Cyber abuse – worse than a punch in the head

Remember the phrase; “sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me?”

This is an outdated and  false notion according to latest neuroscience research. In the world of online abuse, words can deeply wound and cause depression,  anxiety and even suicide.

Have you been a victim of cyber bullying?


There’s a great new series on ABC with Tara Moss that’s definitely worth watching. Considering that over three quarters of Australians under the age of 30 have experienced online abuse it’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously.


Moss explores the world of online shaming, attacking and bullying  and discovers the emotional and physical toll these emotional attacks have on the body.

Cyberbullying is is a criminal activity and is illegal.

Examples of cyberbullying are;

  • teasing and being made fun of in a negative manner causing emotional distress
  • spreading of rumours online
  • sending unwanted messages after being asked not too
  • defamation.

The thing that’s different about cyberbullying is that you can be under attack 24/7 and the messages come into your personal space whether you’re at home or work. The bully doesn’t actually have to be in the same room as you.  Cyber bullying can reach a greater scope and scale and reach a wider audience and cyber bullies can hide behind cowardly anonymous profiles.



I’m glad they make mention of the celebrity Charlotte Dawson. She sadly took her own life after vicious, non-stop enslaughts of cyber bullying from hundreds of followers. This really highlights the devastating emotional impact cyberhate can have on victims. It’s not funny to attack people online. It’s sickening and cruel bullying. It can drive victims to suicide.

Below was Dawson’s final twitter post. The vile responses  turn my stomach.




After Moss courageously  explained she was a survivor of sexual assault on the ABC program Q and A, she was bombarded with vicious cyber bullying and cyber hate. It’s hard to listen to. The attacks are vitriolic and sexually violent. They reek with sexual violence, shame, stigma, victim blaming and misogyny.

Aswell as being a former model and best selling author, Moss is also a human rights campaigner. It’s inspiring to see her stand up and speak out for others based on her own harrowing experiences. Her bravery and strength is inspiring. Research shows that victims of online bullying can step back into the shadows and can be too afraid to keep putting it out there publicly. It’s important not to let the bullies win or dim your shine.


I was particularly fascinated when Tara Moss stepped into an MRI with the help of Dr Sylvia Gustin at Neuroscience Research Australia. As Tara lay still in the MRI she was forced to read and reread the hateful insults sent to her.

“Have you no shame, whore?”
“Lying about being raped to sell your garbage book?”
“I hope you do get raped for your lies.”


The results of her brain scan show how false the phrase “words will never hurt me” actually is. The words have the same effect neurologically speaking as if you were to be punched in the face. The physiological response to the cyber hate was very real.

Dr Emma A Jane was one of the main researchers for the show and she explains that cyber hate is a form of violence because of how the brain responds to the abuse. “Words can cause harm in a similar way that me punching you in the face would cause you harm,” she says.


Dr Gustin’s research has proved the same thing.

“We know that emotional abuse, such as cyber-bullying, is just as hideous as physical abuse.   It can have devastating effects, causing problems such as sleep trouble, anxiety, depression and even suicide.”


Dr Gustin explains that cyber abuse can be even worse than physical abuse.

“… because the victims of emotional abuse blame themselves and minimise their abuse. They say, ‘It was only online words, at least he/she didn’t hit me.’ The more you deny and suppress feelings of sadness, helplessness and fear, the stronger these feelings are in your mind and the more they have an impact on both your physical and mental health..”

Some of the other main points to come out of the series so far, is that the advice to stay off the internet after experiencing bullying is wrong and reeks of victim blaming.

Dr Gustin says we need to talk about it openly for healing to occur. How many times do people tell you to just ignore it. Bottling it up doesn’t work.

Moss says we need to report it and Dr Jane says we need a multi pronged approach…

“Police need to be trained and take complaints seriously. Schools need resources in cyber civility. Parents need to talk about engaging online with their kids, and individuals need to take responsibility for the way we use technology and call out bad behaviour.”

What about you? Have you ever attacked anyone online before? How could you be kinder online? How does attacking others online help make up for any insecurities you have about yourself? How can you work on being more happy in yourself rather than tearing others down?


Have you ever been attacked online? How did it effect you? What helped and what didn’t?
Have you ever stood up for someone being bullied? Did you report it?

Please get in touch if you’d like to work through some emotions this article has brought up for you.


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