What You Need to Know about Cyberbullying

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

Bullying in schools – or outside of them, for that matter – is hardly a new problem, and is moreover one that teachers, parents and the courts have long been torn on how to combat. The advent of the internet and the ubiquitous use of social media amongst teenagers and even younger children has opened the floodgates for bullying to take on an online persona; we call this use of the internet to harass, intimidate or generally cause harm to another person “cyberbullying.” Below is some information on the current legal status of this form of bullying.

Is cyberbullying against the law?

Cyberbullying currently rests in a legal “gray area,” with some recent high-profile court decisions seeming to indicate that the law is coming down hard on children (and adults) accused of using the internet to harm others. Cyberbullying itself is not a crime, much as there is no federal law that specifically applies to bullying; rather, in serious cases of bullying, a child can be charged with harassment, assault and other misdemeanor crimes and even felonies. Although cyberbullying is an inherently non-physical crime and thus unlikely to bring assault charges, criminal harassment statutes can provide a pathway to prosecution in serious cases. More recently, due to several highly visible stories of suicides occurring after online harassment, suicides by children and teens that were ruled to have had a root cause in cyberbullying have led to the arrest of the alleged cyberbullies, the implication being that the death was in some way caused by their actions. In the case of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, her alleged bullies were arrested on charges of aggravated stalking, a 3rd degree felony.

Furthermore, in cases in which a sexualized photo of an underage victim is distributed online as a form of harassment and/or intimidation (and even in cases where the intent was not necessarily malicious), charges can include not just harassment but possession and distribution of child pornography, regardless of the age of the possessor.

What Can I Do If My Child Is Accused of Cyberbullying?

Schools and courts are beginning to crack down on defendants accused of cyberbullying, in part because of a widespread movement to acknowledge the emotional and physical harm that bullying of any form can lead to. Because of so many recent high-publicity incidents, including suicides and school shootings, in which bullying is suspected to have played a key role in causing the tragedies, the judicial trend has been towards greater accountability on the part of the accused. In short, accusations of cyberbullying are not to be taken lightly.

Contacting a lawyer who specializes in juvenile law immediately upon learning of accusations is the best first measure you can take to protect your child. The process of trying a juvenile is substantially different than that of an adult, and it’s well-advised to work with a lawyer who is experienced and skilled in this department. This can mean the difference between years in a state facility vs. rehabilitation and a second chance.

Should you find yourself in a situation where you and your child may need legal services because of cyberbullying or other cybercrimes, contact us to work with the law office of Charles J. Block to give your child the opportunity for a second chance. If your child has been ACCUSED BUT NOT YET CHARGED with a crime, we may be able to prevent the filing of formal charges.