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During the Covid-19 pandemic, cyber bullying is becoming a growing problem as socially isolated youth spend more time on their phones and devices, according to Fostering Open eXpression among Youth (FOXY).

“There’s been an increase in bullying and cyber violence because a lot of students aren’t able to attend school regularly,” said Amanda Kanbari, director of programs.

After its formation more than eight years ago, FOXY has been providing information and support for young women and gender-diverse youth on sexual health and relationships.

The Yellowknife-based non-profit organization does most of its youth engagement during the school year through workshops in schools and communities in the three territories.

FOXY brings a gender-based approach to its support on bullying that focuses specifically on young women and people who consider themselves outside the gender binary.

Targeting cyber bullying

The group’s focus on bullying isn’t restricted to Pink Shirt Day, but this year it’s holding a workshop with students at Mildred Hall School about cyber violence and tech-based violence.

“We want to make sure that people know what cyber violence looks like. It can include issues like taking people’s photos off the cloud and sending them to other folks,” said Kanbari. “It can include text-based harassment or app harassment. It can include using location-based services and finding out where people are (and) sexting and nude (images) and using those to blackmail people.

“That can lead to real problems around relationships. We also have issues with people posting lewd comments and hiding behind computers or cellphones and making people feel insecure.”

As an organization that also conducts a lot of research on health and social trends, it has done work on bullying, though it has yet to published. Its other research has been published in academic journals, including Global Public Health and Qualitative Health Research, and the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

Kanbari said cyber bullying has become so normalized in daily life and celebrity culture it’s often not even regarded as harassment. But it arises often in the conversations that FOXY has with youth.

Supports for youth being bullied

As part of its conversations and workshops on bullying, FOXY discusses how to treat others with respect, how to set boundaries and respect other peoples’ boundaries, how consent works and the legal issues involved in bullying.

It does all of that through a trauma-informed lens, an approach that prioritizes the safety, choice and control of trauma survivors.

When young people approach FOXY about instances of bullying they’re experiencing, the organization takes the concerns to school administrations. In cases where the harassment has criminal implications, the issue is taken to the police.

“We can work with youth directly but we understand it’s a bigger issue,” Kanbari said. “We want to bring in as many resources as possible so youth feel supported. We have counsellors and psychologists on staff and contracted. We also work directly with youth to support them using Elders. That can mitigate the effects of bullying.”

More resources needed for LGBTQ2S youth

Kanbari said the bullying that some LGBTQ2S youth face involves more stigma than what young women face. Part of the problem is that resources available in schools are sometimes insufficient for the issue, she said.

“Not having all the tools available and not having folks who know intimately the issues that LGBTQ2S youth face, sometimes it means they don’t get the support they need. The bullying can sometimes increase or not get noticed by adults in their lives. And in Yellowknife there might be more resources than in the communities.”

Even though for this year FOXY is focusing more on cyber harassment, Kanbari stresses that bullying happens both virtually and in the real world, and people must be aware of it.

“In order to combat it we need to look at our behaviours and choices and think critically about how we work with and affect others,” she advised.

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