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"It went on for over 2 years." When Kirra was 43, she was cyber bullied to breaking point.

After two and a half years of relentless bullying, Kirra Pendergast reached her breaking point.

She was sitting in her car, not far from her home in Byron Bay, having the “worst kind of thoughts you could possibly have.”

But she was interrupted by her phone ringing – it was her 16-year-old son. She answered and he babbled away telling her about his day and it was the jolt she needed to be able to drive the rest of the way home.

“I got rid of that thought process in my head knowing he needed me,” Kirra told Mamamia’s podcast No Filter. 

You can listen to Kirra’s full chat with Mia here. Post continues after podcast.

Kirra had a big career in the IT business consulting sector. She knew cyber security and internet safety like the back of her hand. But it didn’t stop her being cyber bullied so badly at the age of 43 that it nearly crushed her.

“I got into a situation with an ex business associate. We had a bit of a fallout and this person took it upon themselves to bully me. They knew my deepest darkest secrets about everything and turned my world upside down,” said Kirra.

The sheer effort this person went to was astounding. The secrets Kirra had told them went straight back to the people they were about, except they “used little bits of fact mixed in with a whole lot of fiction” in an effort to cause even more hurt.

It was coming at her from numerous numbers and numerous accounts, fake accounts were popping up in her name and being used by the bully to ‘bully’ themselves.

The nature of the bullying was deeply personal, it was about Kirra’s physical appearance. “How I looked, what size I was, what I ate. All of that stuff. It was my Achilles heel,” Kirra told Mia Freedman.

Watch: The Safe on Social toolkit. Post continues after video.

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Hashtags using descriptors of Kirra’s physical appearance were created and used to troll her and she became so afraid to go out in public she just stayed indoors.

“I am from a fourth generation family here [in Byron Bay]. I used to be at everything and I just went to ground,” she said.

“Just block it,” her friends would say. But that was near impossible.

“You cannot block it because they come at you from so many different directions that you cannot keep on top of it. Then you have friends who think they’re doing the right thing taking screenshots and texting it to you at 11pm at night, just as you’ve gone through the whole process of having a bath, drinking tea – sometimes drinking whiskey – so that you can actually get some sleep at night,” said Kirra.

Eventually, after weathering years of abuse Kirra just went completely quiet. It eventually eased, but she didn’t get better.

“It was relentless and went on for far too long. For me it went on for two and a half years,” said Kirra.

“I got really sick because I bottled it all up. I refused to talk to anyone about it back then and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve been able to speak about it.

“My whole world was turned upside down and I ended up with auto immune arthritis – which I only just got the all clear from. I was in a wheelchair, I was gaining weight. Everything they [the bully] was saying appeared physically,” said Kirra.

Throughout all of this, Kirra tried to take her bully to court. But the judge threw out her printouts of screenshots as ‘journalistic’ evidence. Her efforts in the justice system drained her of cash and by the time she found herself alone in that car thinking the darkest of dark thoughts, she had $68 to her name.

It was the phone call from her teenager that changed everything. After hitting rock bottom she went home and went to bed and woke up at 3am with a burning idea.

 

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Why are strangers asking kids for photos of their feet? When you talk to thousands of kids about what they get up to on their phones you learn a lot about the behaviour of kids online.⁠ Cybersafety expert @kirrapendergast has visited schools all over Australia and given talks to more than 500,000 students, teachers and parents about how to stay safe and be smart online.⁠ She’s not about bans, guilt trips or making parents feel ashamed or overwhelmed. Kirra is about helping kids and the adults in their lives to protect themselves and avoid exploitation and bullying.⁠ ⁠ In this episode we talk about her own experience with cyberbullying, which led her to start a business that now helps thousands of kids to stay safe on social media.⁠ Together, Kirra and @mamamiaaus have created the Safe On Social Toolkit – a resource for anyone who wants to keep their kids safe online.⁠ Its an online course made up of short videos you can watch on your phone, that will answer every question you’ve ever had about how to stay safe and use social media in a positive way.⁠ ⁠ For more information on the course, how to sign up and how to keep your kids safe online, visit: www.safeonsocialtoolkit.com. Link in my bio to listen!

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“I sat at my desk and typed in ‘I keep people safe on social’ and I typed in ‘safeonsocial.com’ and the URL was available. I used $14.99 on the URL and I spent $32 on registering the business name,” she told No Filter.

Two days later, Kirra rang the principal of the local Byron Bay high school and said, “this is what I do. Do you want me to come and talk to the kids?” He instead invited her to speak at a local principal’s conference.

“There were 24 principals there, I’ve worked with 21 of them every year since. That was five years ago. It [my business] spread like wildfire,” said Kirra.

Now, in 2019, Kirra helps 400 schools stay safe on social, using her career experience in cyber security and her personal experience with cyber bullying to educate children about staying safe on the internet.

Last week, she took her message beyond schools and into lounge rooms, launching alongside Mamamia the Safe On Social Toolkit for parents.

Kirra got through her experience by staying silent, not retaliating, leaning on her friendships and with time. But her experience has given her valuable insights into what kids today are dealing with, with online bullying rife in our schools.

“I never judge kids when they mess up online. I am the cool auntie in schools – they tell me everything,” she said. Kirra’s experience has put her in the unique position of being able to help from the inside out. She’s arming parents and schools with the tools to catch their kids before they fall.

Do you want to know how to keep your kids safe online? Introducing the Safe on Social Toolkit: the digital ‘survival kit’ of everything parents need to know to keep their kids safe on social media right now. Get the toolkit now.

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