Whanganui police step in as kids ‘assaulted’ in social media craze

A “game” circulating on social media, including the TikTok app, is resulting in young people being assaulted by their peers, with a Whanganui school this week calling in police to help deal with the issue.

Whanganui Intermediate School principal Katherine Ellery sent a letter to parents/caregivers about the school’s response to an “inappropriate game” that had surfaced in the playground this week, resulting in a special assembly for male students on Tuesday.

The Chronicle has chosen not to include the names the “game” is known by or specifics of what it involves.

“The victim receives a very frightening and painful experience that leaves them feeling completely violated,” Ellery said in the letter distributed on Tuesday.

“This morning I spoke with the police and their reaction was swift. They had two officers on site for the assembly to support the message I delivered to the boys. This is not okay, this is not a game, this is indecent assault! The police will continue to support our school, as they are a number of other schools in Whanganui who are experiencing an outbreak of this behaviour.”

Ellery said students had been given the message the school was taking the issue very seriously and there would be consequences for assaulting another student.

The process outlined in the letter is:

“• We will phone the parents/caregivers of any offender immediately to ensure they are removed from our school.

• Stand-down or Suspension from WIS (the latter means that the student and parents/caregivers will have to meet with the Board of Trustees to decide if the student can remain at our school).

• The school will submit a “Report of Concern” (ROC) to Oranga Tamariki and the NZ Police naming the offenders (these departments will follow their own process on receipt of our ROC).

• No student who behaves in this manner will return to our school without a Safety Plan in place.”

Ellery asked parents and caregivers to talk with their children about why it was not a game but indecent assault.

“Please also speak to them about the inappropriateness of many social media posts. Check on their online activity regularly.

“We will have Life Education on site this year to provide education around social media.

“We also have access to Wellstop resources to educate students around the concept of ‘consent’ when relating to their own bodies. However, the quickest and most powerful way to ensure our students get the message is through you – their parents, whānau and caregivers.”

Whanganui Police Sergeant Craig Yorston said police and Whanganui Intermediate were working closely to address the issue.

“Police are aware of this social media trend at several Whanganui schools, and are concerned that it encourages young people to assault their peers,” Yorston said.

“Officers … attended an assembly at Whanganui Intermediate to support a school-led message that this behaviour is unacceptable.

“Police will investigate all reports of assault and, where necessary, work with a school and other agencies to ensure students are safe and feel safe.

“We recommend parents and caregivers sit down with their young people and speak with them about the dangers of viewing or engaging in the behaviour reportedly encouraged by this ‘game’.”

Ellery said the school did not want to comment further on the issue.

Online safety

Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said parents could not hope to be across every online fad and potential risk but there were general strategies that could help to build more resilient and prepared children.

“When you’re dealing with things individually, like if your child, for example, copied one of the online crazes and created online content then realised that was a bad idea, then that’s a different conversation from more proactive work we do with parents and schools around online safety,” Cocker said.

If a child did post inappropriate content, Netsafe could help parents through a process to get that content removed and reduce any harm that might occur.

“But the overall conversation we’re having with parents and schools is about proactively talking about the different challenges that exist on the internet or that play out through the internet and trying to get ahead of them,” Cocker said.

“So you would ideally have talked to young people about the fact that these fads do go around and that even if you see that lots and lots of people are doing them that if they harm somebody else, or indeed could harm you … it’s important not to.”

This could help children be pre-prepared to recognise the risk and avoid it, he said.

“Regularly there’s a fad that sweeps through social media and some of them are just downright dangerous. So the interesting conversation for parents to have with children is about the fads, about the challenges, about them more generally and why they’re popular and why people do them. What are the risks that come with them?

“There are definitely lots of opportunities to have a proactive conversation for parents with their kids.”

Cocker said it was hard for parents and caregivers to keep up with what was happening online.

“The reality is you can’t, as a parent, hope to be across every fad, every risk and every specific thing that’s happening on the internet at any given time.

“But there is a general strategy for building a more resilient and prepared child.”

Netsafe had an online safety toolkit for parents which worked through a process so parents were more aware of their child’s online activity and more actively managing it, without being in control of it, he said.

It ranged from increasing awareness to setting up and agreeing rules if required and making a plan of what to do if something went wrong.

“If parents go through that entire process – and they don’t have to be quite as structured as in the guide – with their children they are definitely seriously reducing the risks and the chances of harm for that child.”

Schools had “an incredible opportunity” to weave in online safety to the education they provided, Cocker said.

“Schools have a responsibility to prepare young people to be successful in a modern digital society and part of that is developing safety skills for that digital society as well. I think every school would accept some responsibility, integrated into the general development of children, to develop safety skills and techniques for online.

“Different schools have a different level of investment in it. Different schools will feel a different level of responsibility in terms of that mix, splitting with parents.”

Netsafe’s toolkit for parents is available at www.netsafe.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Online-Safety-Parent-Toolkit-2020.pdf

The minimum sign-up age for Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and YouTube is 13 years.

NETSAFE HELPLINE

• Call toll-free on 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)
• Email [email protected]
• Complete an online contact form
• Text ‘Netsafe’ to 4282

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