The trend toward criminalizing cyberbullying reflects the vast perception gap between workplace bullying and youth bullying.
New York is considering a law to criminalize cyberbullying by teens.
In September, two New York legislators, State Senator Jeffrey D. Klein, (D-Bronx/ Westchester), and Assemblyman William Scarborough, (D-Jamaica) proposed new legislation to modernize New York’s stalking laws to include cyberbullying and to make “bullycide,” the act intentionally causing a suicide via cyberbullying, covered under manslaughter statutes. The New York bill is geared toward teens.
Society’s most serious problems are addressed in criminal statutes, wherein the prosecutor levies a charge on behalf of the “people” and the crime carries the potential of incarceration.
Meanwhile, proposed workplace anti-bullying legislation is civil in nature and the leading proposed bill, the so-called Healthy Workplace Bill (HWB), fails to provide American workers with the same level of protection provided to workers in other industrialized countries. A civil action provides a private (individual) right of redress, including reinstatement and monetary damages.
Despite the fact the proposed HWB is anemic at best, a grassroots effort has failed since 2003 to get even one state to pass the proposed bill. Among other things, the HWB requires targets of workplace bullying to prove malice and psychological harm, which are not required for other targets of a hostile workplace environment. It also caps damages at $25,000 if the bullied employee is not subject to an adverse employment action, such as demotion or termination.
Where is the disconnect here?
Clearly, society has yet to recognize the serious nature of the problem of workplace bullying, which is experienced by at least one in four American workers. Overwhelming evidence shows that workplace bullying destroys lives, careers and families. It is every bit as devastating as other types of bullying, causing serious physical and mental health problems up to and including bullycide.
Unlike teen bullying, workplace bullying may be used strategically by employers to get rid of employees who are without fault so the employer can downsize without paying unemployment compensation, to avoid a potential workers’ compensation claim, or to thwart a collective action by workers to improve working conditions.
A review of state laws conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center in July 2010 found that at least 30 states have laws that include the term “electronic harassment,” and 5 states have laws that include the term “cyberbullying.” At least five have laws dealing explicitly with cyber-bullying, which a study found last year may be even harder on the victims than physical beatings or name-calling.
The authors of the proposed New York bill note that the National Crime Prevention Council reports that 43 % of all teens in the U.S. have been subjected to cyber-bullying. (That number jumps to 53% of LBGT youth.)
According to published reports, the proposed New York bill:
- Updates the crime of Third-Degree Stalking (a Class A Misdemeanor) to include cyber-bullying. This behavior is identified as a course of conduct using electronic communications that is likely to cause a fear of harm, or emotional distress to a person under the age of 21. An offense would be punishable by up to one year behind bars.
- Expands the charge of Second-Degree Manslaughter (a Class C Felony) to include bullycide. This is defined as when a person engages in cyber-bullying and intentionally causes the victim of such offense to commit suicide. If a cyber-bully’s victim commits suicide, the cyber-bully would face up to 15 years in prison. (It is not clear whether this provision is age-limited – PGB)
Cyber-bullying, which is persistent harassment through electronic communication, has become more prevalent as technology, such as smart phones and social networking sites, makes communication easy, quick and readily accessible to teens and youth.
Note: Suffolk University law professor David C. Yamada, author of the HWB, and Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute, which supports the HWB, declined a request to comment about the reasons that the HWB requires targets of bullying to overcome higher hurdles of proof compared to other countries – PGB.