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New York looks to 'modernize' cyberbullying laws

By Dominique Debucquoy-Dodley, CNN
updated 12:56 PM EDT, Tue September 27, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Proposed legislation would update categorization of cyberbullying
  • "Our laws are not keeping pace with technology," state senator says
  • Report: 42 states have laws to ensure that cyberbullying polices are enforced

New York (CNN) -- New York state Sen. Jeffrey Klein aims to update the state's harassment laws with new legislation amid national efforts to modernize laws that protect citizens from cyberbullying.

Klein and other senators in the Independent Democratic Conference met Monday to review the proposal, which includes two pieces of legislation.

First, the laws would incorporate cyberbullying into the category of third-degree stalking, a class A misdemeanor. "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," said a report issued by the Independent Democratic Conference this month.

Second, "bullycide" would be categorized as second-degree manslaughter, a class C felony. "This is defined as when a person engages in cyberbullying and intentionally causes the victim of such offense to commit suicide," the report said.

Klein emphasized the importance of modernizing states' cyberbullying laws.

"Our laws are not keeping pace with technology, and we are paying a human price for it," Klein said. "No longer is bullying only confined to the schoolyard, it is now piped in an instant through victim's computers and onto the devices they carry in their pockets. This legislation will help provide protections to those who need it, as well as send a strong message about the seriousness of this destructive behavior."

Such behavior remains in the spotlight after the recent death of Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year old boy from Williamsville, near Buffalo, who last week took his life after what his parents say was years of bullying over his sexual orientation.

Last year, Phoebe Prince, 15,of Massachusetts, took her own life after being continuously bullied at school and online. The online bullying continued even after her death, as people left vindictive comments on her Facebook memorial page.

An 18-year-old Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, killed himself by jumping off of the George Washington Bridge in September 2010 after two classmates posted and broadcast a secretly taped video of his sexual encounter with another man.

New York does have laws designed to tackle the issue of bullying. The Dignity for All Students Act, passed in 1999, helped provide a safer school environment for students and teachers, but the Independent Democratic Conference report says it did not go far enough.

"What the law does not explicitly tackle is the kind of bullying that takes place on the Internet and via cell phones, and therefore often goes undetected," the report says. "The missing component of cyberbullying leaves the door open for a ferocious type of harassment that can be even more damaging than a physical confrontation."

According to the Independent Democratic Conference report, 42 other states have passed laws to ensure that cyberbullying school policies are enforced. New Jersey mandates that all public schools adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies, including cyberbullying. Rhode Island calls for the establishment of cyberbullying task forces. Illinois prohibits "harassment through electronic communications" at large, including the use of electronic communication to make "any comment, request, suggestion or proposal which is obscene with an intent to offend."

In addition, more than 30 states have criminalized cyberbullying by altering statements in their harassment laws to include the clause "cyberbullying."

New York Sen. David Carlucci added to the discussion at the Independent Democratic Conference meeting.

"Cyberbullying attacks are especially painful because they are not easily erased from the Internet and can trouble the victim for months and years," he said. "Passing this legislation will update our laws so that we can provide a safe space for those being bullied outside the schoolyard."

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