September 21st, 2010
08:48 AM ET

Cyber bully victims 'isolated, dehumanized'

There is no question that venomous, nasty insults hurled across the cafeteria or in school hallways hurt. A new survey published in the Journal of Adolescent Health finds that for victims of cyber bullying (insults that occur online or via text), that hurt may be more pronounced.

"Unlike traditional bullying which usually involves a face-to-face confrontation, cyber victims may not see or identify their harasser," according to the survey. "As such, cyber victims may be more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized or helpless at the time of the attack."
A group of 7,508 adolescents in 6th through 10th grade filled out a health survey including how (face-to-face or online) and how often they had been bullied. The survey measured the type of bullying - physical, verbal, relational (exclusionary behavior) or cyber - and the level of depression reported by both the victim and the bully.

With traditional bullying, both bully and victim report feeling depressed. But when it comes to cyber bullying, it is the victim who is more likely to report depression. The instigator tends to emerge unscathed.

It would seem like any insult (virtual or face-to-face) would sting, but the viral nature of the internet may be what makes cyber bullying feel worse for victims.

"The fact that the audience can be quite broad is a concern," said Ronald Iannotti, the principal investigator of the survey and a staff scientist at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Health. "With Facebook, YouTube and everything else, the victim may not even be sure who else has seen or heard the bullying, and because it is not face-to-face, [he or she] can't retaliate as easily."

"Being bullied over the internet is worse," said one 14-year-old from New Jersey who posted on a website for the Cyberbullying Research Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to researching the effects of cyber bullying. "It's torment and hurts. They say 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.' That quote is a lie and I don't believe in it."

Another cyber bullying victim, a 14-year-old from New York, said "It makes me feel bad and rather depressed. Like I don't want to be a part of this world any more."

"Behind a keyboard or the textpad of their phone, and physically distant from the victim, emboldens [cyber bullies] and frees them from normal constraints on their behavior such as their conscience, morals, social norms, and the law," said Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.  "Plus, there are no authorities monitoring these communications in cyberspace."

Previous studies find that having supportive parents is associated with lower levels of bullying and victimization, Iannotti added. So the key to alleviating depression for all forms of bullying - cyber and otherwise - may reside in the home.

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