Streamlined support for cyberbullying victims urged

Victims of cyberbullying and their families need one place dedicated towards complaints and rehabilitation to help curb the viral trend, says an Ottawa law professor.

Earlier this week, Nova Scotia enacted its new Cyber-Safety Act that allows victims to sue alleged cyberbullies, or their parents if the accused are minors.

The new law was introduced after teenager Rehtaeh Parsons was allegedly mocked by classmates, enduring relentless harassment and humiliation after a photo of a sex attack was circulated at school and on social media. She died in April after attempting to take her own life.

Two 18-year-old men now face charges of distributing child pornography.

Law professors across Canada think Nova Scotia's legislation should spread to other provinces and territories.

Dalhousie University law professor Wayne MacKay has told CBC News the new legislation could have made a difference in the Parsons case and it should be used to stop what he calls a national cyberbullying problem.

Jane Bailey, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said victims need to know there is support around them and action will be taken. Bailey also said support has to be easy to access.

"That can include schools, police officers, internet service providers, other non-governmental organizations," she said, speaking of the various stakeholders that could be part team up to help victims.

"Something that creates a more obvious place (for) parents or children or adults who are victims of cyberbullying to be able to go to get advice from people who have ... expertise in the area of cyberbullying."

According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, about three of every four bullying victims were reached through emails or text messages.

In Ottawa, police do not collect statistics on the types or number of cyberbullying reports they receive. Each complaint is investigated fully, though.

"It's a crime, any crime is serious," said Const. Marc Soucy, spokesman for Ottawa Police. "Every time someone makes a complaint about (cyberbullying) it is looked into, it's investigated and proper action is taken."

Statistics would help experts deal with trends in cyberbullying, Bailey added, and it might help make life easier for victims and their families who want to come forward.

"All parents are intuitively going to want to protect their children and so feeling like you don't know where to go and you don't know who is responsible, who can address it, is obviously concerning and frustrating," she said.

"I sort of go back to this idea of thinking about a one-stop place that can be identified for people to go and get the information they need and have the concern or their particular complaint directed in an appropriate way."