New Zealand has one of the highest suicide rates amongst young people in the developed world. There are various theories about why this is the case, and harassment, abuse and bullying are often cited as a contributing stress.
The Harmful Digital Communications Act has made changes to the Crimes Act which now make it illegal to encourage or incite anyone to suicide, even if they do not actually attempt to harm themselves. The amendment to section 179 of the crimes act (Aiding and Abetting Suicide) now states:
“A person commits an offence who incites, counsels, or procures another person to commit suicide, even if that other person does not commit or attempt to commit suicide in consequence of that conduct.”
This is a significant change to the previous law under which a person actually had to successfully suicide, or attempt suicide for a law to have been broken.
This reflects the growing concern that harmful communications that include “encouragement” for an individual to commit suicide present a significant stress factor in an individual’s decision to self harm or attempt suicide. The law aims to help Police to act quickly to prevent this type of abuse in order to help reduce the likelihood that an individual will make those choices to harm themselves.
- What does “inciting, counselling , or procuring another person to commit suicide” look like?
In essence this means encouraging someone to commit suicide. For example a message that says “You are worthless, why don’t you just kill yourself” or “Just go and kill yourself” may be interpreted as being incitement to suicide.
- Who do I report this to if I think it is happening to me?
If someone is encouraging you to hurt yourself you should report this to the NZ Police. If you think you or someone else’s life is in immediate danger, you should call 111. If you are unsure of whether this Act might apply to you or someone you know, you can call Netsafe for advice.
- What is the punishment for inciting someone to suicide?
The legislation says that you could be sentenced to up to 3 years imprisonment for inciting someone to suicide.
- What are the signs if someone I know online is thinking about suicide or self harm?
The Ministry of Health’s website has information about suicide prevention including how to support someone you believe is suicidal, including this information about looking for signs.
If someone shows one or more of these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are suicidal, but they may need support. In their writing or posts online, you might notice that they:
- say they want to die or kill themselves
- write or post a lot about suicide, death or self-harm
- stop responding to messages, or seem to be withdrawing from their online friends
- don’t seem to be coping with any problems they may be having
- have changes in mood – becoming depressed, angry or enraged
- feel worthless, guilty, whakamā or ashamed
- seem to have lost interest in life, or things they used to enjoy
- suddenly seem calm or happy after they have been depressed or suicidal.
Some people who are suicidal might not show these signs, and some warning signs may not be obvious. People who feel suicidal might try to hide what they are going through or pretend they are okay.
How to respond
- If you believe you have been a victim of this type of abuse, the first step is to stop all communications with the other person. Don’t be tempted to respond, as it is likely to lead to more abusive and harmful messages. You can report the behaviour to the Police.
- If you think that your life or the life of someone you know is in immediate danger, call 111.
- If you are having thoughts of self harm or suicide as a result of these communications, or if this is making those feeling worse than they were before, you should seek help immediately. Talk to a person close to you, or contact a help service;
- Lifeline: 0800 543 354 – Provides 24 hour telephone counselling
- Youthline: 0800 376 633 or free text 234 – Provides 24 hour telephone and text counselling services for young people
- Samaritans: 0800 726 666 – Provides 24 hour telephone counselling.
- Tautoko: 0508 828 865 – provides support, information and resources to people at risk of suicide, and their family, whānau and friends.
- Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)
- Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm – 6pm weekdays)
- If possible, capture the messages in case they are deleted or removed by the perpetrator. This will help if you need to show the Police or other agencies know what has been going on.
MORE ADVICE AND INFORMATION
- Contact Netsafe if you’d like further help on 0508 NETSAFE or firstname.lastname@example.org.