As its consequences grow increasingly dire for young Australians, cyberbullying has become a major concern for parents of school-aged children.
Determining the exact number of Australian children who have been personally affected by cyberbullying is difficult, largely due to different interpretations of this ubiquitous new phenomenon; and a lack of readily accessible and reliable data. However, the estimated number of victims is said to be growing as the Internet and social media continues to gain global traction and increasing popularity within younger demographics.
What is known about cyberbullying is that it can have devastating effects on young children and teenagers, ranging from school failure and low self-esteem, to anxiety, depression, and even self harm, including suicide. In some instances, cyberbully victims can actually become perpetrators; with a quarter of victims admitting to having engaged in cyberbullying themselves.
The long-term consequences for young people who regularly engage in cyberbullying can include substance abuse, delinquency, and involvement in the abuse of a spouse or child.
Therefore, a question that many parents are being forced to ask is – what are the cyberbullying laws in Australia – and how are they helping to protect my child?
Understanding Australia’s Cyberbullying Laws
Although cyberbullying is not a specific offence under Commonwealth Legislation, it is an offence to use a carriage service to harass or cause offence under the Criminal Code Act. The maximum penalty is 3 years imprisonment.
Cyberbullying laws may vary from state to state. The following is a list of each territory’s individual cyberbullying laws: Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia. However, there are certain cyberbullying behaviours which are recognised as crimes under Australian National Law, such as:
Threatening, harassing, or offending someone
Accessing someone’s personal account without their permission
Cyberbullying can affect anyone, and anyone can become a cyberbully. However, its pervasiveness is particularly apparent within young generations, and a significant amount of cyberbullies are minors themselves (usually a peer of the victim). This can make cyberbullying a legally problematic issue.
In instances where the perpetrator is a minor, the Australian Police tend only to act if the situation is deemed serious, and even then they usually favour non-punitive approaches (i.e. warnings, or juvenile justice conferences).
Police will typically avoid dealing directly with ‘low level matters’ that involve juvenile offenders, preferring for less serious cases to be dealt with by parents or, where appropriate, schools, Internet and mobile phone service providers, websites, and non-criminal courts.
It’s also worth noting that cyberbullying can be done in secret, and perpetrators are able to easily conceal their identities by making false profiles or posting anonymously, which can make it even more difficult to take legal action against them.
What Does This Mean for Parents?
Cyberbullying is a formidable issue in society, and it can take many different forms; some of which either do not warrant legal prosecution, or are difficult to enforce due to involving a juvenile offender.
Furthermore, given that the law can only become involved once a crime has already been committed, the cyberbullying laws in Australia do not guarantee a child’s protection from exposure to cyberbullying. Therefore, it’s crucial that parents and schools proactively try to prevent cyberbullying through effective online safety education. Parents may also want to consider utilising parental control software to monitor their child’s online activity and evaluate risk factors as they arise.
What Should I Do If My Child Has Been Cyberbullied?
Even though Australia does not have explicitly defined cyberbullying laws, it is still worth notifying the Police if your child has been targeted by an online bully. Police are able to capture the information, determine whether or not an offence has been committed, and conduct further investigation if appropriate under State or Commonwealth Law.
Serious instances of cyberbullying or stalking can also be reported to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN). Children and parents are also able to lodge federal complaints with the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, a dedicated online safety complaints system for Australian children and teenagers.
If you have experienced cyberbullying or witnessed someone else being cyberbullied and would like help, please contact:
Kids Help Line (1800 55 1800) is a free and confidential, telephone counselling service for Australian residents aged 5 to 25. http://www.kidshelp.com.au
Lifeline (13 11 14) is a free and confidential service staffed by trained telephone counsellors. http://www.lifeline.org.au
The Australian Human Rights Commission (1300 656 419) has a complaint handling service that may investigate complaints of discrimination, harassment and bullying