Updating Bullying Law

Article excerpt

As Rutgers University continues to recover from the fallout surrounding the firing of the men's basketball coach for bullying his players, lawyers and prosecutors at a school-sponsored forum Wednesday debated the difficulties of pursuing cyberbullying charges.

Authorities face a two-part problem when it comes to cyberbullying cases: determining whether the incident rises to the level of a crime and, if so, deciding the charges that should be brought given that there is no cyberbullying statute.

"You look at this [criminal] code that's in front of you and these series of offenses and you try to find out where this 21st century conduct fits into this law that for the most part is 40 years old," Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Brian Sinclair told the group of 100 at a cyberbullying symposium at the Rutgers School of Law in Newark. "The law has to catch up and one of the things I'd love to see ... is an aggravated harassment [statute]."

The daylong event sponsored by the Rutgers Computer & Technology Law Journal came while the university has been mired in a scandal that started with the firing of coach Mike Rice this month. That led to the resignations of the athletic director and the lead counsel. Then came the criticism for the payouts and settlements tied to their departures as well as the university's overall handling of the players' mistreatment.

Rice was let go after a video of him verbally and physically abusing players during practices became public. The coach hurled basketballs and shouted homophobic slurs at the players.

The scandal unfolded as Rutgers works to create a more inclusive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students on campus following the suicide in 2010 of Tyler Clementi of Ridgewood, whose roommate spied on his liaisons with another man via webcam. In a trial that captured national attention and one in which prosecutors brought bias intimidation charges in a cyberbullying case for the first time, Dharun Ravi was convicted of bias and invasion of privacy, among other crimes. …