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Girls twice as likely to be victims of cyber bullies

ONE IN five young people has been a victim of cyber- bullying, which experts warn can cause more psychological damage than traditional forms of bullying.

Hate emails, threatening texts and humiliating images posted on social networking sites are twice as likely to be targeted at girls than boys, according to new research.

Cyber-victims can suffer more because they feel unable to escape from online and mobile phone threats.

The hidden identities of cyber-bullies, as well as the ability for messages and images to "go viral" within minutes, amplifies the threat, said Steve Walker, the study's co-author and principle lecturer in child and adolescent mental health at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU).

The UK survey of nearly 500 10 to 19-year-olds found that half of those bullied said their mental health had suffered.

More than a quarter had missed classes and more than a third stopped socialising because they felt scared or embarrassed by the bullying.

The online survey was followed by two focus groups which analysed the experiences and fears of 17 youngsters.

Walker said: "They cannot come home from school, shut their bedroom door and feel safe, because as soon as they switch on the computer or receive a text, the potential is there.

"It is much harder to avoid than traditional bullying because avoiding the internet and mobile phones just isn't an option; these are as much part of a young person's life as brushing their teeth."

He added: "Anti-bullying campaigns and professionals working with young people need to be smarter and more in tune with technology so they pick it up, because cyber-bullying poses a serious public health problem."

Research by Beatbullying found that cyber-victims were often targeted in person as well. However, Richard Piggin, Beatbullying's deputy chief executive, said perpetrators tended to underestimate the impact of cyber-bullying because they could not see the distress they caused.

It wants the social networking industry to quickly take down abusive content.