We often write about the latest efforts of the Manhattan District Attorney to sentence criminals and stop crime in the city. His news releases alert us to crime activity throughout the borough, but today, we thought we’d update you on DA Cy Vance’s initiatives to address a different kind of crime scene — the internet.
This week, Vance has been tackling the issue of cyberbullying in a series of school visits aimed at raising awareness of the bullying that is increasingly taking place online and on cell phones.
Vance and members of his office hosted 12 anti-cyberbullying presentations at 11 schools in Manhattan this week. His efforts are part of the city Department of Education’s “Respect for All Week.”
His work ties to larger concerns of social media increasingly being used to harass and threaten individuals, often school-aged children. We’ve seen in some cases that the consequences can be devastating.
Vance and his office used the presentations this week to educate students about the dangers of this kind of behavior and help teachers and parents detect and prevent cyberbullying.
To students, he offered tips like, “Do not respond or retaliate to hurtful or insulting messages,” and, “Do not disclose any personal information online.” He also warns parents of signs that their child may be a victim of cyberbullying such as the student unexpectedly stopping use of phones or computers, or a child appearing nervous when he or she receives a text.
Runnin’ Scared chatted with Vance this morning to discuss the increasingly complex challenge of cyberbullying and what his office is doing to try and address it.
“Cybercrime generally is one of the fastest growing crimes in the county of Manhattan — and frankly around the country,” he said. “The internet has…[become] a 21st century crime scene.”
“What we see at a local level…[with] the use of cell phones and internet communications to bully and be brutal and cruel against young kids, boys, girls, LGBT [youth], it’s our belief that…we have an obligation to go out to schools and educate our communities,” he said.
Students may not realize how risky their actions are, Vance said. “What might be considered funny — taking pictures of themselves without clothes on and passing it on to a close friend — can have disastrous consequences that are unintended.”
Because of how quickly technology is changing, it’s important for law enforcement to be proactive, he added. “Myspace was five years ago — that’s ancient history.”
Vance said he wants to avoid bringing students to court, which is why his office is actually making stops in schools to help students and teachers develop ways to handle situations involving cyberbullying. “This is a group we have to reach out to — not in a preachy way, but to treat them as responsible young men and women…We just need to be out in the community talking to kids.”
The problem is especially resonant with LGBT youth, said Thomas Krever, executive director of the Hetrick-Martin Institute, an LGBT youth service organization in Manhattan, which partnered with the DA’s office this week.
Krever, in an interview with Runnin’ Scared this afternoon, said that the fast-paced growth of technology, combined with the potential lack of a safety net for these youth, makes cyberbullying a uniquely difficult problem for LGBT students. Some may not be able to report bullying to disapproving parents. And LGBT youth — who are coming out of the closet at younger ages today, often as early as 14 — are sometimes more susceptible to the dangers of the internet because of the anonymity it offers, he said.
“The typical bullying in the school yard has now shifted to bullying with the click of the mouse,” said Krever, adding that cyberbullying in some ways is more troubling than in-person actions. “What’s most dramatic for me…is it removes the emotionality on the side of the perpetrator. You don’t see the person crying on the other end. You don’t see the fear.”
For LGBT youth unsure of where to turn, he directed them to Google organizations like his which can be safe havens for youth.
“The same instrument that may be the vehicle for cybercbullying can be same instrument that can save a life,” he said.