Biff Tannen in Back to the Future. Regina George as one of the Mean Girls. Johnny Lawrence threatening The Karate Kid. All of these well-known characters are universally disliked for the one characteristic they have in common…they are all bullies. While bullying in these films was necessary for plot development, it is not ever needed in real life. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 20.1% of the representative sample of teenagers surveyed in grades 9 – 12 reported being bullied within the past year. A few of these incidents have escalated far past the bullies in movies and have resulted in deaths, making this issue a serious one. As such, laws have been established in the past few years to address the issue.
WHAT IS BULLYING?
CDC defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, involving an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated”. This can be through making threats, spreading rumors, exclusion, or physical attacks. These behaviors typically cause physical, emotional, or social stress and/or harm to the victim.
Cyberbullying takes bullying into an electronic platform including text messages, emails, websites, and social apps. Mean pictures, videos, fake profiles, and rumors can spread through these venues. Cyberbullying makes escape from the bullying situation more difficult as the victim can be attacked at any time they are electronically connected. It is different from typical bullying as messages can be posted anonymously; as with adult situations, people will often speak in a harsher manner online than in person.
WHAT DO THE LAWS SAY?
Similar to many other issues, there is no federal law governing bulling. If, however, the bullying is focused on the victim’s race, color, national origin, sex, a disability, religion, or sexual orientation, federal law, beginning with the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and with many case laws following, would be applicable and could be used for prosecution.
All states have various laws that have been applied to bullying, including assault and harassment statues. All states except Montana have laws that mandate each school to develop and enforce policies surrounding bullying. In addition to discussing the disciplinary responses, these laws also help identify bullying behavior.
IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN BULLYING
As a school, be sure your lawyers consult with state and local officials to ensure all laws are being followed. There is also assistance for developing policies included in a technical memo from Secretary Duncan (https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/secletter/101215.html). For everyone’s health and safety, prevention is by far the best method to follow. Schools are encouraged to build safe environments through education and engagement of parents and students on the issue.
As a parent, do not delay in getting your child help if you think they may be the victim of bullying. First and foremost, ensure your child’s safety, both physically and emotionally. Contact the school to report the incidents and work with the officials and counselors to develop a prevention and monitoring plan. If the school is not cooperative, ask to see their policies or contact the school district governing the school. Know that law obligates schools to protect students from bullying. If no resolution can be found, there are attorneys that will assist your case.