Understanding Cyberbullying and the Law


Like everything else in the world, bullying has gone high-tech. Instead of one boy facing another boy and pushing him around or one girl starting a rumor about another, the method of bullying in many cases has gone cyber.

Of course the old fashioned way of intimidation still occurs but with so many people having a cellphone bullying has been made easier for the perpetrator.

According to the research center cyberbullying.us, adolescent girls are significantly more likely to have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes. However, research also found that girls are more likely to report incidents. Cyberbullying tends to differ by gender; girls are more likely to spread rumors while boys are more likely to post hurtful pictures or videos.

Schools within Glendale Unified School District follow specific guidelines when they receive a report of cyberbullying. A student can be suspended if the student was found to have harassed, threatened or intimidated another student.

A local mother of a cyberbullying victim is worried for the long-term effect on her child. She reported the incident to her daughter’s school but is concerned officials are not doing enough to protect her child or at least is not taking the incident seriously.

“We do take it very seriously,” said Deputy Scott Shinagawa, school resource officer for Rosemont Middle and Crescenta Valley High schools.

But it’s not easy to find the person responsible for cyberbullying, he added.

Shinagawa begins the investigation and if he cannot trace the cyber link, he will then pass it on to the Los Angeles County Special Victims Bureau.

Cyberbullying is considered to be anything from being stalked to being made fun of on the Internet.

“The big thing is Facebook. Anyone can claim to be anyone on [Facebook],” said Sgt. Ruiz, Los Angeles County Special Victims Bureau.

Shinagawa turns cases of cyberbullying over to investigators like Ruiz.

Ruiz added that the technology of the bullying is usually used from outside the school.

“It is usually after school like when they are hanging out at [fast food] restaurants,” he said.

Ruiz, who also teaches an Internet safety class, said that kids are being warned not to talk to strangers but do not always bring that warning with them when using the Internet.

Because kids live in a world where technology is commonplace, they often forget the dangers of putting photos on the web or giving too much information on their profile.

“Most of my victims are honor roll students. They are good kids,” Ruiz said. “The kids that are getting in trouble on the Internet go and do their homework.”

But then they start surfing the web and often times download photos.

In some cases, the photos are of girls in compromising positions. Like in a case Ruiz investigated, not related to Crescenta Valley, photos that were taken by someone a victim thought she could trust ended up on the Internet or texted out to others.

“At another school, girls were very promiscuous with boys at school. It became a crime when the boys videotaped the [incident and shared it]. It was all fine and dandy when no one was supposed to know,” he said.

In other cases, bullies take innocent photos and manipulate them.

“This is called morphing,” Ruiz said.

There are a lot of challenges when investigating cyberbullying.

“Those that are doing it are [usually] computer savvy and know how not to get detected,” Ruiz said.

Shinagawa agreed that finding the bully is difficult with all the technology so readily available.

“There are ways they can [email] or text without a registered number,” he said.

The fact is cyberbullying is serious and, Ruiz said, must be taken seriously.

Even when a cyberbully is found it is not always clear as to what crime has been committed.

“Penalties can vary,” Ruiz said.

Most penalties will relate to harassment. In regard to photos, it depends on how the photos were manipulated and if the photos are of juveniles.

Research on cyberbullying has found that students involved are more likely to be unwilling to attend school, receive poor grades, have lower self-esteem and have more health problems, according to stopbullying.gov.

The bullying can be relentless and shared with a wide audience. The victims become more withdrawn while the bully becomes bolder.

Cyberbullying may indicate a tendency toward more serious behavior.

In his Internet safety classes, Ruiz advises parents to bring the computer out of the bedrooms and into the family area.

“We don’t know who [the kids] are talking to online. We tell our kids don’t stay our late and watch out for strangers but we don’t watch what they do online,” he said.

U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a division of the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, suggests teaching children good online habits including explaining the risks of technology. To keep the lines of communication open between children and parents, watch for warning signs like changes in a child’s personality. To prevent incidents, limit the availability of personal information, but if cyberbullying occurs, document the activity by keeping a record of any online activity including relevant dates and times and report cyberbullying to the appropriate authorities.

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