Cyber bullying is a cruel way for others to assert their superiority over others through online harassment, but when does it become a crime? Though there are no laws at the federal level in place in the US for bullying, many states have statutes to protect minors from excessive displays of intimidation and harassment from others.
Cyber bullying is presenting something of a challenge to law enforcers, as it can be more difficult to track, and the effects can be widespread if something goes ‘viral’. There are a lot of ways a bully can take their aggressive behavior to the web:
- spreading rumors in texts and messages
- posting rude comments to a person’s wall
- impersonating the victim by hacking their account
- making threats
- sharing photos of the victim without their knowledge or consent
- belittling messages, comments, or posts
Often times, cyber bullying is an easier way for an aggressor to target a victim – hidden behind the safety of a keyboard, they feel much more inclined to act out towards others, and less consequence for their actions.
If today’s day and age has shown us anything though, it’s that this is an era of being monitored and recorded. If these actions get out of hand and multiple participants get involved, it can be hard to narrow things down, but in most cases it’s usually pretty easy to isolate the original culprit.
If you suspect your child has become the victim of cyber bullying, ask them if any of these things are happening to them. A disagreement or ‘unfriending’ on social media isn’t considered cyber bullying, but prolonged and constant harassment is. It’s the equivalent of being teased in school, only it doesn’t end when you get off the bus.
If however these actions are toeing the line of dangerous and aggressive, it’s time to consider stepping in yourself. If the bully is issuing threats, discriminatory statements, or is sending sexual or obscene content, this is when the law comes into play. Here are a few types of bullying that are actually against the law in many states:
- comments based on race or sexual orientation
- threats of physical violence
- sexual exploitation
- taking, sharing, or sending photos without the subject’s consent
These actions go way beyond the norm for ‘typical’ cyber bullying behavior, and can quickly become dangerous to your child. Immediately step in, and speak to the bully’s parents if possible. Print off all evidence of the encounters, and then promptly delete them to prevent further sharing of the encounters.
Show the conversations to the bully’s parents, and sit down for an honest and civil discussion with them. Attempt to work out the problem on your own before contacting the authorities, and make sure you leave the discussion with an action plan from the bully’s parents – you need to know it’s going to stop, right then and there.
If this discussion doesn’t resolve anything, it’s time to get the authorities involved. Contact your local police department, and show them documentation of the encounter. Most states have at least some kind of laws and statutes in place for cyber bullying, and those that don’t typically apply the same standards already in place for conventional bullying.
It’s likely that if the case proceeds, the bully will have to go to juvenile court, where they will be issued a sentence depending on the severity of their actions. Sometimes this can mean being put on probation, or in more severe cases a punishment sentence in a juvenile detention center.
We always advocate to try to solve these problems on your own first, but if any of these things are happening to your child, they need help immediately. Step in and stop it right away, and if the parents of the bully are unable or unwilling to resolve the problem, get law enforcement involved immediately.