'Happy Slapping' Spreads in London


"Unfortunately, it is all too common and I don't like the term 'happy slapping,'" said Detective Chief Inspector Ellie O'Connor. "I think it undermines what is essentially a serious assault for an unprovoked reason. In my view these are serious attacks. There doesn't appear to be any motive whatsoever, and it seems to be innocent members of the public that are being affected by it."

Why is this sweeping Britain? And why now? The advance of cell phone technology is a major factor, of course. Britain and Europe have embraced that technology.

Many think the craze was inspired by TV shows like "Jackass," which glorify public humiliation and pain. Happy slapping began on London's subway trains and quickly spread to the schoolyard. John Carr monitors new technology and how it can harm kids.

"Bullying is as old as the hills," said Carr, Internet consultant and associate director of London's National Children's Home. "It's been around. I was bullied at school when I was a kid in the '50s and early '60s. But with mobile phones, what you've got is a new tool."

And millions of teenagers have that new tool. Ninety-seven percent of British 12-to-16-year-olds have cell phones. Most of those cell phones have cameras built into them. And they're easy to use. What I have just filmed I will now send to a friend's e-mail address. Minutes later, he can replay the clip and e-mail it on to all of his friends.

"Being hit in public, which is what historically bullying has been about, is bad enough and humiliating enough," Carr said. "But in general it was limited to just the small number of people who would be standing around at the time it happened.

Now the humiliation is compounded. Millions might see you degraded.

"Without any question for some children, what's far, far worse is the way that their humiliation is being multiplied and advertised and broadcast to people they know and people they don't know," Carr said.

Happy slapping has driven kids to suicide. Now British police are trying to convince kids this isn't harmless fun. And pop singer Myleene Klass, herself a happy-slap victim, is touring schools pushing the message. Some teens seem to be listening.

"They're serious, arrestable offences, and we will do all to bring these people before the courts," said school officer Paul Peterson.

Four teenagers were jailed recently after they attacked eight people in an hour-long happy slapping spree late one night on the banks of the Thames. One victim, a 37-year-old barman, was killed. A 14-year-old girl who filmed the attacks and kicked the barman in the head was convicted of manslaughter.

"Maybe if we had known earlier how this technology was going to develop here in Britain we would have been out of the traps a bit quicker with public education and awareness programs," Carr said.

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