Up Front and Personal

Cyberbullying: A Reality In the Digital Slum

By Carol Glatz

A new kind of ghetto needs the Church’s presence and people’s solidarity: the “digital slum” where cyberbullying and online pornography and abuse run rampant, said speakers at a Vatican news conference.

Online harassment and abuse are “a new form of violence” against many young people and children, said Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Despite many national and international laws and agreements, “humanity still hasn’t been able to uproot completely the different forms of violence and exploitation against children,” he said Dec. 9.

Cardinal Turkson organized the news conference to highlight ongoing threats against children and young adults 25 years after the adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Virtual” abuse and harassment result in real, not virtual, damage, said Father Fortunato Di Noto, an Italian priest who, for the past 25 years, has been leading the fight in Italy to protect children from online predators around the world.

With Pope Francis’ emphasis on a Church that needs to go out to the peripheries to meet those who are hurting, Father Di Noto said the “periphery” includes a kind of emotional ghetto online where pedophiles and those addicted to pornography roam.

In the process of notifying police about online abuse, Father Di Noto said that he and his association, Meter, also have inadvertently created a kind of “tent” church in the dark places of the digital world. By monitoring abuse, they encounter abusers and witness “the ambiguous suffering of humanity” in their tortured lives.

They find people who, while inflicting pain on others, are looking for affection, meaning in life or trying to decipher their own pain, he said.

“We have to make sure that these places of emotional destitution, these new digital peripheries that I would call ‘digital slums,’ can be made habitable” because places that lack all forms of compassion and human connection attract ravenous “vultures,” he said.

His work has become a kind of online ministry, he said, that offers “real accompaniment on the Internet because there are many people who are in need because they ‘live’ in this place every day.”

Education and awareness still play a major role in preventing and eliminating “the terrible plagues” of human rights abuses that are facilitated by or carried out over the Internet, Cardinal Turkson said.

Father Di Noto said the only way to make an impact against such crime is for everyone “to get involved.”

Just as there is a Convention on the Rights of the Child, “perhaps we should create a Convention on the Responsibilities of the Adult” to remind adults of their duty to watch over and protect all children, he said.

Unfortunately many young people do not communicate with their parents or other adults about their online activity, even when they are facing some sort of abuse or harassment, he said.

Carol Glatz is a Vatican correspondent for Catholic News Service.


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