Stop the cyber-trolls killing our kids
CYBER-BULLIES would be banned from social media and slapped with an online version of an apprehended violence order as part of a radical plan to stop trolls.
Anti-bullying charities are using a powerful parliamentary inquiry to call for a criminalisation of trolling - including giving child cyber-bullies a social media order (SMO) that would ban them from contacting their victims and using sites such as Facebook and Instagram.
It comes after 14-year-old Amy "Dolly" Everett took her own life on January 3 after being targeted by bullies online.
The Carly Ryan Foundation - a cyber-safety charity set up following the death of 15-year-old Carly Ryan, who was killed by a paedophile in 2007 - said the federal government should investigate mimicking "domestic violence processes" by creating an order that would ban trolls from contacting their victims online.
The submission, written by Carly's mother and foundation chief executive Sonya Ryan, said police should also be given the powers to ban the trolls from social media altogether for nominated periods.
Ms Ryan said under the plan a new law could be created that would allow for juvenile offenders to be tried in the juvenile justice system if they breached the bans.
"The problem is so many resources are used to mediate young people without formal consequences," Ms Ryan, an Australian of the Year, said.
"Something like this would put youth on notice and give them the opportunity to do the right thing."
Ms Ryan said the charity had reached out to Dolly's family to offer them support.
She said a law change should mean that no child would ever be pushed to feel they had "no escape".
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"We want to reach young people before it gets to that point," Ms Ryan, who also runs education workshops in schools, said.
"We need to make sure they feel empowered and talk to them on their level."
She said compulsory education programs would also be part of the program.
The idea has also won the support of other cyber-safety campaigners, families who have lost children and lawyers who say that the existing legislation needs urgent updating.
Cyber-safety expert Ross Bark, who runs education courses across NSW through his company Best Enemies, agreed the creation of an "SMO" would be helpful.
"It would be useful to be able to ban offenders from Facebook, Instagram and social media but it would need to be coupled with education so they can actually learn the very real effect they are having on their victims," Mr Bark said.
"We don't want to be handing out AVOs to children left, right and centre, so something that specifically deals with cyber-bullying could be helpful."
Brisbane father Quentin Pearson's 14-year-old son Kodi took his own life in 2016 after being the victim of bullying at school and online.
Mr Pearson told The Saturday Telegraph he backed the introduction of the social media bans for bullies.
"Something needs to be put in place so they will think twice before they post a horrible message," he said.
"It needs to be taken more seriously because, as we know, it can be deadly and all it can take is one tweet or Snapchat to push someone over."
Teens Courtney Love, 15, from Kiama, Libby Bell, 13, Jessica Cleland, 19, and Olivia Penpraze, 19, all also took their own lives in recent years after being bullied online.
Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia principal lawyer Jimmy Singh said while existing AVO laws allowed courts to ban offenders from contacting their victims on social media, it was rare, and often cyber-bullying wasn't taken as seriously by police.
"If a young person goes into a police station and reports they are being harassed online, it should be treated as seriously as if they are reporting any other kind of harassment," Mr Singh said.
In its submission, Australian Federal Police admitted that under existing laws "not all cyber-bullying is a criminal offence".
Attorney-General Christian Porter said tackling cyber-bullying must be "a joint effort".
"I will be looking at the submissions to this inquiry and the committee's final report very carefully," he told The Saturday Telegraph.
"Education, victim support and civil avenues for victims are just as important as criminal laws to combat anti-social behaviour."
KIDS DIAL INTO SLEEP DISORDER DAMAGE
KIDS as young as three are addicted to their screens, sparking a sleep deprivation crisis that is having a devastating impact on their health.
A staggering 17 per cent of children aged three and under own their own smart device, with the figure jumping to 36 per cent for preschoolers. And they are doing damage.
In one case, a five-year-old was referred to a sleep clinic because he was staying up until 10.30pm on his iPhone.
He was falling asleep in school and was reaching for his screen at 6am. In another case, a seven-year-old boy was communicating with his parents regularly via his own iPhone, even when they were in the next room.
Chris Seton, paediatric sleep physician at Sydney's Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, said the number of young children needing treatment for sleep issues was growing.
He said devices impacted on children's sleep by delaying bedtime, causing "conditioned arousal", where the brain is trained not to associate a certain time of day or the bed as a place of sleep while screen lighting stopped the release of melatonin to prepare the body for sleep.
"A lack of sleep in kids means they are more prone to learning issues, obesity, a whole range of mood issues including depression and anxiety and they are at higher risk of suicide, drug, addiction and sexual promiscuity in older age," he said.
"There is also research out of the US that is showing a narrowing of blood vessels behind the retina in one-year-old kids using devices."
Melbourne's Murdoch Children's Research Institute paediatrician Harriet Hiscock said Australian children often got less than recommended sleep.
"Their quality of the sleep is also being impacted by devices and this is perhaps more important than duration," Dr Hiscock said.
"When devices are in bedrooms, this can be waking up children at night."