Co Down abuse victim Anita says surge in cyberbullying is no surprise
A Co Down woman who was subjected to a horrific campaign of bullying online when she was just 16 says she is "not surprised" by NSPCC figures that reveal a stark rise in this type of activity involving children and young people.
As Anti-Bullying Week gets underway across Northern Ireland, the NSPCC said online trolling had increased by a staggering 88% in the past five years, with 318 Childline counselling sessions taking place here in the last 12 months.
Anita Dennison, who was bullied at the age of 16, now helps others experiencing similar situations through Don't Bully, the organisation she founded.
The inspirational 20-year-old, who last year won a Princess of Diana Award for her work, says she was able to get through the "dark circle of negativity" she was subjected to thanks to a strong support network.
Anita, from Newry, regularly speaks to parents whose children, some aged as young as 11, are victims of online bullying. "These latest statistics from the NSPCC don't really surprise me," Anita told the Belfast Telegraph.
"Children between the ages of 11 and 18 are experiencing bullying online, even though the minimum age to set up on Facebook is 13.
"I find that, even since my own experience, there are so many different platforms and sites that you can be anonymous on and that is such a huge part of the problem.
"In my own case, people set up fake Facebook accounts and put harmful comments up about me and, without a doubt, that did have a very tough effect on me."
"I have been able to put it all behind me and would say to others, 'You can find the strength to get through this'."
Anita urged those being bullied online not to give up their social media account.
"You have a right to have your own account or profile and you deserve to be able to use it safely," she said. "My advice would be if you do come across bullying, block, report and inform somebody about it."
This year, the NSPCC is working with the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum (NIABF) to promote the theme, 'Together We are Stronger', which aims to help children and young people, along with their parents and carers, to work together to tackle bullying.
The charity will also attend the NIABF's special awards ceremony today at Titanic Belfast to celebrate the winners of an art competition.