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The number of female students in Fairfax County schools who report having been cyber-bullied by classmates nearly outnumbers the number of male students making the same claim by a margin of nearly 2-1, according to the recently released Fairfax County Youth Survey.

According to the study, overall incidents of cyber-bullying in 2012 have dropped in Fairfax County Public Schools as compared to 2011, with 13 percent of all students reporting they were cyber-bullied in 2012, as compared to 15.7 percent in 2011.

But during that same time period, the gap between female victims reporting having been cyber-bullied by classmates, versus male victims reporting the same, grew considerably.

In addition to reporting the total number of incidents reported, the study records the number of cyber-bullying incidents in which the aggressor is a student attending the same school as the victim. In that comparison, 15.4 percent of female students reported being cyber-bullied by classmates as compared to only 8.1 percent of male students, a margin of nearly 2-1.

Overall, 16.3 percent of female students reported being victimized in 2012, as opposed to 9.5 percent for male students. In 2011, those numbers were 18.1 percent and 11.7 percent, respectively.

The Virginia Department of Education defines cyber-bullying as “using information and communication technologies such as e-mail, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging and websites to support deliberate, hostile behavior intended to harm others.”

According to VDE guidelines, cyber-bullying can take forms including sending “mean, vulgar, or threatening” messages or images; posting sensitive or private information about another person; or intentionally excluding someone from an online group.

Cyber-bullying in Fairfax County Public Schools seems to occur most in middle schools, according to School Resource Officer Supervisor Sgt. William H. Fulton, of the Fairfax County Police Department.

“There are lots of threats and innuendos made through social networking sites,” he said. “New ones such as Snapchat, Instagram and Vine have taken over those more familiar to parents such as Facebook, which is now considered old hat and not used nearly as much by teens and preteens,” he said.

According to Fulton, potentially harmful consequences exist for cyber-bullying victims and perpetrators alike, and that message seems to have reached students.

“I think that overall, the message has gotten out there to students that electronic communications such as cyber-bullying and sexting are not harmless and can result in harmful consequences and criminal charges,” he said. “We have seen an overall drop in both cyber-bullying and sexting charges, I think, due to a concentrated effort to educate students and address the issue in schools.”

But Fulton says that despite the overall drop in charges, girls being aggressors toward other girls seems to be on the rise. “We are seeing quite a few girl-on-girl fights,” he said. “Even more than fights between boys. Often the girls are fighting over boys, and many times the fights are the result of actions that began through electronic communications or on social networking sites.”

Research into this trend by experts supports this finding.

“Without question, the nature of adolescent peer aggression has evolved due to the proliferation of information and communications technology,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D, of the Cyber-bullying Research Center at Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter, Fla.

The center’s research has shown that adolescent girls are significantly more likely than boys to partake in and experience cyber-bullying. Girls also are more likely than boys to report cyber-bullying to a parent or teacher. The center’s research also suggests that the type of cyber-bullying tends to differ by gender; girls are more likely to spread rumors, while boys are more likely to post hurtful pictures or videos.

Virginia Criminal Code considers making a written threat, including those made via texting, email, instant messaging or the Internet as a Class 6 felony. Someone convicted of a Class 6 felony faces either one to five years in prison, or up to 12 months in prison and a maximum fine of $2,500, or both.



gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com