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What Are The Laws Around Cyber Abuse In Australia?

Cyber-bullying is here to stay and the laws surrounding it are changing, so how does the law apply to different kinds of cyberbullying?

Cyber-bullying is hard to define. It can be applied to calling someone stupid, or one person threatening to murder someone.

"Everyone f***ing hates you, everyone wants to f***ing kill you!"

"You're probably gonna kill yourself before I f***ing kill you, but you know what? I want to f***ing kill you!"

This is one of the more extreme examples of the phenomenon, from a recent case where two girls brutally abused another schoolgirl on the Gold Coast.

Some forms of cyber-bullying are punishable by law. (Image AAP)

While any attempt on the victim's life is usually unlikely, serious threats to a person's life are illegal -- and it's within the police's prerogative to prosecute those who do so.

“Telling someone to kill themselves is very different from 'I will kill you', so making a direct threat is very different and will be actioned very differently," Tyrone Kirchengast, associate professor of Criminal Law at Sydney University Law School said.

"The latter is bullying and harassment, but the former is a direct threat to life."

The main focus, however, away from direct threats to children's lives is to keep them outside of child courts wherever possible.

One such example is the NSW state legislation called the Young Offenders Act 1997.

This law provides a mechanism where children are given warnings by police, or conferences can be convened in which those involved will meet for mediation. The incident is often placed in the perpetrator's criminal history, but not their criminal record.

Cyber-bullying has seen children kill themselves, such as Amy "Dolly" Everett. (Image AAP)

“Where a matter might otherwise proceed before a children’s court, it might otherwise proceed before a youth justice conference, where an offender meets the victim, meets a police officer, meets a community representative in order to try and break the chain of offending," Kirchengast said.

Part of the issue, however, is the question over the severity of the crime compared to more tangible offences. According to Andre Oboler -- CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, and Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University Law School -- it's a matter of how online incidents compare to all other incidences.

READ MORE: How Do We Stop Cyber-Bullying In Our Schools?

READ MORE: The Cyber-Bullying Talk Parents Must Have With Their Kids

"You talk to the average police officer, and if it's a matter of a break-in or cyber-bullying, they're not going to be seen as anything close to the same urgency even after a break-in's occurred," he told 10 daily.

"But the break-in may be property damage, where the cyber-bullying may actually be pushing someone to suicide."

The e-safety commissioner has limited power to help adults who are the victims of cyber-bullying. (Image Getty)

One of the main organisations standing to fight cyber-bullying is the E-Safety Commissioner, but their administrative powers are mainly limited to cases involving children, Oboler said.

"They're not the police, they don't have particular powers for cyber-bullying in general, unlike the case with children," he said.

When the case involves children, the E-Safety commissioner can directly contact social media platforms themselves to remove content.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

If you need help in a crisis, or just need someone to talk to, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800

Contact the author: mgay@networkten.com.au

Feature Image: AAP