‘Cyberbullying’ Is Becoming More Common, But States’ Anti-Bullying Measures Are Lagging Behind

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On Monday evening, Florida authorities arrested two girls, aged 12 and 14, on felony charges after their ongoing online bullying of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick led her to commit suicide by jumping from an abandoned cement tower. It’s just the latest example of the increasingly common trend of “cyberbullying” — behavior that can have deadly consequences, but doesn’t come with criminal charges in most states.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd’s office said that the arrests came after one of the alleged perpetrators posted a Facebook entry saying, “Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA and she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a f***].”

“We decided, look, we can’t leave [the suspect] out there,” Judd told USA Today. “Who else is she going to torment? Who else is she going to harass? Who is the next person she verbally and mentally abuses and attacks?”

Although American boys are more likely to engage in physical violence and bullying, the existing data suggests that girls are significantly more likely to be cyberbullied or to engage in cyberbullying:


CREDIT: Cyberbullying Research Center

LGBT youth are also particularly susceptible to online harassment. The Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) concluded that over 40 percent of LGBT youth have been bullied on the Internet — three times the rate at which non-LGBT youth are harassed.

Some advocates argue that state laws don’t go far enough to protect kids and punish perpetrators. Every state except for Montana has anti-bullying laws on the books, but while many of these states count “electronic harassment” as bullying, just 18 states specifically mention “cyberbullying” in their protective statutes. And although 44 states leave it up to schools to sanction students who have been found to cyberbully, just 12 states — including Florida — impose criminal sanctions on cyberbullies.

Others emphasize the importance of teaching the dangers of online bullying to students, parents, and educators alike in order to prevent tragedies like Sedwick’s suicide. The National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) recommends that parents familiarize themselves with commonly used online acronyms and get to know who is on their children’s chat “buddy lists.” The group also emphasizes the importance of minimizing stigma against a potential cyberbullying victim, as the main reason children don’t report being bullied online is the fear of having computer privileges revoked.