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    August 2017

    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 UE claim: 

      A male student sent text messages to a female student and her friends, claiming they 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 at K-12 schools nearly doubled in only 10 years (2007 to 2016), from 19 percent to 34 percent of middle and high school students. Fifteen percent of high school students have cyberbullied someone
    • Sexting is sending explicit material via phone. More than 10 percent of middle school and high school students have sent or received sexually explicit images. 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 occurs between two people engaged in a romantic or intimate relationship. Teenagers are at a higher risk than adults; around 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 that occur off school property or using equipment not owned by the school constitute misconduct.
    • Establish procedures for responding to complaints. Develop and publicize a process for reporting cyberharassment and identify who should receive such complaints. Legal counsel can also advise on the proper reporting process and handling of evidence.
    • Provide education. Train students, parents, and educators on cyberharassment 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.

    Follow technological advances to continue preventing all forms of cyberharassment on your campus.

    By Melanie Bennett, associate risk management counsel


    Combating Cyberbullying and Sexting in Public Schools

    Cyberbullying Research Center

    Sexting Policies in Schools

    Love Is Respect


    Jersey City Board of Education Sexting Policy

    Cincinnati Public Schools Bullying and Sexting Policy

    Phillips Exeter Academy Sexting Policy, p. 23


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