Will Fort Lauderdale Join the Fight Against Bullying?

Florida lawmakers are cracking down on criminals of all ages, and teenage offenders might find themselves behind the bars of juvenile hall for their offenses as harsher punishments for teen crime comes into consideration. Many recent Florida crime sprees involve teenage perpetrators. Their list of criminal activities varies from robbery to murder, but one mother’s voice has called attention to an underrated crime. One for which no current law exists. This crime is bullying, the affects of which can be more devastating than they might appear.

The Story of Rebecca Sedwick

Rebecca Sedwick, a Florida native and bullying victim, committed suicide after enduring harassment from approximately 15 other students in her Lakeland, Florida school. Two of the fifteen students have been charged with aggravated stalking, a form of illegal harassment, but Rebecca’s mother claims their punishment should be much harsher than the court mandated counseling they’re currently undergoing. She seeks justice for the life of her child, and justice for the victims of future bullies.

Rebecca’s mother insists that the bullying that ultimately claimed the life of her 12 year old daughter was not an isolated incident, but rather, a yearlong battle of cruelty. She has since filed lawsuits against the parents of the two most influential bullies and is also pursuing charges against the school. The bullying took place on school grounds and continued into Rebecca’s home via comments made on internet sites.

Cyberbullying

The dangerous practice of electronic bullying is not limited to teenagers, as adults have been charged with breaching the laws of cyberspace as well. When executed correctly, cyberbullying can spread faster than an internet virus, subsequently ruining the lives of those targeted by damaging reputations, eliciting physical threats, invading the privacy of the victim, and making them the center of ridicule. While comments deemed inappropriate by web security advisors can be hidden, internet postings are never truly gone, and those hurt by this form of aggression might never entirely recover.

Studies conducted on cyberbulling show that victims of internet harassment often exhibit symptoms of depression, low self esteem, disillusionment and inferiority. Several acts of cyberbulling have resulted in highly publicized teenage suicides. It appears that the harmful effects of being targeted by piers are only exacerbated with the involvement of technologies such as emailing, tweeting, chatting, even texting. While many states have adopted laws designed to prevent cyberbullying, the charges incurred describe harassment rather than bullying as the alleged criminal act.

What Harsher Punishments Could Mean

SB 451 has been introduced to the state of Florida as of early 2014 in honor of Rebecca Sedwick and other bullying victims. The bill provides an in-depth description of the term bullying in both physical and electronic forms and also mandates harsher consequences. The crime now officially dubbed ‘bullying” is punishable by imprisonment and in its general form is categorized as a misdemeanor. “Aggravated bullying” is applied to circumstances where a bully makes credible physical threats and is categorized as a felony.

Bullying Aggressors Are Often Bullying Victims Themselves

Here’s where the situation becomes more complicated. Studies show that a vast number of students who are bullied at home will project that behavior onto a fellow student. In turn, children being bullied at home become the bully at school as a form of dealing with the abuse they’re enduring. Putting child victims who in turn victimize other children behind bars at a young age might not be too effective.

In regards to criminal defense, cyberbullying violations might be harder to prove than physical bullying incidents. The internet is a place where assuming someone else’s identity is common and relatively easy to do. If cyberbullying exists without the reinforcement of physical bullying with eyewitness accounts, electronic aggressors might get off on a technicality. 2014 is a banner year for Florida lawmakers, with revisions and regulations already underway. Teen crime does not account for just bullying, but the efforts of Rebecca Sedwick’s mother were certainly recognized with action.

About the Author:

Michael Leader is a criminal lawyer with Fort Lauderdale law firm Leader & Leader P.A. specializing in all forms of criminal law, Leader and partner George Leader offer years of legal experience and commitment to ethics.