Cyberbullying is rife in the USA, with up to 59% of teenagers falling victim to online bullies, according to the Pew Research Center. While cyberbullying can take on many forms, the majority of teens report that they were targeted because of their appearance, their perceived intelligence, their race or sexuality, or their financial status. Although children do get bullied by adults, most children are bullied by their peers. With cyberbullying not only becoming more prevalent, but more malicious as well, an increasing number of parents have sought out legal assistance in a bid to protect their children. It is important to fully understand the legal recourse available to victims of cyberbullying in order to obtain the best possible outcome for any child.
Cyberbullying is a complex issue
Before a parent can seek legal recourse for the cyberbullying their child has been subjected to, it is essential to garner a good understanding of the offense. One of the things that sets cyberbullying apart from traditional bullying is the fact that it continues long after the bell rings at the end of a school day. Thanks to digital technology, cyberbullies are able to follow their targets wherever they go – even into the places they are meant to feel safe, like their own homes. Parents are therefore urged to familiarize themselves with online crime and be on the lookout for any signs that could indicate that their child is a victim. These may include being secretive about their online activity, asking to spend more time online, and mood swings.
Laws are written and enforced at state level
While there is legal recourse for cyberbullying, the federal government is yet to pass nationwide cyberbullying legislation. Until that happens, each state has to take responsibility for both writing and enforcing its own laws. Every state has a number of criminal laws that may be applicable to acts of bullying. There also isn’t a state in the USA that does not have laws that do not have criminal harassment statutes in place. In most states, criminal sanctions have been put in place for digital harassment, which includes cyberbullying. In some states, the bullying laws also allow the relevant school districts to action corrective measures for students found guilty of cyberbullying offenses.
The penalties fluctuate significantly
Due to the fact that cyberbullying laws differ considerably from one state to another, it is to be expected that the penalties will also vary. Typically, the penalties can range from a school suspension or expulsion to incarceration. If a cyberbully uses social media or other digital platforms to make threats of a brutal nature in Missouri, they can be formally charged with a criminal offense and penalized accordingly. In Florida, the law instructs schools to enforce discipline by either expelling or suspending the guilty students. Apart from the legal consequences of cyberbullying, the untoward behavior can also result in unsuccessful college applications and poor employment prospects.
Cyberbullying can have dire effects on the mental wellbeing of a child. Although taking legal action will not undo the damage, it may prevent the perpetrator from becoming a repeat offender.