What Jennifer Lawrence can teach us about sexting among teens

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on October 8, 2014

sexting adults girlsThis week, the Washington Post proclaimed that “sexting is the new first base.” This assertion was grounded in the results of a research study first published in 2012 (based on data from 2010). Researchers found that over one-fourth (28%) of 948 teens from seven public high schools in southeast Texas had sent a naked picture of themselves to someone else at some point in their lifetime. Other interesting findings included the fact that 31% of those surveyed revealed that they asked someone else for a sext, compared to a majority of respondents (57%) who indicated they had been asked for a sext. So, while it shouldn’t be considered a new norm and the majority of individuals simply don’t do it, it is happening to some extent. That is our reality.

Yesterday, a friend pointed me to a Vanity Fair cover story which shares a very candid and vulnerable interview with Academy Award-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence (if you don’t know her, I don’t know where you have been over the last few years). In it, she discusses how violated, angry, and devastated she felt after hackers stole private pictures of her from her iCloud account, images that she had shared with her significant other over time. And then a specific sentiment she expressed struck me:

“Every single thing that I tried to write made me cry or get angry. I started to write an apology, but I don’t have anything to say I’m sorry for. I was in a loving, healthy, great relationship for four years. It was long distance, and either your boyfriend is going to look at porn or he’s going to look at you.”

Without a doubt, I feel for Jennifer. I cannot imagine how unbelievably awful it is for something like this to happen. And I am not here to blame her in the least for what happened. I hope that the FBI succeeds in tracking down the culprits, and I hope that time helps bring healing (as she mentions in her interview) and she can put this behind her. Furthermore, those who sext really need to consider the depth of harm and pain she has experienced because of it, and determine if the benefits of their own participation outweigh the risk.

Where am I going with this, and how does all of this come together? I’m glad you asked. To me, Jennifer Lawrence’s words in the quote above underscore (in part) why sexting is a “thing.” You might say, what does it matter – every adult has a right to take and send naked pictures of themselves. I don’t disagree with that. But I spend my professional life trying to help and support a comparatively vulnerable population of adolescents make good decisions involving their technology use. And when nude pictures sent initially between possible or actual romantic partners get spread much more widely involving adolescents, it sometimes leads to disastrous consequences, like cyberbullying, threats, extortion, and suicide. To note, I am focusing in this blog on girls in heterosexual relationships since Jennifer Lawrence is a young woman esteemed by teen girls far and wide. We know that girls solicit sexts too, and we can bracket the other issues of sexting by guys, sexting in non-heterosexual relationships, and laws related to hacking and distributing personal images of others for now, and cover them in future blog posts.

I think most of us would agree that we live in a hypersexualized society. And in our culture, sexting can be construed as a way for adolescents to explore their sexuality without actually participating in the act of sex. Indeed, several teens have told us that they engage in sexting because “it is safer than having sex.” They don’t have to worry about getting pregnant or contracting a disease. “I can trust my boyfriend,” they say. “It’s not a big deal, and everyone in a relationship is doing it.” A study by Cox Communications in 2009 identified the following major motivations among 655 teens: because someone asked me to (43%), to have fun (43%), to impress someone (21%), to feel good about myself (18%), to try and date someone (8%). Another study involving 378 college freshmen in 2012 found that 17% did so because they felt pressured by a boyfriend. In still another study among 155 undergraduate psychology students also in 2012, 48% of men and 55% of women who had ever been in a committed relationship had engaged in unwanted but consensual sexting.

We know that if youth learn that sexualized behavior and appearance are approved of and rewarded by society and by the people whose opinions matter most to them, they are likely to internalize these standards and consequently engage in “self-sexualization.” Specifically related to gender, the American Psychological Association found that as girls participate actively in a consumer culture (e.g., often buying products and clothes designed to make them look physically appealing and sexy) and make choices about how to behave and whom to become (e.g., often styling their identities after the sexy celebrities who populate their cultural landscape), they are, in effect, sexualizing themselves. Keen observers of how social processes operate, girls anticipate that they will accrue social advantages, such as popularity, for buying into the sexualization of girls (i.e., themselves), and they fear social rejection for not doing so.

And this is where I want to bring the conversation back to Jennifer’s quote. She asserts that she needed to take and send those pictures to her boyfriend because it was a long-distance relationship, and since they couldn’t physically be together, pictures could help to keep his interest and perhaps sexually satisfy him because otherwise he would meet his sexual appetite by looking at porn. This is so crushing for me to hear, mostly because it may very well legitimize any rationalizations a teenage girl might make to engage in sexting just to not be rejected.

Let’s compare two hypothetical heterosexual relationship scenarios among teens, for the sake of argument and illustration. In one, a guy doesn’t ask his girlfriend for nude pictures because he doesn’t want to objectify her. And the girl doesn’t (and wouldn’t) send her boyfriend nude pictures because she wants him to love her for her mind and for her heart, and not just for her body. Those perspectives seem much more representative of a loving, great, healthy relationship then another one where A) the guy doesn’t have the self-control to wait to be with his girlfriend B) the guy decides to arguably cheat on his (exclusive, long-term) girlfriend by temporarily enjoying porn (i.e., other girls) in her stead C) the girlfriend feels compelled to send him pictures to satisfy his curiosity and urges, pictures she probably wouldn’t send if she didn’t think he “needed” them and/or if she felt fully safe and secure in the relationship and D) the girlfriend is frankly unable to trust him to not let his eyes and desires wander.

As mentioned above, there are a number of reasons why individuals engage in sexting. And I am not judging them at all, as I want to always let people be people, and do as they desire. Please understand that before telling me I am a prude, or extoling the virtues of embracing one’s sexuality in this manner, etc. I am simply making a point that regardless of if or why you take and send nude pictures to someone you like or someone you’re involved with, don’t contribute to your own objectification. Don’t allow social or personal obligation or pressure to compel you to do something you otherwise wouldn’t. And finally, let’s remind the teens we care about to really know their worth, fully own their body, and not fear being rejected (socially or individually) because they didn’t defer to the sexual appetite of another.

Image source: http://www.worldofpctures.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Jennifer-Lawrence-2014.jpeg

Parenting Kids Today to Prevent Adult Bullying Tomorrow: Lessons from the Miami Dolphins bullying case

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on March 22, 2014

The independent investigation report into the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal was released today.  I blogged about this story a couple of times last November because it really hit me deeply, because we care so much about the bullying problem, and because I’ve published a few academic articles on workplace harassment.  I have previously discussed in detail the implications for society stemming from the situation, and also how the relevant institutions may have contributed to the problem.

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Parenting Kids Today to Prevent Adult Bullying Tomorrow: Lessons from the Miami Dolphins bullying case

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on February 14, 2014

incognito martin dolphins bullyingThe independent investigation report into the Miami Dolphins’ bullying scandal was released today.  I blogged about this story a couple of times last November because it really hit me deeply, because we care so much about the bullying problem, and because I’ve published a few academic articles on workplace harassment.  I have previously discussed in detail the implications for society stemming from the situation, and also how the relevant institutions may have contributed to the problem.

The new report is pretty eye-opening. Here are the take-home points:

“The Report concludes that three starters on the Dolphins offensive line, Richie Incognito, John Jerry and Mike Pouncey, engaged in a pattern of harassment directed at not only Jonathan Martin, but also another young Dolphins offensive lineman and an assistant trainer. The Report finds that the assistant trainer repeatedly was the object of racial slurs and other racially derogatory language; that the other offensive lineman was subjected to homophobic name-calling and improper physical touching; and that Martin was taunted on a persistent basis with sexually explicit remarks about his sister and his mother and at times ridiculed with racial insults and other offensive comments.”

“The Report rejects any suggestion that Martin manufactured claims of abuse after the fact to cover up an impetuous decision to leave the team. Contemporaneous text messages that Martin sent to his parents and others months before he left the Dolphins—which have never before been made public—corroborate his account that the persistent harassment by his teammates caused him significant emotional distress. The Report concludes that the harassment by Martin’s teammates was a contributing factor in his decision to leave the team, but also finds that Martin’s teammates did not intend to drive Martin from the team or cause him lasting emotional injury.”

The report concludes with a call to action, asking the NFL to create new conduct guidelines to promote peer respect in that unique workplace environment. I am sure there is more that will still come out, but it seems like Jonathan Martin may have cause to file a harassment lawsuit against the Dolphins. And, more importantly, we have victimization that took place, and continued extensive fallout and negative press for the organization and the NFL.

Okay – how is this relevant to our focus on teens? All of this has inspired me to really try to think through the issues.  One thing I’ve honed in on is why some children grow up to be bullies, and why some grow up to be bullied.  Perhaps those victimized deal with it during adolescence and then continue to face it during adulthood, without ever really learning what to do in these situations, and without ever receiving the help and guidance they might need.  Perhaps children on the receiving end turn into adults who dish it out later in life, once again because they weren’t shown or taught how to cope and respond.  And perhaps mean kids just become mean grownups, and stay that way no matter what because they too never got what they needed to change.

We never really know all of the facts (in this case, or in any bullying case), and the situations tend to be complex and laden with emotion.  We also know that there are no cure-alls – parents can only do so much, and then have to let go and have faith that things will work out.  But if you are a parent, and don’t want your child or teen to eventually behave similarly to Richie Incognito as an adult, you should:

Remain calm.  Nothing is going to work if you try to tackle this while internally or externally freaking out.

Cultivate empathy.  Get them to understand that words wound, and if they don’t have something nice to say, they really (and frankly) should keep their mouth shut.

Identify their “sore spot” – where they are especially sensitive.  Discuss with them how they would feel if someone made fun of them for that personally sensitive issue.

Help them to appreciate all differences (race, religion, sexual orientation, appearance, dress, personality, etc.) and never use them as a reason to exclude, reject, or embarrass another person.

Teach them that their way to be or act is not necessarily the right way.  There often is no right way.  People should be allowed to be people.  People should be allowed to be who they are, whatever that is.

What may be a joke to them may actually be a cruel and hateful act to another.  Everyone is wired differently; some can shrug off things easily, while others internalize them.  This does not make them soft or weak.  Personal traits perceived as a positive may be a negative in some situations, and vice versa.

Determine if they are dealing with any personal struggles which might be manifesting in harmful actions towards others.

The “birds of a feather” adage is typically true.  Figure out if those with whom they hang out encourage or condone meanness and cruelty. Counter those messages as best as you can, with the help of others they look up to.

If you are a parent, and don’t want your child or teen to eventually behave similarly to Jonathan Martin as an adult, you should:

Remain calm.  If you come to them all riled up and panicky, you’re not going to get through to them.

Teach them to never allow others to disrespect them or tear them down.  They don’t have to subject themselves to that, even if it’s done in the name of “hazing” or forming a brotherhood or sisterhood.

Help them learn conflict resolution skills, as they may help diffuse small problems before they blow up.

Make sure they have multiple people they can always go to for help – someone who will definitely be their advocate and do everything possible to help them.  Identify those individuals, and make sure they “check in” regularly to ensure your child or teen is doing okay.

Continually remain keyed in to their emotional and psychological health to detect warning signs that might point to struggles and issues that could benefit from professional help (counseling, etc.).

Be their biggest fan no matter what, and surround them with others who will pour into them and keep them encouraged in the midst of difficult life situations.

Immerse them in environments (inside or outside of school) among kids of character, where everyone stands up for each other and has each other’s backs.

These strategies won’t keep every kid from relational problems now or when they are grown up, but it will help them.  Ideally, it will make them more emotionally healthy individuals who are less likely to be a jerk to others, who understand how they should and should not deal with conflict, and how to lean on others early on for support and assistance before situations get irreparably bad.  The bottom line is that we have to be involved, and exercise due diligence now to prevent problems in the future.  When you’re dealing with the messy fallout, you end up kicking yourself for not doing all you could to prevent it back when you had the chance.  So start now – it’s totally worth it.

Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Getty.


Implications for Society from the Miami Dolphins Bullying Case

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on November 4, 2013

Over the past few days, reports were released involving Miami Dolphins football player Richie Incognito, accused of obscenely harassing, bullying, and threatening teammate and fellow offensive lineman Jonathan Martin in the locker room, via text and voicemail, and elsewhere. Martin apparently could not take it anymore, and took a personal leave of absence on Monday, October 28th from a football team trying to get into the playoffs. On Monday, November 4th, Incognito was suspended indefinitely from the team for detrimental conduct pending continued investigation of the inherent issues.

According to FOX Sports News and ESPN, Incognito sent texts that were “threatening and racially charged in nature,” and left the following voicemail to Martin in April:

“Hey, wassup, you half n—– piece of s—. I saw you on Twitter, you been training 10 weeks. (I want to) s— in your f—— mouth. (I’m going to) slap your f—— mouth. (I’m going to) slap your real mother across the face (laughter). F— you, you’re still a rookie. I’ll kill you.”

On one side of this controversy are those who consider what happened to be typical locker room hazing among athletes, considering it “paying your dues” and a “rite of passage,” and how sometimes you just have to “man up.”  On the other side are those asserting that the explicit cruelty in this situation is beyond the pale. On SportsCenter, Chris Berman pointed out the transcendent nature of this regularly-surfacing problem by making parallels to the extent of bullying that victimized youth are experiencing around the country. He rhetorically asked if a grown man in the NFL has bent under repeatedly suffering under the severity and viciousness of bullying, how can we expect a second-grader to handle it?

While our Center primarily focuses on the experiences of adolescents, we are frequently contacted by adults who have been mistreated by others (co-workers, community members, extended family members, ex-romantic partners) and their stories are just as compelling. We do what we can to help them because we know that their lives and stories matter as much as our own, and because there are few things worse than the pain stemming from intentionally inflicted wounds by another person.

In this case, many elements stand out. It is astounding to see how racial hate was expressed with such callousness and perceived impunity. Victimizing someone because of their race could be considered a hate crime in many jurisdictions. We also have specific (and arguably credible?) threats made against Martin’s life (technically a criminal offense in every jurisdiction we know of). You can’t just mouth off and say whatever you want, regardless of whether you are joking, or upset, or frustrated, or angry. We raise our children to know this societal rule, and to respect it. We also know that “hurt people hurt people”; it has been reported that Incognito was picked on while in middle school, and was encouraged by his father to bully others back. He has struggled with anger management and substance abuse, and was named the NFL’s dirtiest player in a poll of fellow players – facts which do not trivialize what has happened but do provide some context.

This once again brings bullying into the limelight and forces us to confront cruelty and hate. As I continue to study this, a few points stand out that can help us respond to and prevent these incidents. Reflecting upon this situation, future Hall of Famer Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis adamantly made clear that “there is a difference between hazing and hate.”  Everyone – adults and youth alike – need to understand on a visceral level what is and is not societally acceptable behavior. Some things should never, ever be said (and hopefully never even thought).

Second, Hall of Fame San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young stated that “Great locker rooms self-police.”  We know from our work in schools that if members of that intimate community (educators, parents, and the students themselves) create a united front and take a stand against bullying, problems are greatly reduced or avoided. Finally, the Miami Dolphins’ front office has defended their decision to suspend Incognito as essential to maintaining a “culture of respect” among team members. I cannot overemphasize the critical importance of creating and preserving a positive social and emotional climate in ANY setting (e.g., school, corporation, football franchise). It is the linchpin that holds everything together.

(Image source: http://sfsn.tv/richie-incognitoinvolved-in-a-fight-during-the-offseason)

Responding to Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Adults Who Are Being Harassed Online

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on October 2, 2013

By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin

This Top Ten List provides specific guidance for adults who are being cyberbullied.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2013). Responding to Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Adults Who Are Being Harassed Online. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from http://cyberbullying.us/Responding-to-cyberbullying-top-ten-tips-for-adults.pdf

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Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Adults Who Are Being Harassed Online

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

By Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin

This Top Ten List provides specific guidance for adults who want to protect themselves from potential cyberbullies.

Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J.W. (2013). Preventing Cyberbullying: Top Ten Tips for Adults Who Are Being Harassed Online. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved [insert date], from http://cyberbullying.us/Preventing-cyberbullying-top-ten-tips-for-adults.pdf

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What is the story with IsAnyoneUp.com?

Posted by Sameer Hinduja on December 12, 2011

One of the Internet’s latest privacy controversies surrounds the rapidly-growing web site Isanyoneup.com.  The site, which launched in late 2010, is essentially a hybrid of social media and amateur pornography – described by some media outlets as a blog for “Revenge Porn.” The blog features thousands of posts containing extremely explicit photos of naked men and women, submitted by the site’s users.  While self-submit pornography sites aren’t all that uncommon, the real difference with Isanyoneup.com – and the true reason for the firestorm it has caused – is that the majority of the pictures on the site are not submitted by the people in those pictures. Instead, the site serves its purpose as a forum where jilted exes and revenge-seekers may share the most intimate photos of those towards whom they wish to retaliate (perhaps another variant of cyberbullying?). As if that was not enough, the blog has developed over time to include screenshots of the Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds of the people featured on the site.


Interestingly, the site was initially meant to be something much more innocuous. Hunter Moore, the site’s owner, registered the domain to serve as a would-be nightlife and traveling portal. However, Moore grew complacent and the project failed to launch – and its current iteration began one night with Moore attempting and failing to send explicit photos of a woman to one of his friends, and then being inspired to upload the photos to his then-dormant web site. The site soon became a private place for Moore and his friends to add and share similar photos of various women, until eventually a member of a popular online message board stumbled upon the site and began linking it to others (which of course resulted in an explosion of web traffic). The site’s popularity was further fueled when Moore got the idea to include explicit photographs of popular band members, create a Twitter and Facebook page for the site, and feature gimmicks such as the “daily gnargoyle” – posts which feature particularly unattractive self-submitted photos.


As if a site of this nature does not attract enough controversy, the site’s operator seems to relish in all the negative attention he and his site obtains. Moore routinely posts Facebook messages and screenshots of the Twitter responses from people lambasting him for his actions on his website. Recently Moore was featured on Forbes, in articles in Gawker and the LA Times, and even was in a segment on Anderson Cooper’s day-time talk show “Anderson” where he was confronted by two of the women who were featured on his site. In the latter interview, Moore expressed no remorse over his actions and stated that he enjoys what he does as he gets to profit from “seeing naked girls all day.” Additionally, Moore has been threatened with countless lawsuits – which he frequently makes fun of on his site and Twitter feed – and in one case Moore was even stabbed outside of his San Francisco home by a woman who had been featured on the site without her permission. Moore proudly uploaded a picture of his stab wound – and now does not allow submissions of people who live in his hometown of San Francisco anymore.


Despite the site being horrifically repulsive on several levels, Isanyone.com has managed to build a substantial and loyal fan base, with much of that popularity likely being the result of Moore and his controversies. On December 8th, Facebook sent Hunter Moore and Isanyoneup.com a Cease and Desist letter demanding that all relevant Facebook content be removed from the site. Facebook went further by permanently banning Moore, his web site, and anyone acting on his behalf from accessing Facebook. Moore no longer has the ability to link Facebook profiles to his blog posts, but continues to post screenshots of the Facebook profiles of the people he features on his site. In consistently controversial fashion, Moore has alleged he replied to Facebook’s Cease and Desist request with a picture of his genitalia.


As Facebook’s actions indicate, Isanyoneup.com has garnered a fair amount of legal attention. Moore claims he is threatened with lawsuits every day, but to date none have actually been filed in a court.  As Kashmir Hill of Forbes has speculated, Moore may have been able to avoid legal ramifications thus far due to the Communications Decency Act of 1996. The relevant part of this Act is section 230, which protects site owners and ISPs from the content that is provided by their users. For instance, if a Facebook user makes a discriminatory wall post on the site, Facebook generally cannot be held liable. As far as Isanyoneup.con and Hunter Moore are concerned, they have thus far avoided liability because the problematic content on the site is uploaded by his users via a submission form.


All of this is not to say that users are unable to protect themselves. As Hunter Moore himself has argued, the best way to defend yourself from ending up on Isanyoneup.com is not to take such explicit photos in the first place. While that may be ideal, in reality people are apt to make mistakes, and as such those featured on Isanyoneup.com have a couple forms of recourse. First, victims of the site are able to submit copyright takedown requests as long as they were the original owners of the photograph. One would qualify as an original owner as long as they took the picture himself or herself. For example, if a young woman took an explicit photo and forwarded it to someone who then uploaded the photo on Isanyoneup.com without her permission, the young woman could submit a copyright claim to the site, forcing the site to remove the picture or allowing the woman to file a copyright claim suit. Second, the Isanyoneup.com web site also includes a ‘Contact’ tab which allows those featured on the site to simply ask to be removed. There is no guarantee that this will actually result in the relevant photographs being removed, however, as some people have claimed in interviews that their removal requests have gone repeatedly ignored by Moore.


Outside of the aforementioned copyright claims, adults have little other recourse if they end up being featured on the site. Fortunately, minors are given much more consideration by Isanyoneup.com and Hunter Moore than adults are. An LA Times piece on Moore claims that his site goes to great lengths to protect minors, and all signs seem to point to this being true. Submissions to Isanyoneup.com are sent to a separate cloud server where a sample blog post is automatically generated but not actually posted online, where it is then investigated by Moore or one of his volunteers. Moore claims background checks are then performed on all subjects to determine whether they may be minors, as all submissions include Facebook profiles for which they can be cross-referenced. The site itself posts strict and clear warnings about underage content, and claims to forward the personal information of those that submit child pornography to the relevant authorities. In true Isanyoneup.com fashion, the submission page of the site includes a Facebook profile screenshot – including all of the personal information – of a man who submitted underage content to Isanyoneup.com.


Despite the obvious problems that the readers of our blog will have with Isanyoneup.com, the site is – from what we can tell – on solid legal footing. Moore and his site are not actually violating any laws as all content featured on the site is submitting by its users, the site responds to formal copyright claims by removing copyrighted photographs, and it protects itself from liability by storing initial submissions on separate servers and weeding out child pornography. For those that wish to avoid becoming just another featured blog post on Isanyoneup.com, Hunter Moore himself said it best: don’t take the photographs to begin with, and certainly don’t put them into the hands of people you can’t entirely trust.


Related readings:


A great piece by The Awl.com on Hunter Moore and his web site:


A few Forbes articles on Hunter Moore and Isanyoneup.com:






Los Angeles Times piece on Hunter Moore on the band members exposed on his site:


Gawker “Facebook Declares War on Sleazy Revenge Porn Site”:


Two short clips from Hunter Moore on Anderson Cooper’s show:                http://ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com/64582249.html



Advice for Adult Victims of Cyberbullying

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on November 9, 2010

45377178We get a lot of emails, phone calls, and comments on this blog from adults who are being bullied though technology.  They stress to us that cyberbullying is not just an adolescent problem.  Believe me, we know.  We receive more inquiries from adults than teens.  We know that cyberbullying negatively affects adults too.  It’s just that we spend the majority of our efforts studying how this problem impacts school-aged youth due to their tenuous developmental stage.  That said, I thought I would take some time here to give the adults who have been victimized out there some general advice.

First, it is important to keep all evidence of the bullying: messages, posts, comments, etc.  If there are ways you can determine who exactly is making the comments, also document that.  Second, contact the service or content provider through which the bullying is occurring.  For example, if you are being cyberbullied on Facebook, contact them.  If you are receiving hurtful or threatening cell phone messages, contact your cell phone company to obtain assistance.  Along those same lines, familiarize yourself with the Terms of Use for the various sites you frequent, and the online accounts you sign up for.  Many web sites expressly prohibit harassment and if you report it through their established mechanisms, the content and/or bully should be removed from the site in a timely manner.  To be sure, some web site administrators are better and quicker at this than others.

Also, please be careful not to retaliate – or do anything that might be perceived by an outsider to have contributed to the problem.  Do not respond to the cyberbully except to calmly tell them to stop.  If they refuse, you may have to take additional actions.  If you are ever afraid for your safety, you need to contact law enforcement to investigate.  They can determine whether any threats made are credible.  If they are, the police will formally look into it.  The evidence that you have collected will help them to evaluate your situation.

You should also take the time to check your state laws.  We have discussed some of these laws on this blog and have a summary of many applicable laws here.  In Wisconsin, for example, it is a misdemeanor if someone uses computerized communication systems to “frighten, intimidate, threaten, abuse, or harass another person.”  It is also against the law to “harass annoy, or offend another person.”  See what the laws in your state are to determine if the police should get involved.

If the threats or comments are detrimental to your health, safety, or occupation, you might want to consult with an attorney who specializes in harassment, defamation of character, false light, intentional infliction of emotional distress, or similar types of civil action.  A letter sent from an attorney (on law firm letterhead) to the bully may be all that is necessary to get the bullying to stop.  The problem with this approach is that it can be costly.  I have spoken to some victims who have consulted with attorneys who want a significant sum of money to get involved, even at a basic level.  I can only imagine how frustrating this is after experiencing emotional and psychological suffering – and then realizing that you can’t afford to get legal help.  Another problem associated with pursuing a bully through civil action is that, even if you are successful and a judge or jury rules in your favor, it can be difficult to determine an appropriate damage amount.  I served as an expert witness in a cyberbullying case in the summer of 2008.  In that case, the adult victims were being bullied in an AOL chat room.  Everyone agreed that what the bully was doing was wrong, but to what were the victims entitled?  They had some modest medical bills and could be reimbursed for costs associated with their AOL account – but these losses added up to less than $1,000.  And while I don’t know the actual amount, I am sure their legal bills were in the tens of thousands of dollars.  They ended up settling for a very small amount – just to make a statement to the bully.  Most of us can’t afford to take those actions on principle alone.

In sum, it can be difficult to hold bullies accountable for their actions (for both adolescents and adults).  In a country such as ours that values free speech so highly, many people genuinely believe they can say whatever they want, to whomever they want.  We know that is not true, but it isn’t clear where exactly the line is.  And just because we *can* say certain things, doesn’t mean we should.  It’s no wonder that many teens are wrestling with this problem—they see the adults in their lives saying mean and nasty things to others on a regular basis.  Do your part to model appropriate behavior and address any hurtful language when it comes up.  The kids (and other adults) in your life will hopefully see it, remember it, and act in the right ways.

Advice for Adult Victims of Cyberbullying

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on

We get a lot of emails, phone calls, and comments on this blog from adults who are being bullied though technology.  They stress to us that cyberbullying is not just an adolescent problem.  Believe me, we know.  We receive more inquiries from adults than teens.  We know that cyberbullying negatively affects adults too.  It’s just that we spend the majority of our efforts studying how this problem impacts school-aged youth due to their tenuous developmental stage.  That said, I thought I would take some time here to give the adults who have been victimized out there some general advice.

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