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Several States Consider Passing Stronger Laws Against Youth Bullying

Published on 11/22/2013 -

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As bullying becomes increasingly dangerous for young people in the United States, many states have taken proactive measures to try to stem the tide of harassment.

But the wide range of new criminal laws aimed at stopping bullying reveals that states are having a difficult time legislating against what was once viewed as a childhood rite of passage, according to a report this week from the Huffington Post.

States Tackle Bullying With New Criminal Laws

Recent research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that young people who are the targets of bullying are more likely to be depressed, consider suicide, and attempt suicide.

In light of this sobering news, many state legislatures have taken steps towards making bullying illegal. But the difficulty in determining what constitutes illegal bullying has led to a patchwork of widely varying laws against bullying that are already confusing criminal defense attorneys.

In most states, bullying is actually handled by schools, which usually refer the bully to counsel or separate him or her from the victim. Interestingly, 49 states now require schools to establish some rules against bullying. Montana is the only state that does not outlaw bullying.

Sources say, for example, that Illinois now requires every school to conduct “social-emotional learning exercises” to raise awareness of the dangers of bullying. This law, however, does not mandate any criminal punishment for bullies. And many of the bullying laws are relatively toothless.

According to research from the Cyberbullying Research Center, only 12 states have established criminal sanctions for bullies. These sanctions reportedly range from simple school suspensions to actual jail sentences.

States Tackle Bullying With Extra Criminal Laws

Some observers believe the bullying laws aren’t strong enough. “The laws are a necessary foundation because they say we will do something,” said Nancy Willard, the director of Embrace Civility in the Digital Age, an advocacy group, “but just ‘doing something’ isn’t sufficient.”

On the other hand, others believe the criminalization of bullying could have drastic consequences. For example, in Florida, two teenagers are facing felony charges for allegedly bullying a classmate who later committed suicide.

Of course, supporters of the charges against the teenagers note that they sent threatening texts to the victim, as well as physically beat her, according to reports.

According to the sheriff involved in the case, bullying “should be a law enforcement issue” in most cases, but when “it becomes a crime,” the police “have to become involved.

Indeed, if the tide of legislation is any indication, bullying may more frequently become the target of law enforcement officials.

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