Aussies take out up to $1m in cyberbully insurance for kids
Australian parents are being offered cyber-bullying insurance for the first time as a new way to deal with "relentless" and traumatic online attacks against their children.
The unusual insurance, first offered in the United States, promises to cover the costs of burying harmful posts on search engines and social media, counselling and coaching for families, and unpaid leave to negotiate solutions with school authorities and police.
Experts and victims have given the approach a cautious welcome in Australia, with one parent saying it could provide guidance during an emotional and confusing time.
Cyber-bullying affects one in five children aged between the ages of eight and 17 in Australia, according to the eSafety Commission, with incidents jumping by 30 per cent last year.
Emergence Insurance founder Troy Filipcevic said he developed the Australian cyber-bullying coverage over three years, basing it on similar insurance offered in five other countries.
Getting the wording, approvals and finding counselling and forensic computing experts took time, he said, but was an important addition to modern insurance coverage.
"When I was going to school, it only used to happen in the schoolyard. You'd go home safe," he said.
"Now our kids are being bullied in the schoolyard but when they go home and open social media it's there as well. It's like having bullying on a megaphone."
The cyber-bullying protection plans include "critical guidance" counselling to teach families how to handle incidents, access to forensic IT experts to remove or hide abusive online posts from search results, and coverage for unpaid leave taken by parents to negotiate solutions with schools or attend counselling sessions.
Mr Filipcevic said the plans had already been taken out by some Australian private schools, "high net-worth individuals" and concerned parents, with the price of policies ranging from $99 to $400 a year for $50,000 to $1 million worth of coverage for cyber-bullying and other online harms, including identity theft and cyberstalking.
A representative for Chubb Insurance, which launched cyber-bullying insurance in the US five years ago, said the company had yet to offer its policies in the Australian market but had added limited assistance in its top home and contents insurance.
Australian eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said she could see why there was a market for cyber-bullying insurance in Australia, with incidents up 30 per cent during the pandemic and too many cases involving threats of violence and "conniving" schemes to evade detection.
"About 15 per cent of our cases are direct threats of harm; telling a kid to go and kill themselves, threatening their safety or the safety of their family," she said.
"But more and more we're seeing kids creating phoenixing accounts where they'll set up four or five accounts with the goal of targeting that child. The moment one account is taken down another one pops up. It's a relentless attack."
Ms Inman Grant said cyber-bullying could be incredibly challenging for students and parents to shut down, even though quick action was vital to stop harmful messages being amplified by other bullies.
In addition to insurance options, she said the eSafety Commission did have legal powers to order the removal of material, and representatives could step in to negotiate solutions with schools in serious cases.
"When bullying was happening recently we were able to escalate a problem with a pretty clear piece of cyber-bullying and have that taken down in 12 minutes. That really minimises the distress of the child," she said.
The Brisbane father of a cyber-bullying victim, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid further abuse, cautiously welcomed cyber-bullying insurance as an additional tool to help families navigate traumatic situations.
The father of two told News Corp his son faced relentless bullying by a group of students that forced him and his wife to take breaks from work.
"We were fearful at its height that he wouldn't come home from school alive," he said.
"It was placing so much pressure on the family unit that I made the decision to pull back from work. Then (my wife) had a year off while our son was in his senior year.
"It's enormously stressful and psychologically damaging for the kid."
He said being able to access guidance, support and IT experts "would have been fantastic" as dealing with schools, other parents, social networks and his child's reaction to the bullying was "really complex".
"There are no rules for how to deal with it, there's no textbook, individuals all react differently," he said.
"It's tough and my only advice is to echo Winston Churchill - if you're going through hell, keeping going. It can be hellish."
What's covered under cyber-bullying insurance:
- 'Critical guidance sessions' to teach parents them how to handle cyber-bullying incidents
- A 'cybersecurity coach' or 'forensic IT investigator' to address the online bullying messages
- Wage replacement for parents' unpaid leave to negotiate with authorities or attend counselling
- Cost of childcare directly caused by a cyber-bullying incident
- Pre-existing cyber-bullying issues are covered but additional benefits are paid for incidents that first occur during the policy
What to do if your child is being bullied online
- Collect evidence of the bullying behaviour, taking screenshots of online posts or private messages, gathering email and text messages
- Report abusive posts to social media platforms to have them removed
- If the posts are not removed, lodge a complaint with the eSafety Commission (esafety.gov.au) for assistance
- Children can report also bullying to the eSafety Commission anonymously, and can contact Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) for help at any time.
Originally published as Aussies take out up to $1m in cyberbully insurance for kids