Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Sofie Mattens and Dan Robbins
Most — if not all — of us have had an experience with bullying.
Bullies torment and discriminate against anybody based on age, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender, family status, national origin and any other personal characteristic that identifies a person as a unique and special human being.
Bullies use hurtful, mean language to make others feel ashamed of their differences instead of proud of them.
Both national and local media have given a lot of attention to tragic incidents in which bullying has had a vital role.
In 2010, Rutgers University student Tyler Clement killed himself by jumping off a bridge after his roommate broadcast a streaming video of Tyler sharing an intimate moment with another man.
In 2011, a Lewiston high school student, Dax Catalano, was beaten severely in the mall after receiving violent threats on Facebook.
Just this spring, Kitty McGuire, a Maine middle school student from Troy, took her own life. Friends and relatives say bullying was at least partially to blame.
As society and technology advance, so does bullying. Whether it’s through social networking sites, texts, emails or public posts, technology has created a new medium that allows bullies to intimidate or threaten a person while being protected by a wall of anonymity and distance.
This distance allows them to dodge any chance of being confronted with the direct consequences of their actions.
A common element in many cases of bullying is that the victims often are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. According to recent research, 63 percent of homosexual students report that they have been bullied at some point in their lifetime. When all LGBT students are considered, the number rises to 72 percent.
Thirty-six percent of LGBT students report being cyberbullied, as compared with 20 percent of their non-LGBT peers.
Analysis of FBI data indicates that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered citizens are among those most likely to be the target of violent hate crimes in the United States.
Many stories of bullying end in the victim’s death, often by suicide. Other young people are injured, either physically or emotionally. How many other people need to get hurt or lose their lives after enduring constant attacks in their personal lives?
Currently, 47 states include electronic harassment in bullying laws, whereas only 16 states have specific laws regarding cyberbullying. All states, with the exception of Montana, require schools to have a policy regarding bullying; and in 43 states, schools levy punishment for the behavior.
Twelve states have implemented criminal sanctions against cyberbullying and five states, including Maine, are proposing to make it a criminal offense.
Maine’s L.D. 1233, An Act Regarding Cyberbullying, would make cyberbullying a Class E crime that can lead to a fine of $1,000 and six months of in jail. When a person has two or more prior convictions and is bullying the same person or has presented with similar conduct in a different jurisdiction, it can become a Class C crime with a $5,000 fine and up to five years of prison.
Last year, the Legislature enacted an anti-bullying law that required schools to create and implement anti-bullying policies in January. If L.D. 1233 becomes law, police enforcement will become new gatekeepers to monitor and put a stop to hurtful and damaging technology-based conduct, much of which occurs outside school property.
Our community cannot deny that harassment through technological devices is a growing issue to which an effective resolution has yet to be found. Progress is being made by increasing awareness and recognizing there is a problem. Schools are taking a stand by developing policies to increase awareness about, prevent and act on bullying behavior.
We believe that L.D. 1233 would help break down the wall of anonymity that protects cyberbullies and would help victims to put a stop to these cruel actions. This legislation takes the next step: making cyberbullying a criminal offense.
We encourage people to urge their legislators to protect the lives of our youth by supporting L.D. 1233.
Sofie Mattens, of Skowhegan, and Dan Robbins, of Orono, are working on their master’s degrees in social work at the University of Maine.