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Wednesday 21 August 2019

'Schools not facing up to bullying', says coco mum

Jackie Fenlon
Jackie Fenlon

A woman who campaigned for legislation to protect victims of cyberbullying after her daughter took her own life says Coco's Law, which is named after her, will finally deter online bullies.

However, she added that schools must first start "teaching respect".

Jackie Fenlon spoke in the wake of a recent report that found Ireland has one of the highest rates of cyberbullying in Europe and young women are more affected than men.

Researchers with the Euro-found organisation, which conducts pan-European surveys on quality-of-life issues, also found young Irish women are suffering the highest levels of depression in the EU.

After her death, Ms Fenlon turned her grief for daughter Nicole Fox Fenlon (21), known as Coco, into action by fighting to save other women from cyberbullying.

Epidemic

For her, the answer to the epidemic is clear.

"Cyberbullying is a huge part of this issue and the fact is it's been left unchecked by the Government, the legal system, for so long," she said.

In May, the Government agreed to draft legislation, Coco's Law, which proposes a list of new offences.

These include taking and distributing intimate images without consent; online or digital harassment; a specific offence of stalking; an expanded offence of sending threatening or indecent messages; and revenge pornography.

"Until Coco's Law is introduced, cyberbullying, which directly causes depression, self-harm and can lead to suicide, will continue because there's nothing legally to stop this," said Ms Fenlon.

Daughter Nicole ‘Coco’ Fox Fenlon
Daughter Nicole ‘Coco’ Fox Fenlon

"But there's also a problem with schools. Most don't want to face up to bullying, to admit they have a bullying problem."

Ms Fenlon, who lobbied TDs and ministers to introduce the legislation, said she has not been allowed into schools across Dublin to talk about cyberbullying.

She feels it is because most won't admit it exists.

"I've been trying to get into schools to highlight what can happen by talking about my daughter," Ms Fenlon said.

"I wanted to show children what it can lead to, whether that's self-harm, suicide or dragging people to depression.

"Teens, in particular, need to be targeted to solve this issue, but schools across Dublin haven't let me come to talk to the kids. Only one school in Athy, Co Kildare, was agreeable to letting me come to talk to the children.

"They don't seem to want to own up to the fact that bullying is already there, in every section of society, and that includes schools. It's about tackling it from an early age.

"I believe we need actual lessons on the curriculum for kids from a young age to teach respect and anti-bullying.

"Bullying always existed in schools, but now it's worse as there's no escape when a child or young person goes home."

Nicole had enjoyed a happy childhood, but when the cyberbullying began and fed into real life, she became depressed and eventually took her own life.

Consequences

"Nicole was bullied so much, she was told to die, to kill herself, and the police came back to me telling me there was no law in Ireland regarding cyberbullying," Ms Fenlon said.

"You could say anything you wanted through social networks and there were no consequences legally."

Eurofound researchers said that nearly 17pc of Irish women aged 15 to 24 are at risk of developing depression.

Young women aged 15 to 24 in most EU states were also found to be more likely to suffer depression than young men.

"I never wanted a law named after my daughter. I wanted my daughter here with me, but I never thought in a million years I could take on the Government and get a law to protect people," Ms Fenlon said.

"Coco's Law will be the first law to be named after someone in Ireland, and it's Nicole's legacy now, and it makes me proud but really sad too.

"It's time for a huge change, and I believe that's what will happen with this legislation. We just need the schools to also progress."

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