Is Expanding “Bullying Law” Criminalizing Everyday Behavior?


Should “bullying someone to death” be considered a crime, asks Newsweek, citing the suicides of South Hadley, Ma.’s Phoebe Prince, two 13-year-olds who were bulled for being gay, and Tyler Clementi, 18, the New Jersey college student who threw himself off a bridge after the streaming of a Webcam video of his tryst with a man.

Forty-five states have anti-bullying laws; in Massachusetts, anti-bullying programs are mandated in school and criminal punishment is outlined for even the youngest offenders. Prevention programs have been shown to reduce school bullying by as much as 50 percent. Massachusetts law defines bullying as repeated behavior that “causes emotional harm” or “creates a hostile environment” at school. If applied to the real world, wouldn't most of us be bullies, Newsweek asks? It's easy to see how the blossoming field of bullying law could ultimately criminalize the kind of behavior we engage in every day–not just in schoolyards, but in workplaces, in politics, at home. Many kids “just mess up,” says Sameer Hinduja, a criminologist at Florida Atlantic University and codirector of the Cyberbulling Research Center. “They react emotionally, and most of them express a lot of remorse. I think most kids deserve another chance.”

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