Editorial: Anti-bullying campaign faces new, digital frontier

By Laura Hancq
September 28, 2011

In reference to the news article in this week’s Loquitur, the editorial staff supports and applauds the leaders of the Cabrini College community who held an open forum meeting to discuss cyberbullying through the use of social media. We feel that this is an incredibly important topic that has swept a nation and an entire generation.

While a person can be a victim of harassment at any stage of life, bullying is most likely to occur to younger children, especially in elementary, middle and high school. No matter what your status was in school “popular” or not, almost everyone has been the victim at some point or another. We can all empathize and therefore we all need to protect the next generation.

It seems like children today are going to have it even worse than ever before because of social media. While technology has advanced our society in leaps and bounds and usually makes everyday life so much easier, in this circumstance, it is also another tool for bullies to carry out hate crimes.  A tool that makes their job more convenient and consistent, making it a truly inescapable problem for the victim.

For this reason, it is important to support cyberbullying awareness, education and legislation. Discussions like the one that occurred this week at Cabrini need to happen at every institution, but especially schools, across the country, from colleges and universities to elementary schools.

According to an article written by Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley for CNN, legislation on harassment is not comprehensive. The article says that 42 states have passed laws to ensure that cyberbullying school policies are enforced and 30 states have criminalized the act by adding cyberbullying clauses to existing harassment legislation.

While these moves have been made towards positive change, recent events are persuading lawmakers to think twice about the effectiveness of the current system.

Jamey Rodeymeyer, a 14-year-old boy from Williamsville N.Y., committed suicide after battling cyberbullying for years. The harassment was due to his sexual orientation.

Unfortunately Rodeymeyer is not the first to commit suicide due to cyberbullying. We all remember the horrible day when the news broke that18-year-old Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, jumped off the George Washington Bridge due to cyberbullying. The one-year anniversary of his tragic death is this month.

Rodemeyer was an advocate for the “It Gets Better Project,” a motivational viral initiative for victims of harassment. The project is supported by average people like he and celebrities alike. His death was so devastating and shocking to all involved in the movement because he was a survivor of serious harassment and an example to others on how to manage.

His death has prompted a wave of discussion among senators in the Independent Democratic Conference happening this month. N.Y. state Sen. Jeffrey Klein is leading the movement for N.Y. to update and modernize their harassment laws to really protect victims of cyberbullying by explicitly laying out the offenses and consequences.

Klein aims to have two major pieces of legislation passed, the first which would categorize cyberbullying as a class A misdemeanor of third-degree stalking. The second, and most severe, would be “bullycide,” which is if someone were to commit suicide and cyberbullying can be proven as a leading factor, it will be deemed second-degree manslaughter, a class C felony.

Obviously, this is a sensitive topic. On one hand, people, especially children, make mistakes and everyone says things they regret at one point or another. On the other hand, where does one person’s rights end and another begins, in regard to what is posted about them on a website? It’s a tricky matter.

Parents face a whole new challenge in regards to not knowing exactly who their child is in communication with online. School administrators face the difficult task of determining what is their responsibility to mediate when it does not occur on their property.

While bullies can still hide behind their computer screens, in the past couple of years, mobile devices have furthered the cyberbullying issue. It takes seconds to send a hateful tweet or Facebook message from a smartphone residing in a pocket.

There is no easy solution to this multi-faceted epidemic. Education and open discussions similar to the one Cabrini held are steps in the right direction. While Rodemeyer may be gone, we can all continue on his work with “It Gets Better.”

By supporting strict legislation, we can honor Rodemeyer and the others who have lost their lives. Through our actions, we can lend gravity to the project’s slogan to remind others in similar situations, “You are not alone.”

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Laura Hancq

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