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TV presenter and ChildLine founder Esther Rantzen adds voice to calls for Canadian-style laws on cyberbullying

Esther Rantzen, founder of ChildLine, supports calls for Canadian-style laws targeting cyberbullying to be brought to the UK. Picture: Nigel Sutton Esther Rantzen, founder of ChildLine, supports calls for Canadian-style laws targeting cyberbullying to be brought to the UK. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Friday, February 21, 2014
8:00 AM

Television presenter and philanthropist Esther Rantzen has called for the government to crack down on cyberbullying by bringing in Canadian-style laws.

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West Hampstead schoolgirl Tallulah Wilson, 15, was allegedly bullied through social networks and via texts before her death in October 2012West Hampstead schoolgirl Tallulah Wilson, 15, was allegedly bullied through social networks and via texts before her death in October 2012

The ChildLine founder, of Hampstead, said Canada has shown the world that targeted legislation specifically tackling online bullying can be introduced.

The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, due to come into force before the summer, would ban anyone from distributing intimate images, sometimes known as “sexting”, without consent and would give courts the power to remove such photos from the internet.

Courts could also order the confiscation of a device, such as a computer or mobile phone, that has been used to harass another person or distribute intimate images.

West Hampstead teenager Tallulah Wilson, who killed herself in October 2012, was allegedly bullied on social media networks and via texts.

Ms Rantzen, 73, said: “I am deeply concerned by the number of young people who are contacting ChildLine because they are suffering from sexting and cyberbullying.

“I certainly think that Canada is showing that legislation can be put in place, and if it works there, it will work here.

“Certainly this is a new danger for young people, and one from which they need protecting.”

Ms Rantzen is joined in support of Canadian-style laws by Suzie Hayman, trustee of children’s charity FamilyLives and an alumni of Camden School for Girls in Camden Town.

“I would love to see it come in over here,” said Ms Hayman, an agony aunt for Woman magazine. “We have a wonderful playground in cyber space... but like any new frontier it is still a bit wild.”

The call for more targeted legislation in the UK comes as charities launch an international anti-bullying campaign today (Thursday) to force the European Commission to bring in specific laws to combat bullying and cyberbullying across Europe.

The campaign, led by UK charity Beat Bullying and pan-European project Delete Cyberbullying, has won the support of X Factor winners Little Mix and the Walt Disney Company.

But not all are in favour of targeted legislation.

Dan Raisbeck, co-founder of ChildSmile, the only UK charity dedicated to stopping cyberbullying, said the government should instead focus on raising awareness of the impact of cyberbullying amongst young people by integrating the topic into the national curriculum.

He added that there would be a 
danger of criminalising children if specific cyberbullying laws were introduced.

Nigel Harris, acting director of Camden LGBT Forum, who regularly visits Camden’s schools to talk about the impact of homophobic cyberbullying, wants the Metropolitan Police Service to set up a department that deals solely with bullying and cyberbullying claims.

More than 4,500 young people rang ChildLine, the confidential free helpline for children in need, about cyberbullying last year, an 87 per cent rise on the previous year.

Mr Raisbeck said: “[Cyberbullying] is just much quicker and easier because of the advent of smartphones.

“The price of technology is much cheaper and teenagers can now afford to buy smartphones, giving them access to the internet.”

The UK does not currently have any specific legislation covering cyberbullying.

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