Posted by Maria Mangicaro
Bullying Prevention Advocate
Last Updated 1/23/14
Hello and thank you for engaging in thoughtful discussion on bullying prevention efforts.
The purpose of this site is to help ensure our lawmakers and public supporters carefully consider the consequences and potential impact of criminalizing bullying in the United States.
As a longtime bullying prevention advocate, I fully support Rebecca’s Law, a bill currently making its way through the Florida House and Senate. (SB 548: Bullying by Senator David Simmons and HB 451: Bullying by Representative Heather Dawes Fitzenhagen)
Rebecca’s Law should be a wake up call to all parents, guardians, educators, school administrators, religious/spiritual leaders, responsible corporate citizens and tax payers to be proactive and support bullying prevention efforts in their community.
If passed, Rebecca’s Law and the criminalization of bullying will permanently change the landscape of our justice system.
Rebecca’s Law will set a benchmark for a new, tougher level of law enforcement and potential lawsuits. It will also have an impact on Florida crime rates.
The criminalization of bullying is such an important topic and will present both legal and societal challenges in the future.
- What will be possible constitutional challenges to Rebecca’s Law?
- What will be the statute of limitations for civil/criminal cases?
- What will be affirmative defenses to bullying and cyberbullying charges/complaints?
- How will our court system handle the current bullying epidemic?
- What funding will be made available to help prevent an increase in our crime rates?
- At what age will children begin to be charged as criminal bullies?
- Will children charged with bullying have the right to a speedy and public trial by a jury of their peers?
- Will it be costly for children to have their criminal bullying records expunged?
- Will criminal bullies from affluent families who can afford to have their records expunged, have employment advantages in the future over bullies from low-income families?
- If the bullying crime takes place in cyberspace, what courts will have jurisdiction?
- No matter where they are at the time of the crime, will it be illegal for Florida residents to cyberbully each other, but legal for out-of-state residents or those living in foreign countries?
- Will it be possible to charge parents, adults, siblings, spouses, employers, co-workers, teachers, coaches, paparazzi, police officers, etc. with bullying?
It is surprising how many Florida residents are unaware of our current anti-bullying law, The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, that was unanimously passed and signed into law in 2008 by Gov. Charlie Crist.
Florida has one of the best written anti-bullying laws in the country, yet we have still failed to protect children like Rebecca Sedwick.
While the law requires school districts to adopt an official policy prohibiting bullying and harassment of students and staff on school grounds, at school-sponsored events, and through school computer networks, it does not criminalize bullying.
The burden to control bullying was placed on our schools, but no extra funding was given to them to support bullying prevention efforts. Economic recession in the years following lead to further budget cuts and teacher layoffs.
Lawmakers must consider the fact our communities and Title I schools are dealing with higher incidents of bullying and will need additional support with proactive solutions to deal with criminalizing bullying behavior.
Bullying involves a diverse array of contributing factors and sometimes can be complicated by serious psychological issues and medical conditions. Children with a multitude of disabilities and illnesses, including pediatric cancer are at a higher risk of becoming victims of bullying. Many times children who have suffered abuse, trauma, have lead poisoning, or were victims of bullying themselves exhibit aggressive, bullying behavior. Some low-income and homeless children become victims of bullying simply because they lack access to clean clothing and personal hygiene items.
The epidemic of bullying in Florida coincides with an economic recession that drastically reduced revenues for our already hard-hit schools. Many of our Title 1 schools lack basic resources like books and technology in their media center. Due to cutbacks, many Florida schools were forced to eliminate positions for school media specialists and literacy coaches, as well as programs for art, music and athletics. Strengthening early verbal skills, engaging children in reading, arts, music and sports help reduce aggressive behavior in children.
“It takes a village to raise a child”, that is a common conclusion among all bullying prevention experts.
In order for Rebecca’s Law to succeed, together we must unite and raise the bar on bullying prevention throughout the entire state.
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