Cyber Bullied to Death: Is This a Crime?

Family and community members are scrambling to make sense of another tragic teen suicide. Rebecca Sedwick, 12 year old Floridian, jumped off a silo to her death after she was “terrorized” for months online through cyber bullying by fellow teenagers.  The source of the conflict, a shared love interest.  What makes this death even more heartbreaking is that one of the main bullies allegedly posted online that she was glad Rebecca was dead.

It was this comment that then led to the arrest of two of the 14 year old girls. The police were concerned that if they did not arrest the girls then they would move onto another target and start bullying another girl.   According to the Washington Post, the girls were charged with third degree felony aggravated stalking.

This case follows what seems to be a never ending stream of teenage suicides after on-line bullying.  Communities continue to grapple with these senselessness of these deaths, but also struggle with how to prevent them in the future.  Schools across the county have started educating students with anti-bullying programs as well as increasing punishments.  However, schools can’t do this alone as they can only attempt to regulate the behavior that occurs on school grounds.  With the increased use of technology, bullying doesn’t just occur at school, but follows students through twitter, texts and facebook as well as other online social media tools.

Many communities have begun to pressure legislature to make bullying a crime.  But this raises more questions.  First, the legislature would have to determine how bullying is different than other actions that are already covered under the law.  For example, Ohio already has laws that regulate stalking and telephone harassment.  Additionally, Ohio Revised Code 3313.666 lays out a policy against harassment, intimidation and bullying.   Under this code, each board of education is charged with creating a policy to deal with bullying in the schools that includes prevention, reporting and disciplinary procedures.  Making bullying a crime would take this to another level where the perpetrators could face possible jail time, and a criminal record.

Another issue is the role of the parents.  In Rebecca’s case, the parents of the alleged bullies insist that they were vigilant in monitoring their kids online profiles and postings.  But others feel that parents are not doing enough to intervene.  Could a law that aims to stop cyber bullying make parents responsible for the online actions of their children?  Would parents be legally forced to regulate online profiles or face possible punishment?  What is clear that cyber bullying continues to be a huge problem with devastating consequences.  However, the law can only do so much to change the culture of online adolescent bullying and may raise more concerns that solve.


Charged with a crime? Call Attorney W. Joseph Edwards for a case evaluation.  W. Joseph Edwards has over 30 years of experience in criminal defense.  He has served thousands of clients in all area of criminal defense.  Available 24/7 at 614.309.0243.

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