While bullying was once largely considered harmless teasing, it has now become a serious matter than should not be taken lightly—especially, when the internet is involved. With social media consuming the lives of children and teens, cyberbullying often magnifies the painful experience. Severe, long-term, and/or frequent cyberbullying can leave both victims and bullies at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders. In some cases, victims of cyberbullying have turned to suicide. Not only does cyberbullying have devastating effects on children and teens, but there can also be legal consequences for the children and parents of the bully and for teachers and schools who do not respond to substantiated cases of bullying.
What is Cyberbullying?Cyberbullying refers to the use of the internet and/or mobile technology to willfully and repeatedly harass, intimidate, or cause harm to another. Although bullying has been around for ages, it has moved from fights after school to social networking platforms, text messages, and e-mails. Despite the absence of physical harm or audible insults or threats, cyberbullying can be even more traumatizing than traditional forms of bullying. Cyberbullies tend to be more brazen than they would be in person, protected by the cloak of a computer screen. Additionally, because of social media, bullying can now be made more public, causing embarrassment, shame, and other more severe consequences to the person being bullied.
Cyberbullying and the Law
StatesNearly all states have bullying laws in place, many with cyberbullying and electronic harassment provisions. Most states have at least passed a law defining bullying and authorizing school officials or other authorities to take appropriate action to stop it. These laws typically require schools to have an anti-bullying policy, since schools have a special responsibility to keep children safe from injuries, including harm that can come from other children.
Anti-bullying laws vary from state to state; however, they generally focus on what specific behaviors constitute bullying. These behaviors can include teasing, intimidation, stalking, harassment, public humiliation, theft, threats, and physical violence. Some states have created cyber harassment statutes which provide an avenue for charging cyberbullies. In the absence of laws that specifically include cyberbullying, prosecutors have used existing laws on the books to prosecute individuals suspected of cyberbullying, including criminal harassment charges or even more serious criminal charges where the offense has resulted in consequences that are more tragic, including suicide. The nationwide trend is toward greater accountability for bullying in general, both in school and off campus, including criminal prosecution.
FederalThere are currently no federal laws that specifically address cyberbullying, or bullying in general; however, other federal laws, such as civil rights and nondiscrimination laws, may require schools to intervene with certain types of bullying, including cyberbullying. Although no federal law directly addresses bullying, in some cases, bullying overlaps with discriminatory harassment when it is based on race, national origin, color, sex, age, disability, or religion. When bullying and harassment overlap, federally funded schools, including colleges and universities, have an obligation to intervene.
If your child has been the victim of serious cyberbullying, and the bully’s parents or school has failed to intervene, you may want to explore your legal options. Attorneys parents and schools who are not working to stop the cyberbullying. Find an experienced attorney in such matters by quickly posting a short summary of your legal needs on Legal Services Link, and let the perfect attorney come to you!
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