Rachel Downie, the 2020 Queensland Australian of the Year, is the powerhouse behind STYMIE, an anonymous on-line harm reporting tool that schools are using to support students to say something without fear of reprisal.
Rachel has all the attributes of an excellent teacher, but it is her cut-through and attention-grabbing conversation with 12 and 13-year-olds that confirms her credentials as a great communicator.
Addressing Grade 7 and Grade 8 students at Isis High School this week, Rachel displayed all the laid-back, easy-going attributes one may expect from a self-confessed motorcycle and surfboard riding resident of the Sunshine Coast.
Being surrounded by children and playing a role in their learning journey has always been a passion for Rachel who has more than 25 years teaching experience behind her.
It was the death of a Year 9 boy in her care that ignited a new passion and shaped a message she is now taking to the world.
Report instances of bullying, abuse or hate
A message that encourages students to utilise the anonymity available through STYMIE to report instances of bullying, abuse, hate and all that goes with the dark side of social media platforms.
Last year Rachel addressed almost 100,000 students in Australia and overseas regarding STYMIE and the manner in which it can be effectively used.
She said it was a sad but very real statistic that one in four children are subject to bullying at school by their peers every day.
“Unfortunately, and despite our best efforts, that figure hasn’t changed in 11 years. We are all responsible for doing something about things that make us or other people sad or not feeling safe.”
Rachel told students a sure sign that something wasn’t quite right, and action needed to be taken was that uneasy feeling you get in your stomach. “Listen to your tummy,” she said.
She said the greatest hurdle for children to overcome was fear. “It’s understandable that you may be frighten to talk with someone, to tell someone in person of something that is concerning.
“That is how I came to develop STYMIE. It provides an opportunity for you to go online, complete a form with details of what is concerning you but it is completely anonymous.”
STYMIE delivered 40,000 messages in 2019
Rachel said that last year 40,000 messages had come through STYMIE. “That’s 40,000 times that a student has said I either need to get help for myself or someone else.”
Delving into online or cyber bullying Rachel surprised her young audience with a revelation that children as young as 10 can be arrested by Police.
She provided a number of case studies of Year 8 students who had been apprehended for menacing, harassing or offensive use of social media and spoke of the length of time they would carry a criminal record as well as the fines they, or their parents, faced.
Rachel stressed the need for anyone using STYMIE to maintain confidentiality.
“I know you are only young, but a great deal of effort has gone into protecting the identity of people who use our website. Running around the playground telling people that you are using STYMIE is not helpful.”
She said the information flowing through STYMIE related to a wide range of subject matter including illegal weapons, drugs, self-harm, discrimination, sexual abuse, bullying and family violence.
“Video information is not acceptable for uploading to STYMIE. Screenshots of material being posted on social media can be uploaded. Gather as much information as possible so the maximum amount of help can be provided,” said Rachel.
Further information on STYMIE can be found at stymie.com.au.