Tough Love

Published 7:18 am Wednesday, May 29, 2013

AHOSKIE – As the local District Attorney, Valerie Asbell  can be “bulldog” tough.

However, Asbell is also the mother of two sons and will take any measures necessary to protect their safety and well-being. When you combine her two main jobs in life, all children of the local area can feel that same sense of security.

Case in point was Asbell’s series of presentations at Bertie Middle School and Bertie High School where she addressed the legal ramifications of bullying and cyberbullying. She was joined by Assistant District Attorney Charlie Cole in front of all ninth graders at the high school as well as all grades at the middle school.

Bertie Public Schools Superintendent Elaine White said the system has a zero tolerance approach when it comes to bullying, cyberbullying, and crimes of violence that affect their students.

Asbell gave the same presentation to the students at Bethel Christian Academy in Askewville. During their presentations, Asbell and Cole explained the legal definitions of bullying and also cyberbullying and informed the students of the many forms of cyberbullying through the use of technology and explained the legal consequences of engaging in this activity.

Asbell has been asked to give this same presentation in the school systems in Hertford and Northampton counties.

The District Attorney explained to the children that people can be charged with cyberbullying when they use technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person most often by using cell phones and computers. She also explained that another common method involves posting humiliating or embarrassing information about someone in a public online forum (e.g., an online bulletin board, chat room, or web page). Although cyberbullying does not involve personal contact between an offender and victim, it remains psychologically and emotionally damaging to youth.

Her presentation emphasized helping students avoid becoming perpetrators or victims of online exploitation. In addition, Asbell encouraged victims of cyberbullying or those who witness this electronic act to talk to an adult they trust.  Her presentation stressed the importance of online reputations and the misuse of Facebook and other internet social networks.

“I told the children that they  need to know that what they post or send in cyberspace will remain there for a long time – even after they delete those provocative pictures or inappropriate messages,” Asbell said.

She also talked about the negative implications that stem from carelessness or foolishness of cyberbullying on the Internet, and how it can affect athletic participation, college admission, work opportunities, and social relationships.

“I, along with other members of my staff, go into the schools in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties because I care about our children and want to keep them out of the courtroom.  One of my top priorities is the protection of children in my District,” Asbell stated.

She has also given this same presentation in the elementary schools in a somewhat different fashion, but the goal is the same.

“I have a professional and personal reason for teaching young people about bullying and cyberbullying,” she said.  “I have two boys, ages 9 and 15.  Although I am the District Attorney, I am always a mother first. The safety of my children and all children will always be personal to me.”

She added that her office created this presentation for middle and high school students to help educate them about cyberbullying and how it can start out so innocently, and become so very hurtful.

“One example I shared with all of the students was the death of a 10 year old girl from Columbus County who committed suicide by hanging herself in her room before school after being repeatedly bullied at school,” Asbell said. “I think that story really hit home to the young people and made it real.

“As technology plays an increasing role in children’s lives, bullying on the playground has evolved into bullying online,” she continued. “Increasingly, social media is being used to harass, threaten, or torment individuals, many of whom are school-aged children. Cyber-bullying can have serious consequences for both the target and for the perpetrator. My office is committed to educating the public on the dangers associated with this harmful and pervasive problem, as well as teaching parents, students, and educators how to detect and prevent it.”

Asbell noted that cyberbullying is a 24/7 problem and often occurs in the supposed safety and security of the home.

“There is a social stigma attached to reporting these incidents to an adult – parent or teacher.  I wanted to let the students know that  cyberbullying is not acceptable under any circumstances, and that any type of bullying is a serious matter and young people who cyberbully can be charged and prosecuted in a court of law,” she said.

“I also pointed out how cyberbullying is actually much easier to document and track than other forms of bullying and therefore is often more likely to lead to consequences, legally and otherwise. I am extremely happy that Bertie County Schools have implemented the Bullying, Harrassment Tip Line on its website.  Because students and parents can call the tip line anonymously, the students may be more inclined to report instances of bullying and cyberbullying since there will be no personal repercussions based on the information they provide. By implementing this tip line, the Bertie County Schools have taken a proactive approach to preventing this type of conduct,” Asbell concluded.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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