Cyberbullying hard to catch, but must be stopped

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    Assistant professor of educational psychology Amber Esping compared cyberbullying to the way packs of hyenas hunt their prey in the wild. They stalk herds of animals to find the weakest one, chase it until it cannot flee any longer, and then eat it alive.

    As a professor, Esping discussed with students how hyena hunting paralleled human bullying and what can be done to change it, she said.

    Esping shared the hyena example, as well as others, to give education students tools to address bullying in their classrooms in the future. She said she believed cyberbullying, however, has surpassed physical bullying to become the easiest and most frequent form of bullying.

    Sophomore secondary education major Matthew Castaneda said he defined cyberbullying as bullying through any type of technology such as e-mail, social networking sites and text messaging. Students studying to be teachers in the future have learned the difficulties of defining the issue and its possible solutions, he said.

    Esping said she taught students about the effects of cyberbullying and what they can do to help. She said she focused on helping students realize they could be the first line of defense for students by noticing a problem in the classroom.

    “Quite often students don’t go home and tell their mom and dad what’s going on for a variety of reasons,” Esping said. “So teachers are the ones that might know about it first.”

    Castaneda said teachers could handle cases of physical bullying more easily because they see the evidence of it. Unless a student tells a teacher about being cyberbullied and asks the teacher for help, it would be challenging to resolve the problem, he said.

    “Cyberbullying, in general, is something very difficult to handle as an educator,” Castaneda said. “And because of that, it’s not terribly high on the priority list because it’s not something that we can readily intervene in.”

    Esping agreed that teachers have a harder time detecting the attacks and even then, the boundaries of cyberbullying are unclear.

    “It’s easier to understand how to intervene when it’s visible, physical bullying right in front of you,” Esping said. “It is more clear that bullying is happening. [But] it isn’t always clear where that line is with cyberbullying.”

    Michael Bachmann, an assistant professor of criminal justice, said he felt the best response to cyberbullying had various components.

    Improvements in legislature, increased law enforcement response and more victim resources would begin to address the problem.

    “On the policing side, we need a shift in perception of law enforcement on the danger of cyberbullying,” Bachmann said. “And we need adequate technical equipment for better law enforcement responses.”

    Because of a lack of trained personnel, adequate equipment and the know-how, law enforcement has focused on more large-scale issues, he said.

    “There’s hardly any attention paid to it from the law enforcement side until there are severe consequences because of this lack of resources, especially in the cyber realm,” Bachmann said.

    Esping said she believed law enforcement needed to catch up with the technology. She said she felt the recent increase in awareness and attention to the issue came at a high price.

    “It’s tragic that kids had to die for people to really pay attention,” Esping said. “But that is often the way it goes. I am so, so happy that people are talking about this.”

    Bachmann said he felt the increased media attention helped but should also focus on victims by providing helpful information about what to do and who to go to. He said he also believed resource centers to help victims recover from cyberbullying should be established.

    Esping said she was happy that people have begun discussing possible changes for the future. Websites, YouTube videos, news stories and educational films have spoken out against cyberbullying.

    “The idea that bullying is normal and a rite of passage is very sad,” Esping said. “Just because it’s common does not mean that it’s okay. And I think people are getting that message in a very big way right now.”