New laws can’t stop cyber bullies

By Gabrielle Rosas

Most people have probably heard sad stories of cyber bullying, ending in self-harm or suicide. In most cases, the harm could not be prevented because of the will of an angry student and the accessibility of the Internet. For the past few years, new laws have been passed across the country to make the consequences of cyber bullying harsher, but this will not be enough.

On Jan. 1, House Bill 3281 took effect in Illinois schools. The law amends school codes and gives school boards the ability to suspend or expel students if they make online threats against other students or school staff.

There have been many examples of abusive behavior directed at students across the country—such as 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who took her own life after being bullied online and at school, and Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, who jumped to his death off a bridge in September 2010 after his roommate video streamed online Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man.

While these cases have spurred effortsto create cyber bullying laws across the nation, the incident that put HB 3281 into motion occurred at Oswego High School six years ago, according to Illinois House Minority Leader Tim Cross.

When an Oswego student posted an online threat against his teachers in 2005, stating, “I’m so angry I could kill,” leaders at the school district weren’t sure what they could do because the threat was made outside school hours, away from school grounds and on a private computer.

The sad truth is that more than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and approximately the same number have engaged in cyber bullying, according to BullyingStatistics.org. In a study issued by Iowa State University researchers, one out of every two lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender teens are regular victims of cyber bullying.

Cyber bullying is a growing problem in the U.S., and Illinois’ decision to take control of what is occurring both in and out of schools is a step in the right direction, but it is not the solution. What happens when bullies are suspended or expelled, but the cyber attacks continue within the safety of their homes? Most bullies would love to be out of school because it would give them the leisure to spread their malice all over the Internet.

Some states have signed stricter cyber bullying bills into law, making cyber bullying illegal. Maryland, Arkansas, Florida, Kentucky and West Virginia have defined cyber bullying in a way that allows law enforcement officials to charge culprits with specific crimes, resulting in approximately two years in prison. This has raised concern from free speech advocates, who say that making a law that criminalizes what can be written online can be a dangerous weapon in the wrong hands.

Hundreds of different laws can be made against cyber bullying, but these laws are more reactive than preventative. By the time the bully is charged, the damage has already been done. The Internet is a permanent repository of all the information it receives, and even if something is deleted, there is a chance it can resurface and the pain the victim first felt begins again. These laws won’t prevent the next victim from committing suicide, and it won’t bring justice for those lives that have already been lost.

Treating cyber bullying as a crime is only part of the solution. What needs to happen cannot be put into law. Parents need to mentor their children and teach them compassion. The bullies are projecting their own pain and insecurities onto others, and it becomes a vicious cycle that can only be alleviated when behaviors change. Essentially giving bullies a “time out”—be it expulsion from school or two years in prison—is a punishment that will not alter the behavior of people with immense insecurities and anger.

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