real life

A teen asked the saddest question about being abused online.

She threw me to the ground and punched me several times. Kids filmed it. I was all alone. I just went and laid in a ditch and my dad found me. I wanted to die so bad. I drank bleach. When I got home [from hospital] I saw Facebook – ‘she deserved it. I hope she’s dead’. People posting pictures of bleach and ditches. ‘She should try a different bleach’. ‘I hope she dies this time and isn’t so stupid’. ‘I hope she sees this and kills herself’.

A few weeks later Amanda Todd was found dead in her parents’ home in Canada. She was found in the evening, at 6pm. She was only 15.

This week, data from Australia’s Children’s eSafety Commission revealed 19 per cent of teenagers have suffered abuse online in the last 12 months. That’s almost one in five adolescents, aged between 14 and 17, that are scrolling their phones, social feeds, copping abuse and hate from bullies hiding at the other end of the keyboard.

We know that kids who are bullied are twice as likely to contemplate suicide than those who aren’t.

We also know that one in five teens who are cyber bullied will contemplate suicide. One in 10 will attempt it.

What does this abuse, or cyber bullying, look like?

Lies and rumours take hold. Gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, disability or transgender identity are the most common topics of target.  The teen is laughed at, ridiculed, threatened, harassed. Because of the speed and omnipresence of social media a ripple of hate and abuse quickly becomes sea.

Threats are common. “The plan was to attack me and slam my head into cement,” Nicole Edgington told Choices. The threats started on her 17th birthday, when she began receiving messages through social media and text message. ‘Whore’. ‘Slut’. ‘Snitch’.

Accounts are hacked. Personal, sometimes intimate, photographs are shared without consent.

But teenage victims don’t know when to ask for help.

‘How much online abuse do I have to put up with before I tell someone?’ is one of the saddest questions Australian cyber safety educator Susan McLean has been asked recently by high school students. “We need to do more to encourage that willingness among young people to speak up,” Ms McLean told The Courier Mail.

It’s lonely, being hated by the internet. It can come from all angles, at any time of the day.

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It can creep into bedrooms at night. Catch teens unaware, as they wait for the morning school bus. Stop them mid-smile, when they’re reading the comments on what they thought was a happy photograph.

100% connectivity means there is no reprieve. Escape is impossible.

Teens are suffering and they don’t know how to make it stop. How much online abuse do I have to put up with before I ask for help? 

It’s a question that suggests online abuse is a normal and expected part of teenage life. Like learning to drive or not wanting to make your bed.

Shouldn’t one comment of hate, one message of ridicule, already be too much?

The statistic – 19% of teenagers are victims – makes online abuse feel like an unfortunate byproduct of owning a device. That the risk of hate, abuse and ridicule is a price to pay for being connected, keeping in contact with friends, sharing photographs online, being young.

When will it stop? When will the laws become tougher? The education more suitable? The conversation more serious? The consequences for online abusers more real?

No teenager should ever be in a place where there is no hope. No teenager deserves to be defenceless in the face of an internet that is abusive, harmful and threatening. No teenager should have to ask ‘how much is too much?’ when it comes to abuse of any kind. 

If you or a loved one need help, please take a look at the following websites:

Lifeline Australia for crisis support and suicide prevention: https://www.lifeline.org.au/

Headspace, for online counseling:http://www.headspace.org.au/is-it-just-me/getting-help/eheadspace

Kidshelpline: http://www.kidshelp.com.au/kids/get-help/web-counselling/

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