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Teen Cyberbully Victim, Now Advocate Says People Don't Take Issue Seriously Until a Child Commits Suicide

Even with school policies, bills and statutes created to protect students against cyberbulling, the issue still prevails and is rapidly increasing as the influence of technology grows, says Sarah Ball, a teen bully-victim-turned-advocate.

The only time that Americans seem to empathize with online bullying is when a new headline about a teen committing suicide makes waves through the media, she emphasizes, other times, the topic's importance remains latent.  

"Some school districts don't even incorporate cyberbullying into their bullying policies. The majority of the time, people, peers and adults don't take what is happening seriously until a child, a teen ends their life," said Ball to The Christian Post.

Ball, 18, dedicates her time to communicating the consequences that cyberbullying has on teens, through her digital project, Hernando Unbreakable, with hopes that schools will not only be aware of the issue, but take action when early signs of cyber bullying become evident among students.

According to Do Something, a nonprofit that spearheads national campaigns dedicated to impact young adults, cyberbullying happens to one in four students, and bullying victims are two to nine times more likely to consider committing suicide.

However, a poll released by The Associated Press and MTV in October found that incidents of "digital abuse" are somewhat declining. The poll found that 49 percent of teens and young adults said they had experienced cyber bullying, down from about 56 percent in 2011.

But Ball begs to differ.

"I strongly believe that all the awareness that has been growing for bullying has put the issue in the limelight. However, I do not, by any means, think the issue has decreased at all. I think kids will find more ways to cyber bully one another. I think the typical school yard bullying has decreased, which means just less physical damage, but more emotional damage," she said.

According to Paul Coughlin, who runs The Protectors, an organization aimed at equipping children, parents and school officials against bullying, cyberbullying continues to increase although policies may be set in place by schools. Oftentimes, there are not enough educators to enforce them, he says, due to short staffing as is the case in Christian private schools.

"It's amazing how understaffed many can be," Coughlin told CP. "When you put yourself in their shoes, they are asked to do a lot of things with not as many people. Imagine trying to keep track of social media relative to that entire student body, it would be relatively impossible to do."  

However, the solution, he says, could be to implement software that filters through popular social media sites to pick up bullying-related keywords in order to generate an alert that can be sent to parents and school officials. The proposed solution could be the beginning of addressing cyberbullying during its primary stage, says Coughlin.

"That's probably one of the best uses of technology when it comes to diminishing bullying," he said.

As a victim of cyberbullying herself, Ball is trying to be a part of the solution as well, because she knows firsthand the humiliation that victims endure.

"There's this thing that I like to call 'cybermobbing,' and it's where your peers see the harassment and humiliation you are going through online and decide to join in," said Ball. "I was no stranger to the cybermobbing of my peers, they created a false image of me and people I'd never even met insulted me, while they all did nothing to defend me."

She added, "Teens and peers think they are doing harmless acts, but really it's the most harmful thing you could do to anyone. I felt like I wasn't worth saving, that maybe I was all the horrible and disgusting things they were saying to me and I would just have to accept it."

Upon beginning her Unbreakable movement, and publicly speaking about her struggle as a victim for the first time at a youth summit in her Florida town, Ball began to get media attention about her story. Now, the teen has created a platform that has allowed her to connect with others like herself.

In February, Ball will take part in "Hope for the Bay," an art and film festival that will teach kids how to use technology responsibly to benefit their community. Ball was personally handpicked to speak at the event by Lee Hirsch, director of the award winning documentary, "Bully," after he heard her story.

"No one is teaching the teens and kids how to be responsible with technology, especially with all the new and coming apps," said Ball. "A 12-year-old should not have to end their life as proof that cyber bullying is painful, it's debilitating at times."

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