Cyberbullying and Suicide: Who Is Responsible?

Cyberbullying and Suicide - gavel and computer

Twelve-year-old Mallory Grossman of New Jersey committed suicide in June. Her mother, Diane, who is using the law to try to get to the root of this growing problem, blames the bullying Mallory experienced in person and online for her daughter’s untimely death.

The Grossman family is suing the school district and is considering suing the families of the kids responsible for the attacks on their daughter. According to reports, the Grossman family had been imploring the school district to do something about the attacks Mallory was experiencing and they got almost no response.

How Has Cyberbullying Worsened and Who Is Responsible?

 One of the main problems with pinpointing this problem is its lack of visibility to the adults who might make laws to stop it. If you don’t have a child who is currently a teen or middle school student, you probably don’t know how many kids this age have unfettered access to the Internet and mobile apps via their cell phones. This includes the use of cameras and video cameras. These can be used to take an unflattering or illegal picture of anyone and send it to other kids.

There is a whole world of social media apps, and more appearing all the time. Cyber bullies use every available technology at their disposal to find and torment other kids. They can do it anonymously, and they can, and do, contact victims directly via text message in order to send hateful messages.

Cyberbullying Statistics

Victims of bullying often do not report this behavior to parents or authorities, and so the problem goes undetected. Consider some statistics published by the website cyberbullyhotline.com:

  • 42% of teenagers with tech access report being cyberbullied over the past year
  • Of the 69% of teens that own their own computer or smart phone, 80% are active on social media
  • The average teen sends 60 texts per day – reducing face-to-face communication skills
  • Teen texting rate is DOUBLE the adult texting rate
  • Girls 14-17 text more – 100 per day
  • 7.5 million Facebook users are under 13 years old
  • 81% of teens say bullying online is easier to get away with
  • 3 million kids per month are absent from school due to bullying
  • 20% of kids that are cyberbullied think about suicide, and 1 in 10 attempts it.
  • 4,500 kids commit suicide each year
  • Suicide is the No. 3 killer of teens in the US. (Car accidents #1, Homicide #2)

The Grossman family is hoping to send a message by suing the families of kids who did the bullying. That message is: parents are responsible for what their kids do online and for monitoring what happens using mobile phones.

But can the law uphold this message? Who should pay for the deaths of kids who have been bullied?

Federal Cyber-stalking Laws

The law does have a few clear points. There are federal cyber-stalking laws that have been in place since 2011. Prosecutors can go after those who use electronic means to harass other people.

With the rise in cyberbullying and suicides, more and more judges may take a harsher stance toward cyber-stalking. This is essentially what bullies are doing. This law states that “interactive computer service” can’t be used to threaten someone else.

In states with specific cyber stalking laws like California, Illinois, and Massachusetts victims could press criminal charges against online stalkers.

For states including Michigan without those laws, victims don’t have as much recourse. As I’ve written about before, Michigan did pass a law in 2011 which required state school boards to adopt an anti-bullying policy.

In addition, if the bullying a victim experiences has anything to do with the nudity or sexual assault of a minor, those who transmitted the pictures could end up serving jail time. This is the case even if the perpetrator is him or herself a minor.

Takeaway

Cyberbullying is a crime which, in some cases, can lead to jail time for the offender. New apps make it easier to use technology to harass and threaten others. But the law is catching up to this problem.

Finally, if you are facing charges related to cyberbullying, it’s important not to take them lightly. It is critical especially if your actions have led to the death of someone else. Contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away. Call my office today.

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