Saturday, October 19, 2013
On September 9th, 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick jumped to her death from a tower at an abandoned cement plant in Polk County, Florida. She committed suicide because she could no longer endure a vicious campaign of cyber bullying by two girls and their friends. The two girls allegedly started bullying Rebecca because they were jealous of her relationship with a 13-year-old boy. The bullying continued for almost a year and persisted even after the relationship with the boy ended.
The case has been in the news recently because police arrested the two girls on Monday and charged them with aggravated stalking. The 12-year-old girl has publicly admitted she was wrong and apologized to Rebecca’s mother, but the 14-year-old girl posted a comment on Facebook acknowledging,
Yes ik I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF!!!!
The Polk County Sheriff has publicly chastised the 14-year-old’s stepmother because she denied knowledge of the bullying and defended the girl saying her facebook account had been hacked.
He said “she doesn’t get it,” and “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
He said he is considering charging her with contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The stepmother was arrested yesterday and charged with two counts of child abuse for slugging two children. She claims that she was only attempting to break-up a fight between the two victims. The incident was captured on video.
Rebecca’s suicide has focused national attention on cyber bullying and internet stalking. Crane and I know something about that because certain members of the right-wing hate-machine have been stalking us for over a year. Some of our readers who have websites also have been targeted by obsessed and twisted haters.
People have different ways of dealing with the haters. I ignore them. Young people like Rebecca are more vulnerable and wound more easily. Teenagers lack maturity and can be especially cruel. In a culture where many people believe that it’s cool to be cruel, there can be little doubt that we will see more preventable tragedies like Rebecca’s.
The question is what, if anything, do we do about it?
Ironically, Mark O’Mara is in the news again for his effort to draft legislation that would hold parents accountable for cyber bullying by their children. The statute would create a duty to know what your kids are doing on line and criminalize a failure to prevent your kids from cyber bullying.
There are four major problems with this effort.
First, criminal laws traditionally prohibit certain acts accompanied by a particular mental state. One of the most basic principles of criminal law is that you have to know what you are doing when you commit a prohibited act. You do not have to know the act is prohibited, but you do have to know what you are doing when you commit the act.
Second, criminal laws traditionally do not create duties to supervise others and criminalize the failure to discover objectionable conduct and prevent it.
Third, many teenagers are more knowledgeable than their parents about using the internet and there are ways they can access the internet without their parent’s knowledge.
Fourth, are the police going to be monitoring internet activity to prevent cyber bullying and, if so, is that a good idea?
As a society, we have a tendency to respond to tragedies by enacting new criminal laws. However, criminal laws cannot solve all of our problems.
The importance of education and workshops in changing human behavior should not be underestimated.
What do you think?