Cyberbullying is a terrifying reality for today’s youth, affecting them in ways that prior generations could never have imagined. Gone are the days when the end of the school day meant the end of the school bully. Today’s cyberbullying goes on well into the midnight hours given the ubiquity of the internet, affecting children’s self-esteem, safety, schoolwork, and sleep patterns.
How will future generations be kept safe from this sometimes deadly phenomena? Reporting and remedial measures may help.
Start with School Policies
If you child is being harassed online by a schoolmate, check the school’s Student Code of Conduct regarding cyberbullying. Yes, that document that your child asked you to sign that you never read. The code, similar to an employee handbook, creates rules that students, and schools, must legally abide by. Most code violations have required disciplinary measures, which will help keep any punishment impersonal, since distancing your student from the bully should be a top priority. In California, based on ‘Seth’s Law’, schools can suspend or permanently expel cyberbullies in certain instances. This law was enacted after 13-year-old Seth Walsh committed suicide after being cyberbullied about his sexual orientation and gender identity.
Every state requires schools to have an anti-bullying policy. If the facts fit a code infraction, bring the matter to the school administration’s attention. At issue may be that the cyberbullying took place off-campus, and many codes will not protect students once they leave the school. Regardless of if a code infraction exists, or if you believe the code needs to be changed to include off-campus cyberbullying by students, don’t be afraid to bring the matter up the chain of command, all the way up to the Board of Trustees that you have elected. They are here to serve you, and your child. Using school policy is the best solution for all involved, since it is the most streamlined, least expensive manner, and will keep the criminal record of the bully clean, which should be considered an unrequited favor.
Criminal Action Against the Cyberbully
Approximately 20 states have criminal sanctions against cyberbullying, and about a dozen more have proposed sanctions in the legislature. The tide is clearly turning towards criminalizing cyberbullying. These generally charge repeat offenders with a range of misdemeanors, based on the offender and victims’ ages and number of offenses. Missouri has one of the strictest laws, allowing for the misdemeanor to become a felony if the offender is over 21 and the victim is under 17, and the offender has done it before. This law is in response to Megan Meier, an 8th grade student that committed suicide after being cyberbullied by a “frenemy’s” parents.
Many states that don’t have specific cyberbullying criminal laws do have harassment laws that can be interpreted to include electronic harassment. They pack a heavy punch. Generally a misdemeanor, these violations can carry a fine and up to six months in jail. If this rises to the level of a hate crime, a felony in many jurisdictions, prison time can be over a year, and potentially ten years.
Civil Action Against the Cyberbully and Parents
In all 50 states, plaintiffs can file lawsuits based on cyberbullying laws as well as defamation, invasion of privacy, or intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress. If the bully is a minor, as is often the case, the bully’s parents can be sued as well under “failure to supervise and influence” statutes. Both monetary and equitable remedies, such as injunctions, can be awarded to punish and stop the behavior.
If you are someone you love is the victim of cyberbullying, contact school officials. If this doesn’t stop the problem, contact your local law enforcement and open a case. If your state doesn’t have stringent criminal laws against cyberbullying, or if your matter isn’t being taken as seriously as you would like, contact a local internet lawyer, who would be happy to review the facts of your situation and help resolve the situation, before it’s too late.
Find an Internet Lawyer Near You (FindLaw Lawyer’s Directory)
Texas Wants to Make Cyberbullying a Crime (FindLaw Blotter)
Carla Franklin Sues to Expose Cyberbully (FindLaw Injured Blog)