cyberbullying and Sexting in Public Schools

    Cyberbullying Research Center

    Sexting Policies in Schools

    The Pressure to Sext: What You Need to Know About Sexting Coercion

    AASA: Sexting

    Cincinnati Public Schools Bullying and Sexting Policy

    Phillips Exeter Academy Sexting Policy, pp. 13, 21


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