Scientific trials on the impact of harrassment in the online environment

AUTHOR: Criminal law solicitor, Poroșnicu Gianina Vera (National Union of Law Bars in Romania – Law Bar Iași)


The antimafia prosecutors are making an investigation in a school in Buzău for a pornography case. A 12-year-old girl distributed to all the school pupils intimate images of a female classmate that she had obtained after having created a boy’s virtual identity.” Psychologists say that such incidents may have serious consequences upon the youth”, said Digi 24 in November.
Hence the violence acts with criminal incidence are moving step by step to the virtual environment. Whether we talk of cybernetic harrassment among children, of child pornography or, even more, of economic fraud made by technological means, the violence acts are now available to anyone by gadgets, and also, they can be propagated online at an amazing speed.
The case is under investigation by the prosecutors of DIICOT Buzău.
“We confirm the recent registration of a criminal case, at the Territorial Department Buzău, having as an object the offence of child pornography by informatic systems. The case involves minors and the research is in the initial phase”, added Laura Dragomir, the head of the Territorial Department DIICOT.
The specialists say that such situations may have serious consequences on the teenagers’ psyche whereas the effects are sometimes more pervert than the impact of the well-known traditional violence acts.
We were traditionally used to the protection and the comfort of our homes whereas all the technological news were meant to provide us with a better life. The events triggered by the easy access to technology impose us much caution to use them and even the awareness about legal measures of protection and intervention on the online behaviour. Nowadays, everybody has a gun whereas the aggression acquires indirect, subtle, pervert forms, with the same effects or with harder ones than in the case of the traditional violence. When, in the real world, a person who hits another person is sanctioned by the criminal law, similarly in the virtual environment there must be consequences for the behaviour of the guilty person.
In the case of irony, slender, offence or even hitting face to face, the facts had a well classified scenario that could be sanctioned. In the virtual environment, the facts get an unforeseen extent because once posted online, they have a continuous character whereas the impact upon the victim is felt each time when, in the violence circle, appear new witnesses, onlookers and facilitators.
We classify violence, at the level of the common sense, as a fact that causes us pain, but from a psychological point of view, the pain is rather a spiritual and psychological reality since some facts are considered aggressive for some persons but not for others.
The picture (Olwes, 1995) shows the psychological delimitation between aggression and aggressivity, aggressivity/aggressive behaviour is the general term (the delimited area by the outer big circle), because both aggressivity and violence/ violent behaviour are subcategories of aggressive behaviour (by covering smaller areas inside the big circle). As shown by the shadowy part, there is an overlap between violence and aggresion. This area denotes situations in which agressivity is done by physical means, contact or expressed in a different way, when the physical means are used in the context of aggressivity (hitting, pushing), in the situations when the general criteria of aggressivity are met.

Furthermore, before occurring, a harrassment behaviour needs three actors: aggressor, victim and direct or indirect witnesses, as it is indicated by the psychological research on harrassment. The collected data until now clearly suggest that the personality traits or models of tipical reaction, in combination with the physical power or weakness in the case of boys are important for the development of these issues. Furthermore, the environmental factors such as the attitude, the routine and the behaviour of the important adults play a major role in determining the measure by means of which the issues will appear on a greater scale (Olweus, 2010). The attitude and the behaviour of the important witnesses shown during the processes and group mechanisms are undoubtedly important in the resilient development of the student in front of the bullying phenomenon, by the solution model or by the offered support.
First of all, the aggressors strongly need power and domination; they seem to enjoy controlling and ruling the others. Secondly, having in view the family conditions in which many of them have grown up, it is natural to suppose that they have developped a certain degree of hostility to the environment. Then, such feelings and impulses can make them derive satisfaction by causing lesions and suffering to other persons. Lastly, there is clearly an advantage component for their behaviour that offers them benefits (Olweus, 2007). The aggressors often force their victims to get from them money, cigarettes, alcohol and other valuable things. Furthermore, the aggressive behaviour is in many situations rewarded in the shape of social prestige. When several pupils get together in order to intimidate another student, there may occur certain social/psychological group mechanisms. Some of them were discussed in detail by Olweus (2010), among which we enumerate: social contagion; the decrease of the control or inhibitions against the aggressive tendencies; the diffusion of responsibility; gradual cognitive modifications in the perception of aggressing the victim. All these mechanisms can contribute to misunderstandings and explain why certain persons who usually are non-aggressive may eventually participate to aggressions without many doubts. The aggressors and the victims are in key positions in the configuration bully / in a group, but also other persons play an important role, by showing different attitudes and reactions to the aggression that they see. The following figure presents the bully’s circle and it represents the different ways in which most people are affected by issues related to the role of bully/victim (Olweus, 2007/ 2010):

Pupils’ reacting way / Pupils’ role in severe situations of harrassment:
Y. The exposed person, the victim
A. Harrasser / Harrassers
They start the aggression and they participate actively
B. The acolyte that watches
They participate actively without being at the origin of the harrassment
C. Supportive harrasser, passive harrasser
They support the harrassment without participating actively
D. Passive harrasser, possible harrasser
They like aggression, but they do not show obvious support
E. Non involved spectator
They watch what is going on, «it is not their business », they do not take attitude
F. Possible defender
They do not agree with the harrassment and they think they should help (but they don’t).
G. Defender of the victim
They do not agree with the harrassment and they help or try to help
In the case of the cybernetic harrassment, the victims are subject to irony, insults, posting of intimate or inadequate information, exclusion from different groups, in such online environment where the facts are repeated continually as a consequence of anonymacy, of the online desinhibition and of the online trade unions (Aiken, 2019). In the online environment, the aggressor is invisible like a super-hero, the aggressor has superpowers online, is desinhibited, whose behaviour is more amplified and accelerated than the one in the real world, and not lastly, several people who think alike have all the chances of meeting online, in a different way from the reality. Think of the effects that occur when all these aspects characterise people and behaviour prone to do harm.

1.Aiken, Mary Phd, 2016, ”The Cyber effect. A pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online”, Cybermatrix Limited
2.Grigore, Ana-Nicoleta, 2013, ”Current Forms of Violence Among Students: Bullying and Cyberbullying”, Analele Ştiinţifice ale Universităţii» Alexandru Ioan Cuza «din Iaşi. Ştiinţe ale Educatiei, Numărul: XVII, pagini 73-84
3.Jigău, M., Liiceanu, A. și Preoteasa, L., 2005, Violenţa în şcoală (Violence in schools), Institutul de Ştiinţe ale Educaţiei. (10/10/2013).
4.Olweus, D., 2010, “Bullying in schools. Facts and intervention”, în Kriminalistik, Vol. 64, No. 6, p. 30- 59.