Demand Change to Indiana Bullying Laws To Allow For Criminal and Civil Prosecution of Bullies, Schools, and Parents of Bullies

  • da: Lotte
  • destinatario: Indiana State House Representative Cory Criswell

What is bullying?

Bullying is probably the most widespread form of social prejudice that has existed in the world today. Bullying victims can come from all walks of life. From the young to the old. From the rich to the poor. From any nationality. From any race. From any religion. From any lifestyle. From the healthy to the disabled.

Bullying is the repeated act of harmful verbal insults, physical assault, or mental degradation committed by an individual to harass, intimidate, or cause harm to another individual. Bullying most often involves children and teenagers. Bullying in schools can severely impact students' mental health, well-being, and overall safety. Students, including those with disabilities, face it on school grounds, school bus rides, during off-site school activities, online, or even in their local neighborhoods.

Bullying is not just confined to children in school. It can also effect adults, including those formerly bullied in school as children. Bullying as adults can take place in any setting, including college, the workplace, or even just being out in public.

Bullying is a serious concern as it disrupts each individual's ability to function as a positive contributor to society as a whole. It also often involves acts of harassment, disorderly conduct, and other acts that disturb the peace. It is noted that some mass shootings are attributable to the effects of someone being bullied in their past, which places many innocent victims at risk of physical harm or death.

Although there has been much debate on how to reduce the instances of bullying, it is clear that current efforts are woefully inadequate and will not stop bullying from becoming more commonplace in the future.

It is the opinion of myself, and others, that one reason for this, is due to the wholesale lack of criminal and civil accountability on part of the bully, school systems, employers, and those that exist in the dynamic loop between the bully and their victim.

Why are there Objections to Making People Accountable for Bullying?

Opponents of harsh sentencing guidelines, defense attorneys, and the bullies themselves will typically use a variety of tactics to obstruct justice for victims of bullying and their families.

Blame shifting:

Often seen when a sexual assault victim bravely comes forward to report that a crime has been committed. Read a news story about a tragic case of bullying play out in a school, and don't be surprised to read that representatives of the school will say that "If it had not been for a child to dress a certain way, or be overweight, or to have an existing mental health issue, then the tragic outcome of the bullying would have been avoided."

Would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves are no excuse to deflect the responsibility of an individual, or a group of individuals, that have willingly decided to inflict severe mental or physical harm to a victim as the result of bullying.

Victim shaming:

This is most often done by the bullies themselves, and can occur well after even after the primary events of the bullying has already unfolded. Perhaps, no more dramatic an example was the tragic case of Phoebe Prince that made national headlines in 2010. Phoebe Prince was an Irish teenager who immigrated to the United States in 2009. Within a year, Phoebe would be dead, the result of her hanging herself to escape her torment from being repeatedly bullied by a group of students at her school and online. Much of this victim shaming took the form of continous verbal taunting that destroyed her self-esteem and reputation at school, leading up to her death. But for Phoebe, it didn't end with her death. The bullies continued to shame her legacy after she had already died. They continued to do so well into their adulthood, years after the fact.

Attempts to Devalue Bullying Damage:

Another common tactic is dismissing the effects of the bullying (and consequently the ability to charge the perpetrator with a criminal offense) is by assigning some arbitrary "measure of harm" based on how often the bullying did or did not occur. Both school officials and defense attorneys for the bullies have been known to assert that the destructive potential of bullying is lessened based on how often it occurs to the victim. Such as suggesting that a victim receiving a daily dose of bullying will suffer far more negative effects than a victim that only gets bullied a couple times a week.

Such arguments are countered by the indisputable fact that a victim's reaction to the bullying is often remarkably different from person to person, and that no two victim's processing of the trauma within a given time-span will always be the same.

In the case of Phoebe, a book author named Emily Bazelon seemingly had readers posting negative feedback about her book "Sticks and Stones", which was about cyber-bullying, because it was inferred that because Phoebe had suffered mental illness prior to her contact with the bullies at her school, that she somehow "set up the stage" for her own suicide.

Readers of the book commented that it seemed the theme that "children should work out their own problems or perhaps allow bullying to teach them how to be tougher in a harsh world" was insensitive to victims of bullying.

This attitude, all too common in society, that victims of bullying deserve to be 'toughened up" , as if being sensitive, kind, quiet, or awkward is a crime deserving of punishment, is repulsive as a move to disregard bullying experiences and shift responsibility away from the bully.

Bullies Do not Understand The Consequences of Their Actions Especially when Young:

A common run-to tactic of harsh bullying laws is how it will impact minors. Critics will say a child, whose brain development is not advanced in scope compared to a fully mature adult, should never be held accountable for any violent crime. Yet, there are many cases where that is done because the legal system knows that the safety of other children is paramount compared to the that of the violent offender and the public at large demands it.

Children today commit more and more bullying with violent assaults than ever before, and they are committing these crimes not out of necessity, but as a form of "recreation". This attitude occurs because bullying is still seen as a form of recreation or an outlet is easily adoptable by young children with anger-management issues, seemingly downplayed much of the time by adults "kids just being kids" and thus thought of by the bully as being no different a choice than playing a video game. Yet unlike video games, the consequences of bullying can lead to serious harm to another person.

If a child fails to understand the consequences of a criminal act, and engages in bullying behavior, the foundation for it may very well be laid due to a cascading effect, the failing of parents to instill moral values, the failing of the schools to provide safe environments for children to learn in close proximity to each other , the failing to provide curriculum of substance to facilitate healthy mental development, dysfunctional home environments, et cetera.

However at the top of this "bullying pyramid" is, free will. Free will to make a personal decision to hurt somebody. And that, falls squarely on the bully's shoulders.

For that reason, ignorance of the law is no excuse. This especially holds true for children within the age range of 12-17, whom the law often recognizes as being capable of fully realizing their criminal actions have damaging consequences and are sometimes even treated as "adults" in the most heinous offenses.

Mere days after the suicidal death of Phoebe Prince, her bullies took immediately to social media and started gloating about what they have done, making a series of harmful statements, "Done.", "Phoebe was weak, she brought it all on herself", "We Murdered Phoebe Prince". They were also allegedly witnessed making gestures of being hanged and laughing about what happened to Phoebe. This proved they knew what they were doing.

These subversive tactics are purposely designed to shift the criminal responsibility of what the bullies did, and instead attach it to the particular vulnerability of the victim.

Make no mistake, bullies, even when minors, are more than fully capable of knowing what they did, especially as they express delight and satisfaction of feeling powerful over damage done to their victims. For this, they deserve the punishment that only robust laws that serve to protect and honor victims of bullying can provide.

Phoebe's murderers only deserved a long life in prison.

Opposition to Holding Parents of Bullies Accountable:

It is a sad fact that in many cases, tragic outcomes of bullying could have been prevented by the parents of bullies had they only routinely participated in having open communication with their children about the status of their mental health, the ramifications of engaging in bullying behavior, and getting their children mental health counseling. Parents of bullies are likely the first ones capable of discovering bullying tendencies early in the stages of child development but inevitably are the ones least likely to act.

It is also well established that parents of bullies often do have knowledge that their own child participates in harmful bullying behavior towards another child, yet simply do not care.

Consider the case of 12-year old Mallory Grossman, who committed suicide in 2017 from relentless teasing from jealous girls at her school (Mallory was a cheerleader). Dianne Grossman, her heartbroken mother, revealed in an interview with the news of a phone conversation with one the bully's mothers the night before took her own life:

"I can tell you that the mother dismissed it, said it was just a big joke, and that I really shouldn't worry about it and... she was very defensive and defended her daughter. Even after I asked her daughter to please stop texting Mallory, three minutes later a text message, a series of text messages, came through from that child."

In these situations, when it is proven that the parents of bullies had knowledge that their child was bullying another and yet failed to act, or worse, encouraged their child to bully another, then they should be held both criminally and civil accountable for the harm to the victim and their family.

The Long Road to Establish Criminal and Civil Culpability In Cases of Severe Bullying.

The idea of seeking criminal punishment and civil damages for bullying has long been hampered because many people consider bullying to be nothing more than a moral transgression rather than a criminal or civil one. This thinking has enabled countless bullies and their enablers to escape punishment for what is essentially a criminal act or being held liable for civil fines, because the consequences of bullying actions have been documented to leave lasting psychological damage, negative health effects, financial difficulty, theft and property damage, outright physical injury, and even death to it's victims.

The Legal Definition of Bullying.

Most states in America have had state statues in place for some time that gave authority for the school system to suspend or expel a bullying student. However, none, even to this day have a specific crime punishing bullying per se.

Instead, for any instance of bullying to be prosecutable, it had to be meet the requirements under already existing crime statutes, such as threats of bodily injury, physical assault, physical battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, harassment, harassment via electronic communication, hate crimes, attempted murder or murder.

Because of the lack of having bullying being defined as a criminal act, and having key specific punishments assigned to it based on the damage done to it's victim, a barrier is presented which obstructs bullying victims and their victims from ever getting justice that they rightfully deserve.

For example, cases where extreme bullying of such psychological magnitude that it results in the bullying victim committing suicide, such as was the case with Phoebe Prince in 2010.

In the wake of Phoebe's tragic death, Massachusetts legislature approved an Anti-Bullying Law, which at the time was the strongest yet adopted in the US. Considerable effort was made to define bullying, which was an act by which an individual repeatedly causes physical or emotional harm, causes the victim to be in fear of their own safety, creation of a hostile environment, infringing on his or her rights (civil or otherwise), disrupting the victim's education process, distribution of written/verbal/electronic acts of intimidation or hateful rhetoric.

The Role of Schools In Preventing Bullying.

In addition to defining what bullying was in the eyes of the law, the Bullying Act legally required Massachusetts school employees to attend periodic training on bullying prevention and intervention, to report bullying as they become aware of it, and to submit these reports to state education officials.

Despite these measures, schools across the US still only have limited options in 2024. Some of it is because there is a great disparity in trying to determine what is the best approach to stop bullying in an educational environment.

What options are available typically get exercised only if the school staff is aware that bullying is occurring, that they know the identities of the bullies and their victims, and have an incentive to act (because obviously, concern for children's well-being has not been enough of an incentive, tragically, as cases point out).

The school board may use disciplinary actions like detention, suspension, or expulsion. They may also focus on behavioral interventions like alternative education strategies, mental health counseling, and issuing referrals to mental health services.

School officials are also obliged to involve law enforcement if the bullying involves a criminal act, such as physical acts of violence or harassment.

However, laws that provide schools authority to handle bullying issues are often made useless by the inaction of school staff, which are entrusted 100% by parents to provide a safe place for your child from the moment they set foot on a school bus to when they get off the bus. Numerous accounts appear in the news stories where school administrators and teachers failed to take the bullying seriously or in a timely fashion. Many school officials also have been caught in outright lies about the facts surrounding bullying occuring at their schools.

Some states have laws that stipulate the possibility of litigation towards a school district that does not do enough to stop or punish bullying, to the point it could also owe a substantial amount in fines. In 2023, New Jersey school district has agreed to pay $9.1 million to the parents of a Mallory Grossman who died by suicide in 2017.

Why The Need for Long-Term Imprisonment For The Most Severe Bullying Offenders?

Because of the nature of the serious life-altering effects bullying leaves on it's victims, punishment is mandated not only to serve as justice for the the victim and their families, but also to serve as a deterrence to future acts of aggressive bullying that may cause great harm to another person.

However, because the prospect of criminal charges being levied against bullies and their enablers are so tied in with existing criminal laws, and that the fact that most bullying is perpetrated by minors, which may not fall within adult sentencing guidelines, many victims of severe bullying, even those who choose to end their lives by suicide, may never receive justice they rightfully deserve.

This is because there are no laws where a person can be held criminally responsible for driving a person to severe psychological damage or suicide by the act of bullying.

Phoebe Prince never got criminal justice. She came to this country with dreams of having a better life, a life cut short by bullies in her school. For their actions of willingly committing psychological torture, physical assault and battery, and manipulating Phoebe to the point of suicide, each of her bullies only received probation and 100 hours of community service. Even if the judge pursued the maximum sentence, the most any of these bullies could have gotten is only 2 ½ years of incarceration, a fine of $1,000.00, or both.

Every year thousands of children will be severely psychologically harmed by bullies and hundreds will attempt suicide (many of which sadly, end up being successful), while bullies are permitted to move on with their lives leaving a wake of destruction with little or no consequences for their actions.

This clearly indicates that state lawmakers do not care enough about bullying and that the criminal and civil justice system is in need of SERIOUS reform to establish criminal and civil culpability for those responsible for causing a child, or any individual to suffer severe trauma, physical injury, or death from being bullied.

This has to end now. So no more children like Phoebe Prince and Mallory Grossman have to die and others be left with the trauma of living with the effects of severe bullying while their bullies, at the most, receive the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, or often no punishment whatsoever,.

Therefore, it is proposed that the following 10 acts of legislation at the various levels of Indiana state government be considered as a supplemental deterrent to severe bullying to ensure justice for its victims and their families, as well as for the whole of society at large.

1. Enact legislation to properly define the act of bullying as a prosecutable criminal offense.

2. Enact legislation that enables bullies, while engaged in the criminal act of bullying, and enrolled in public or private school, to face mandatory expulsion, upon the school institution having knowledge of at least 2 recordable instances of bullying against a specific victim.

3. Enact legislation that enables bullies, who, while engaged in the criminal act of bullying, to face felony charges for their crimes should their victim endure serious psychological or bodily harm.

4. Enact legislation that enables bullies, who, while engaged in the criminal act of bullying, face the possibility of 2nd degree murder, or voluntary or involuntary manslaughter felony charges should their victim commit suicide.

5. Enact legislation that enables bullies and their families to be held accountable for civil damages by the victim or their surviving family.

6. Enact legislation to hold school faculty or company management accountable for civil negligence if they are proven to have prior knowledge of bullying occurring at their institution towards the victim and yet failed to act in a reasonable manner to stop the bullying.

7. Enact legislation to hold school faculty or company management accountable for criminal negligence if they are proven to have prior knowledge of bullying occurring at their institution towards the victim, which resulted in severe psychological harm, bodily injury, or death of the victim, yet they failed to act in a reasonable manner to stop the bullying.

8. Require that the primary educational institutions enforce mandatory anti-bullying educational classes at various levels during child development and grade progression.

9. Require that the state government enforce mandatory audits of anti-bullying metrics from primary and secondary educational institutions from both the public and private school sectors.

10. Require that companies with over 50 employees onsite enforce mandatory employee anti-bullying training during the new hire processes.

These 10 elements of bullying reform I propose, colloquially named 'Indiana Enhanced Anti-Bullying Law", was made with assistance from members of the r/bullying Reddit group.

By signing this petition, we will send the signatures to Indiana State House Representative Cory Criswell for consideration.

Thank you for your support.

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