Online harassment still present in student life

By: Diana Marti and Tiffany Huertas/Contributing Writers    

University student, Christian Rodriguez, remembers the first day he faced cyber bullying.

When Rodriguez was in eighth grade, he was hiding a big secret from his family and friends – a secret that could potentially break friendships and expose his real self.

He was gay.

One day after school, he confided in his best friend, Jose Pereda.

“He wasn’t very accepting of it,” Rodriguez said. “He had a lot of issues with it.”

This eventually led to Pereda ignoring Rodriguez the rest of the year.

Months had passed when Rodriguez decided to log on Yahoo! Messenger, an instant messaging site. What he found was quite surprising.

“He called me a faggot and all these derogatory names,” Rodriguez said. “It was a very difficult moment that I had with him and cyber bullying.”

Rodriguez got over it and has since joined Delta Lambda Phi at FIU, the nation’s first fraternity for gay men.

“I now help other brothers of mine in the fraternity with bullying issues,” he said.

Cyber bullying and stalking affect 99 percent of people over 18, according to the national halt online abuse research of 2011, but it can also happen at a very young age.

“I was bullied in middle school,” said University student, Marissa Gold.

Gold said it has left her with big scars. She now faces anxiety issues.

Specialist in mental health, Lauren Struck at a Coral Gables counseling center, deals with cyber bullying patients on a daily basis.

Struck said cyber bullying can affect people in a number of ways.

“It can affect the way they form attachments, their trust levels with other people, their ability to extrovert and share things with other people and just the risks that they’re willing to take in life,” she said. “They may feel stunted or hesitant, where they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Struck said this may also affect self-esteem and the ability to make friendships.

“I think the next step after the child has been bullied is to get them help. Whether it’s through a therapist or just having a good level of discussion,” Struck said. “The longer parents or guardians wait, the worse it’s going to get.”

The cyber bullying statute in Miami-Dade County was passed on April 30, 2008.

“Cyber bullying is a statute that was enacted in order for the school board to deal with children or students who are being either bullied or harassed via Internet, school, hazing, etc.” said Detective Roland Garcia.

He said that it is important that parents be involved with their child.

“The parents are reporting the incidents, not the students,” said the Miami-Dade detective adding that the more involved the parents are, the more likely their child is to open up to them.

Struck agrees.

“They need to talk to their child about what affected them emotionally and socially, and start addressing those issues right away,” she said.

This story was researched and written for JOU 3300 Advanced News Writing taught by Professor Teresa Ponte in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.