Uni lecturer to challenge employer over cyber-bullying

A university lecturer who claims he was cyber-bullied by students has won the right to challenge his employer for allegedly failing to tackle the problem.

Simon Spacey, a senior lecturer in computer science at the University of Waikato, claims his life was made a “misery” by students who bullied and harassed him online, and that the university failed to put a stop to it when he complained.

He has taken the university to the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) seeking more than $1.8 million in remedies.

Dr Spacey’s other claims include that the university failed to provide information about advancement, used different rules to assess him in performance reviews and re-interpreted intellectual property rights.

The university claimed his complaints did not amount to a personal grievance and were not raised within the required 90-day timeframe.

Dr Spacey told the ERA he was the victim of cyber-bullying attacks through fake websites, posts on social media, emails and publications in the student newspaper.

He claimed the attacks were “supported by staff at Waikato University and other universities”, that his employer had “failed to investigate his allegations”, and the cyber-bullying “made his personal and professional life a misery”.

He said he lodged a statement of problem in December 2014, more than a year after first alerting his head of department to the cyber-bullying. At that stage it had included posts on social media sites, including Reddit, and an abusive email. He believed students were responsible.

He told the ERA that in November 2013, he discovered “no one had actioned” his original complaint of two months earlier, but was advised to ignore the posts and emails.

Dr Spacey then informed the university he considered the online activity breached the university’s harassment policy, and amounted to a defamation of character. He wanted the university to take civil proceedings against the perpetrators and seek damages, as well as take disciplinary action against the students involved.

He was advised he needed to know the identity of the people responsible for the posts before making a formal complaint, the ERA said.

Dr Spacey later identified those he believed were behind the nasty posts, and laid a formal complaint with the Student Discipline Committee in November 2013.

The ERA heard he was told the body could not deal with the complaint and referred to the university’s harassment and bullying policy. He wrote to the university lodging a formal dispute, in which he described the bullying as “extremely hurtful, quite vicious, and specifically directed at him”.

Dr Spacey said it was “personally distressing”, and he felt there was a lack of support from the university. It was two months before the university responded, and decided to treat it as an employment relationship problem.

A university spokeswoman said the university believed Dr Spacey had been offered adequate support and it was unsure why Dr Spacey thought the attacks were supported by staff.

“Considerable time was spent investigating the allegations of cyber-bullying raised by Dr Spacey. No evidence was found of university staff being involved.”

The spokeswoman said there was a delay in responding to Dr Spacey’s formal dispute, filed in December 2013, because the concerns took time to investigate and the time of year meant that some of the relevant staff were on holiday.

The ERA found Dr Spacey had raised the issue within the 90-day timeframe, giving him permission to pursue his claim. It also gave him the go-ahead for two of his other grievances – that of failing to provide information about advancement, and using different rules to assess performance – but ruled against the remainder of his claims.

The authority directed the two parties to attend mediation to try to resolve the dispute.

Stop Bullying: Advice for parents

However, there is much you can do to stop bullying, and help your son or daughter to recover.

The first step is to listen to your child, calmly. Hear them out, letting them know they were right to tell you and that, together, you can make the situation better.

Reassure them that they are not to blame. They did not deserve to be bullied. It is not just part of “growing up.” The anti-bullying charity Ditch The Label, advise telling your child that the bully’s “attitude and behaviour is at fault.”

Establishing the facts of what has happened is important, say the Anti-Bullying Alliance. Write down details, and keep a diary of events, to share with the school or college. Such records may prove crucial.

Make sure you involve your child in deciding how the bullying will be dealt with. Discuss any course of action with them first. Victims of bullying already feel powerless, and you need to put your child back in control.

Do not encourage violent retaliation. Hitting back, may place them in greater danger. The ABA cautions that “reacting that way has negative and unpredictable results.” The school could see your child as the bully, punishing them instead.

Finally, speak to your child’s school or college. Again, do this calmly. Storming in and demanding action will not help. Explain what your child has gone through, bringing whatever evidence you have. Ask for a clear idea of how they will tackle the problem and follow-up to ensure it happens. Even if bullying is happening beyond the gates or online, the institution has a responsibility of protection.

Teen Bullying Doubles Adult Risk of Depression

A long-running study of British youth reveals that the people who experienced frequent bullying at age 13 had double the risk of developing clinical depression at age 18, compared with people who were never bullied.

It’s impossible to say for sure whether the bullying caused the depression, said study researcher Lucy Bowes, a psychologist at the University of Oxford. But Bowes and her colleagues say they strongly suspect there is a causal relationship. They controlled for factors that might otherwise explain the depression, including baseline depression and emotional problems that might make a person more susceptible to both bullying and to later clinical depression. [10 Scientific Tips for Raising Happy Kids]

Bullying and depression

Previous studies have linked bullying with having depression symptoms over the short term, Bowes told Live Science. And a few long-term studies have shown that people who are victims of such aggression during childhood may have long-term mental health problems. For example, a study published in 2013 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry found increased risks of depression and anxiety in adulthood among bully victims, and especially among people who had both been bullied and bullied others.

But many of these previous long-term studies were limited because they couldn’t control for pre-existing conditions or because their measurements of bullying lacked detail, Bowes said. In the new study, Bowes and her colleagues used data from the United Kingdom’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which surveyed kids at age 13 with specific questions about bullying, including whether they’d experienced physical violence, threats, lies, rumors and exclusion.

“This is an age when the influence of peers becomes paramount,” Bowes said. Then, when the participants reached the other end of adolescence, they answered questions about their symptoms of clinical depression.

Long-lasting scars

About 15 percent of bully victims were depressed at 18 compared with 5 percent of those who hadn’t been bullied — an almost tripling of depression risk, the researchers report today (June 2) in the British Medical Journal. When the researchers controlled for other factors that could influence depression at age 18, such as a teen’s gender and pre-existing emotional problems, the link between bullying and later depression shrank, but remained notable.

Ultimately, “we found that kids who reported that they were frequently bullied at 13 were twice as likely to report being clinically depressed at 18,” Bowes said.

Bowes noted that she and her colleagues also controlled for the effects of being a bully, as people who fill the roles of both victim and bully tend to have pre-existing problems that can obscure the long-term effects of bullying, she said.

The researchers also found that parents and children were often worlds apart in understanding the bullying experience. The survey of more than 3,700 families turned up 1,199 teens who reported they were frequently bullied. But among the mothers surveyed, only 229 said their children were frequent bully victims.

Meanwhile, between 41 percent and 74 percent of teens said they didn’t report bullying to their teachers, and 24 percent to 51 percent said they didn’t tell their parents.

“Bowes and colleagues establish a clear link between victimisation and non-reporting to teachers or family members,” psychological criminologist Maria Ttofi of the University of Cambridge, who was not involved in the research, wrote in an editorial accompanying the paper in the journal. “Parents and teachers need to be aware of this and proactively ask children about school experiences beyond academic matters.”

The study drives home the long-term dangers of bullying and highlights the need to stop it where it starts, Bowes said. Schools are beginning to institute anti-bullying programs, she said, and these should be studied to ensure they’re helping. More programs need to involve moms and dads, too, she said.

“We know that parents’ involvement is really important, and we need to design interventions that are able to bridge the gap between the home and school life,” Bowes said.

Parents call for better protection for children who are bullied

Anti-bullying campaigner: Get evidence and report the bully

The boss of an anti-bullying campaign says anyone affected by bullying should get evidence and report it.

Tesse Ojo urged parents to resist the urge to confront bullies, as this could inflame the situation, but instead speak to the target of the bullying to find out how they want it tackled.

She spoke about the case of Matthew Jones, who took his own life after being bullied, and said it is something the Diana Award sees too often.

[ www.itv.com, 28/05/2015 ]