Direct Bullying: Criminal Act or Mimicking What Has Been Learned?

By Garby, Lisa | Education, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Direct Bullying: Criminal Act or Mimicking What Has Been Learned?


Garby, Lisa, Education


The suicidal deaths of Phoebe Prince, Jon Carmichael, Jamey Rodemeyer, Eric Mohat, Kenneth Weishuhn, Jr. and Jessica Logan caught the nation's attention between the years 2007-2012. The common cause in all of these cases; each young person was bullied by their peers. Jon Carmichael endured being stripped, tied and placed upside down in a trash can as well as having his head placed in the toilet bowl as it was flushed numerous times; all because he was small in size. Phoebe Prince was followed, taunted, had cans thrown at her and harassed online; all because of a boy she dated. Jessica Logan was harassed relentlessly by hundreds of girls; all because an ex-boyfriend sent nude photos of her through his phone. In all of these cases, only Phoebe Prince's resulted in local authorities bringing charges against those involved. Should individuals who directly bully people be charged as criminals or are they victims as well?

When a person is subjected to physical violence such as kicking, slapping, and/or punching, or subjected to threats and name calling they are being directly bullied. (Carpenter & Ferguson, n.d., para. 1) If an adult uses physical violence or makes threats against another human being they can be charged by law with assault or battery of varying degrees. Assault is defined as threatening someone with harm while battery is the actual physical violence against a person ("Assault and battery," n.d., para.1). Even legislation includes bullying under the terms harassment or assault with 25 states defining bullying together with harassment and/or intimidation (as cited in Brubacher, Fondacaro, Brank, Brown & Miller, 2009). Using these definitions it seems the logical step would be to charge a child who directly bullies as a criminal.

Schools seem to be agreeing with this mindset. Recently all states except Montana have taken steps to enforce anti-bullying laws. Of these, eighteen states provide a means for the victim to seek legal ramifications and nine states mandate that schools report bullying incidents to the police (Toppo, 2012). In 2011 New Jersey passed what is being touted as the toughest anti-bullying law in the nation. The "Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights" requires students to be expelled or suspended, places responsibility on administrators and employees to report all incidences whether they occur in school or not or face discipline issues as drastic as losing their license, mandates a "school safety team" in all schools, requires superintendents to report detailed incidents to the state twice a year and the State Education Department posts grades on how each school is doing (Freidman, 2011). More and more zero tolerance laws are being enforced in schools, but what would that look like statistically?

The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently analyzed four federal surveys on bullying and created the report School Bullying: Extent of Legal Protections for Vulnerable Groups Needs to Be More Fully Assessed. Analysis of HBSC 2005/2006: Estimates of Youth Who Reported Being Bullied for Certain Types of Bullying Behaviors show that 31.5 % of students were made fun of, called mean names and/or teased; 13.1% were called mean names because of their race or color; 8.5% were called mean names because of their religion; and 12.8% were physically hurt or locked indoors (GOA, 2012). Based on these statistics, it seems that a large percentage of students in at least eighteen states would have a population of students in juvenile detention or jail.

Not all anti-bullying advocates believe this is the answer. While it is true that bullying is an issue, jail is not necessarily the answer nor is it necessarily the child who should be held responsible. Russlyn Ali, assistant secretary for civil rights for the Department of Education believes that reporting bullying incidents to the police should really be thought out by school officials because of the harm it might bring to the school culture (as cited in Toppo, 2012).

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