The digital era we live in has many benefits, among them how easy it is to connect to others. Unfortunately, those connections are not always positive and empowering. Cyberbullying is frequently in the news, with sad reports of students taking their lives as a result of merciless bullying online by other students. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Kik, and many more have been transformed from simple communication platforms to avenues for bullies to target children on a personal level, for others to see.
This past summer, the New York Senate attempted to pass an anti-cyberbullying bill to further strengthen legislation against cyberbullying in schools. While the bill has not become law, and was criticized by some for its vague definition of what constitutes cyberbullying, it did get people talking about what can legally be done when someone’s child is cyberbullied.
First, it’s helpful to understand New York’s laws regarding cyberbullying of children by other children. New York has criminal statutes pertaining to harassment, stalking, and related crimes. The state’s harassment laws are broken into several categories reflecting the varied degree of severity of the bully’s actions, and prescribe increasing penalties for more severe behavior. For example, the laws distinguish between actions which are meant to place the victim in reasonable fear of physical injury. The penalties also increase with the presence of aggravating facts, such as if the bully acted due to the victim’s race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or other protected categories. New York’s stalking statues also apply in bullying cases, if the bully’s actions were repeated and intended to put the victim in fear of mental or physical harm.
New York also requires all public and charter schools to comport with an anti-bullying policy that includes a prohibition on bullying, harassment, and hate crimes on school property and at school functions. Each school district must develop its own policy, and must establish ways that bullying can be identified, reported, investigated, and responded to.
As discussed above, New York’s criminal laws provide one outlet to seek justice in cyberbullying cases. However, cyberbullying victims are often able to bring civil actions, like personal injury suits, against their bully to compensate them for the emotional, social, or financial harm the bullying caused them. For example, damages can be awarded to the victim to cover the cost of therapy, for emotional distress, or to pay for any property damage that resulted from the bullying.
While many times victims of cyberbullying can successfully bring a civil suit for these kinds of damages, you need a qualified, experienced attorney to help you assess the specific facts of your case to determine if you may have a winning case. This is because there are some defenses to charges of harassment, stalking, and other cyberbullying behaviors. These defenses include freedom of speech, arguing that the speech wasn’t really threatening, that the victim’s fear wasn’t “reasonable,” or that the alleged bully was engaged in legal behavior that, though annoying, is protected.
No child deserves the trauma, pain, and humiliation of bullying. If your child has been cyberbullied and you want to talk about your legal options, contact our offices today. Our experienced personal injury attorneys will treat you with the compassion and respect you and your child deserve.
Posted in: Personal Injury Law