Ohio Gets Tough on Bullying – Including Cyberbullying

October 1, 2012

Misc. Topics

bullying and cyberbullingOhio schools have until Nov. 4, 2012 to incorporate electronic bullying into their anti-bullying policies.  This includes bullying that occurs through computers, cell phones, Facebook,Twitter and any type of electronic means.

The source of the changes is Ohio House Bill 116, also known as The Jessica Logan Act, which expands the scope of current anti-bullying law. Jessica was a Cincinnati teenager who committed suicide after being harassed about nude photos she sent to a former boyfriend from her cell phone.

The number of students affected by the bullying phenomenon is quite surprising.  A study done by isafe.org of 1,500 children in grades 4 through 8 found 42% of those surveyed admitted to having been bullied while online.  More than half of those students reported being bullied more than once.

Cyberbullying can occur among children as young as 9 or 10, but also affects college-age students.

A recent U.S. Department of Justice report showed persons aged 18-24 experienced the highest rate of cyberstalking—most were stalked or harassed by someone they had previously dated.  Experts say it is common for cyberstalking to begin after a relationship ends.  Many will text multiple times a day, some as frequently as every hour, seeking to intimidate and control a former love interest.

Some examples of cyberbullying include sending hate email messages, creating websites to humiliate a victim, taking an embarrassing photo with a camera phone and posting it on the Internet, conducting polls on websites to vote on the fattest, ugliest, weirdest kid in the school, extortion, bribery and threats of violence.

Some experts divide cyberbullying into two categories—cyberstalking and cyberharassment (cyberbullying) with cyberstalking deemed the more serious of the two because a credible threat of harm exists and the perpetrator’s actions often constitute a felony.

A cyberstalker exhibits threatening behavior or unwanted advances using obscene, harassing or threatening email, chat message boards, online guest books, discussion forums, and GPS technology which enables the stalker to locate his subject.

Cyberstalkers also use listening devices, hidden cameras, excessive spamming, and live chat harassment known as “flaming.” Some send dangerous electronic viruses and commit electronic identity theft.  They monitor a victim’s online activities through Spyware, find ways of intercepting phone calls or messages, and continually check someone’s profile page on Facebook or a similar site adding perfect strangers as friends and using various tactics to get information about the victim and his or her friends.

A cyberbully/cyberstalker can be quite powerful because he or she can remain anonymous or impersonate others, and escape the consequences of their actions, even feeling remote from them.  The victim has little ability to escape his tormentor because the cyberbully has a limitless audience, potentially the whole world, and it is difficult to completely remove scandalous information from the Internet.

Mandated changes to Ohio anti-bullying policies will prohibit intimidation and harassment on school buses.  The policy must also contain a statement warning that school districts may have the authority to suspend students responsible for bullying, even if their actions are out-of-school infractions—off school grounds, not involving school property.  Currently, a school in Ohio is permitted to discipline students for off-school conduct that is connected to school activities.

There are concerns this portion of the law will be challenged on the basis of student privacy or free speech rights.

The new anti-bullying policies must incorporate a strategy for protecting a bullying victim from additional bullying and provide a way to anonymously report any incidents.  Any student responsible for making a false report will also be punished.

Under the new law, school districts will be required to provide annual instruction for all students on the anti-bullying policy and must send a written statement each year to parents describing the policy.  In addition, school districts must include annual training on the policy in its in-service program for all teachers, administrators, school psychologists, counselors and nurses.

A state model policy is available at the Ohio Board of Education.  Refer to Ohio Revised Code Annotated 3301.22 for a model harassment prevention policy.

If you are wondering if your child or teenager may be involved in cyberbullying or cyberstalking activity, here are some of the signs:

  • Excessive amount of time spent at the computer, especially at night
  • Phone calls made or received late at night to numbers you do not recognize
  • Computer turned off quickly when a parent is near
  • Use of an unrecognized email address
  • Receipt of gifts, mail or packages from someone unknown to you
  • Withdrawal from family, friends and school activities
  • Exhibiting trouble sleeping or concentrating

If you discover your child is involved in a cyberbullying situation and believe that the offenses are serious, you should contact your child’s school and/or local law enforcement.

Be sure not to erase any traces of the offensive online contact.

If you have a legal matter or problem, please contact the Ohio law firm of Slater & Zurz LLP by calling 1-888-534-4850 or send a message from the website at slaterzurz.com.

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About slaterzurz

Slater & Zurz LLP is an Ohio law firm of highly experienced and respected attorneys. Over the last 40 years, we have developed a reputation for getting positive results for clients. We've been trusted with handling over 20,000 personal injury cases and our clients have received more than $120,000,000.

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