Cyberbullying: A creeping phenomenon, only punished by law in Spain

No EU definition of cyberbullying means that data is hard to come by and it is even more difficult to implement measures that can protect vulnerable people, especially the young. [Shutterstock]

Spain is the only EU country in which cyberbullying is punished by its criminal code, according to a study presented to the European Parliament. EURACTIV Spain reports.

The report, seen by EFE, noted that there is no definition of cyberbullying at European level, meaning it is difficult to quantify the number of cases and come up with measures that can successfully protect children and young people from such attacks.

According to Spain’s definition, contained in the Ministry of Education’s 2014 guide, cyberbullying only differs from bullying in that it is carried out via digital media, and also refers to cases perpetrated by minors against minors, when used within the context of education.

Although not defined specifically in the Penal Code, the authors of the report insist that it is covered, given that it includes electronic harassment. As a result, Spain is the only EU country that can claim to include cyberbullying in their legislation.

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The study also highlights positive initiatives started by Spanish authorities to tackle the phenomenon, such as the implementation of early warning systems in schools, with a series of indicators that allow teachers to spot cases and inform parents or guardians. Of the EU28, only Spain, Italy, Greece, Finland, Croatia and Belgium require teachers to oversee this process.

Additionally, all the ministries that cyberbullying can have an affect on have guidelines on action and prevention, illustrating the seriousness with which Spain approaches the matter.

The country’s autonomous communities of Castilla y Leon, Madrid and Cantabria have all developed action plans against cyberbullying. However, the report acknowledges that national statistics on the subject are either hard to come by or obsolete.

According to the latest data from the study “EU Kids Online”, carried out way back in 2010, the age group most affected by cyberbullying is that of adolescents aged between 13 and 16 years-of-age. Most vulnerable were girls, 12% of which had to deal with bullying when using a computer and 17% of which were bullied via their mobile phones. In comparison, only 2% and 1% of boys, respectively, were subjected to cyberbullying.

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The evolution in recent years of technology, particularly when it comes to apps and social networks, means there is a real need to update this data with a centralised database. As electronic devices and the media they act as portals for encroach more and more on daily life, more people are likely to have fallen victim to cyberbullying.

At a global level, the most recent data (2013-2014) shows that 12% of children aged between nine and 16 have been harassed via an electronic device.

During this period, social networks were the venue of choice for cyber bullies to target their victims, followed by SMS, telephone calls, instant messaging and web forums. Victims of cyberbullying can suffer from psychological problems, social isolation and feelings of insecurity, the report explained.

The lack of harmonisation at European level is highlighted by the fact that only Belgium, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the UK and Spain have dedicated juvenile courts to try these kind of cases.

Back in March, the World Health Organisation warned that cases of depression and suicide could arise from cyberbullying, especially among minors.

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