BY NICOLA BRIGGS
Twenty and thirty years ago, women of all ages had to contend with harassment in the forms of scary in-person attacks, hate (snail) mail, and maybe a breathy phone call or two. But while these remain the weapons of choice for mean, insecure kids and dangerous psychopaths alike, women today have to deal with something much more insidious ~ cyber bullying. Who is a target for this type of behavior? At school, a girl may have made a few enemies just for standing out in some way ~ maybe because she grew taller than her peers, appeared sexually developed when they weren’t yet, always got the best grades in class, had a stutter, was a little heavier, seemed to be prettier, wore older clothing instead of the latest trends…..the list goes on and on, and none of this negative attention is her fault.
The point is that it does not take that much to stand out from a cohort that values conformity above all else, to bolster a still-fragile sense of confidence and security, so if a girl is perceived “different” in any way, she could become a target for just about any form of harassment. Today, we are talking about how to protect oneself from a “cyber bully,” from one person or even a group of people who use the Internet to carry out a campaign of defamation and psychological breakdown. The first thing is to remember that a cyber bully is essentially a coward, and needs to hide behind the computer to feel safe and in control. This can seem difficult to defend against if you’re always joining chat rooms, social networks, and instant messaging. But you can start by choosing an e-mail address and screen name that don’t reveal that much about who you are (obviously not using your real name or your well-known school or work nickname), where you are (what school, what workplace), and what you do (your major in school, what classes you’re in, or what occupation you have). This is such a simple method of precaution that most people forget to take, but it can save a lot of headaches down the road. Identity theft is real, and the less information a harasser or even an outright criminal has about you and your interests, the better. Also, young girls (and boys) need to stay away from any screen names that mention their age, or interest in sexuality. Predators love this kind of thing, and once the wrong kind of attention is invited, you just never know who is really speaking to you in that chat room.
Other key pieces of information to protect are any personal contact details. It’s difficult to keep sending someone hate mail if they can’t find you. If they are stupid enough to put a threat in writing, by all means save it. A paper trail can help save a woman from many forms of harassment, and be a strong motivation for a parent, a school official, an employer, or even law enforcement to act in your best interests. But most importantly, do not bottle it up inside if you do feel that you or someone you know is a victim of cyber bullying. Sometimes it’s downplayed, because the harasser is not “right there,” but the psychological effects of it can be devastating. In future posts, we’ll go into more ways that you can ensure you’re not a target. Until then, stay safe (and hopefully anonymous in those chat rooms)!