By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Royal Bahamas Police Force is cracking down on incidents of cyber-bullying, particularly against juveniles, Superintendent Mark Barrett confirmed this on Friday, as he also called for stronger legislation against cyber-bullying.
Regarding this crackdown, Supt Barrett said the first phase is the educational and intervention phase, and the second phase is the enforcement phase. Concerning the latter, Supt Barrett emphasised that some individuals have already been charged and taken before the courts in relation to these incidents.
His comments came a month after Education Minister Jeff Lloyd, in the House of Assembly called for the government to consider “punitive sanctions” for cyber-bullies.
Supt Barrett spoke on Friday at a Bahamas Crisis Centre and National Child Protection Council forum under the theme “Protecting Our Children on the Internet”.
Supt Barrett said defamation, intentional libel, pornography/child pornography all constitute cyber-bullying.
When asked for the police response, Supt Barrett said: “We do have the capability and the capacity in dealing with such matters as it relates to cyber-bullying and crimes that are committed via the internet.”
To this end, he said “some time ago”, the RBPF embarked on an “extensive educational programme”, which included visits to primary and high schools, youth and civic organizations, and churches, explaining the dangers of the internet.
Regarding primary schools and the engagement of young people with sexually explicit online content, Supt Barrett said: “For me, that is a problem. Within the (RBPF), it is a serious problem and we are attacking these matters aggressively.”
“Bullying or in particular cyber-bullying has a serious impact on our young people. And so we, as the guardians of this nation, of our young people, need now to put measures in place from the primary school, such as conflict resolution and other means so that we can somewhat deter these young people from engaging in such behaviour.
“Now, the law speaks to it,” he continued. “Section 315-320, that we often refer to as the Libel Act, speaks to it. It states that anyone who writes or puts into effigy anything that will bring to one’s character or reputation is guilty of libel. Upon conviction, they will receive a fine of $10,000 and/or two years' imprisonment. And so we now need to enforce these laws.”
Supt Barrett also described another form of bullying, known as “happy slapping”. He defined this as an individual who instigates a physical altercation between two people with the intent to record and publish the incident online.
“That is a form of bullying, that is wrong, and those people who are engaged in such behaviour, I want to serve notice on them: We have the capability and the capacity of finding you where you are, and if you are engaged in such behaviour we would want to advise them to cease and to desist from such behaviour. Because if we catch you, and we will, you will be placed before the courts and you will be dealt with (to) the fullest extent of the law.”
When asked if there has been an instance yet of a child being taken before the courts in relation to posting a fight video, Supt Barrett replied: “We have had several incidents that we provided some form of intervention. Because bear in mind, we are in the educational and intervention phase right now. We have had instances where we sent individuals to court for such behaviour. Most recently it was an incident that was published online where a student attacked a student at a tertiary institution and those individuals were charged and placed before the courts.”
Supt Barrett also addressed a viral video of a man begging a high school female student for sex after she was caught seemingly performing a sexual act with another man.
Referring to the law concerning such matters, Supt Barrett said: “Anyone who surreptitiously records an individual without (the) person’s knowledge and they publish that information, is guilty of an offence and that is voyeurism. And upon conviction you can receive 15 years imprisonment.”
He also noted a person who shares videos of cyber-bullying can be charged “just as (though) you were the person that originally published the image. There is a charge”.
He added there is legislation dealing with these matters and in the past there have been efforts to enforce it.
“Do we need stronger legislation as it relates to cyber crimes, cyber-bullying…yes there is always a need. We need even more teeth as it relates to the existing legislation, yes.”
Supt Barrett noted victims of cyber-bullying can go to their nearest police station and/or the Central Detective Unit.
Last month, Mr Lloyd condemned a viral video depicting the sexual exploitation of a minor, saying the government must pursue punitive sanctions against people who spread such videos.
"I invite our government to consider punitive sanctions for persons who knowingly record via electronically and display or transmit to the wider world community matters, incidents, circumstances, acts which can bring an individual’s life into endless and probably unimaginable disrepute,” Mr Lloyd said.