Reprinted with permission from Louisiana Divorce & Family Law Blog
by M. Samantha McAllister
As more individuals are being arrested for cyberstalking, law enforcement officials have noticed that this kind of harassment, or "cyber bullying," is on the rise in this country. Teenagers are using social networking sites such as Myspace and Facebook to bully their peers on a regular basis. Half of all children have been cyber bullied by a peer according to a 2004 survey by wiredsafety organization online. Sadly, even adults are using the Internet to harass, stalk, bully and threaten. Hiding under the anonymity of the Internet, it is easy for these predators to attack you or your children.
The 2006 death of 13-year-old Megan Meier prompted Missouri lawmakers to update a state harassment law so that it now covers bullying and stalking done through electronic media, like e-mails or text messages. If you are not familiar with Megan's story, a former friend (along with help from other classmates) of Megan Meier created a fake Myspace page for a boy named "Josh" and began messaging Megan regularly, with the intentions of beginning a relationship with her. One day, "Josh" wrote to Megan that "the world would be a better place without you" and other mean-spirited messages. Megan's mother discovered Megan hanging in the closet with a belt around her neck.
Missouri's law prompted several other states to create laws and policies against "cyber bullying." In 2007, the Arkansas legislation passed a law allowing school officials to take action against cyber bullies even if the bullying did not originate or take place on school property. The law gave school administrators much more freedom to punish those individuals who sought to harass their fellow students. The progressive state of Oregon really delves into the details of cyber bullying. The laws passed in recent years in Oregon expand the boundaries of what constitutes cyber bullying to include those actions which “substantially interfere” with the education of the young person. Vermont has added a $500 fine for cyber bullying offenses to their already stringent laws on the matter. There is currently a bill being discussed that would increase the reach of the school’s powers regarding cyber bullying when the action puts the individual’s ability to learn (or health and safety) at risk. Other states with new policies for cyber bullying include New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Iowa and Idaho.
If you or your child are being cyber bullied or cyber stalked, there are several actions you can take:
1) Call your local authorities. Print out all messages, ims, texts, and/or emails and show them to the police. The police can use your complaint to gather any other admissible evidence from your computer, if need be. The police may find enough evidence to issue a warrant for "cyberstalking" and the bully could face jail time.
2) File a complaint. Most cyber bullying behavior -- harassment, threats, invasion of privacy, stalking -- are violations of a web site or Internet service provider's "terms of service."
3) Contact your child's school and/or the child's parents. Many schools are integrating policies to punish students for cyber bullying. Often, a phone call to parents or a certified "cease and desist" letter is enough to end the bullying.
4) Identify the cyber bully and block them -- block email addresses, access to social networking pages, etc. Cut off the cyber bully's avenues to harass you or your child.
And finally, contact an experienced family law attorney. Attorneys are seeing these kinds of cases more and more, and can file a suit against the party for harassment, slander, and other causes. Make sure you keep a good record of all the emails, messages, text messages and other forms of communication for your case. Print everything out and save it.
No matter what action you choose to take, remember, cyber bullying is a serious issue and you can stop a cyber bully before it is too late!
M. Samantha McAllister graduated summa cum laude from LSU-Shreveport, earned a Masters in history from Louisiana Tech and received her Juris Doctorate and Bachelor of Civil Law degree from LSU, Paul M. Hebert School of Law. She practices family law in Bossier City.