Girl's Suicide May Spur Passage Of Anti-Cyberbullying Law

BullyingCrime, Law and JusticeSuicide

Amid the hundreds of loving, supportive comments on Amanda Cummings's Facebook page since she took her life last week, one stands out in all capital letters. It comes from the 30-year-old sister of the 15 year-old girl who threw herself in front of a bus on December 27th, a day after the girl had shown their mother a series of threatening text messages from girls at her high school. Amanda's sister, Dawn Weber, wrote, in part, "I AM BEGGING YOU KIDS, ANYONE WITH ANY CONCRETE PROOF OF BULLYING TOWARD MY SISTER, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. PLEASE. I NEED WITNESSES..."

The post was part of an attempt to have legal action taken in Amanda Cummings's possible cyberbullying death. Some legal recourse could take place against people whose electronic messages may have helped drive the high school sophomore to her fate, but that legal action would be based on current laws against harassment or bias, for example, and not based on the cyber-bullying itself. The reason for that is that bullying someone through electronic media isn't a crime. At least not yet.

"My statute will be the only one that will criminalize cyberbullying," New York state senator Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester) told PIX11 News in an interview from the state capitol building in Albany. On Wednesday, Klein officially introduced legislation that would make it criminal to bully anyone electronically.

"Potentially someone who commits the crime of cyberbullying could do up to a year in jail," Klein said regarding the terms of his legislation, and he mentioned Amanda Cummings's suicide specifically as part of the need to punish and to prevent cyberbullying.

"If people know they're going to be punished with a crime, even a misdemeanor, they don't commit the crime," Klein said.

He also pointed out that all statistics regarding cyber-bullying come from nationwide research, and that New York-specific information may further help get his anti-online bullying legislation passed. His office has launched this survey for New York teens and young adults to complete. 3,000 people have filled it out so far. Klein is optimistic that the survey will get 10,000 respondents before February 1st.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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