Cyberbullying: Louisiana's Solution to Confronting the Latest Strain of Juvenile Aggression

Author:Brittany Layne Stringer
Pages:1129-1161
SUMMARY

John Halligan penned these words of pain in the years following the death of his son, Ryan Halligan, who committed suicide in 2003. Although Halligan did not blame one single person or one single event for his son’s suicide, he had no doubt that both physical and electronic forms of bullying were significant factors that triggered his son’s depression and eventually led to his son’s untimely... (see full summary)

 
FREE EXCERPT
Cyberbullying: Louisiana’s Solution to Confronting
the Latest Strain of Juvenile Aggression
I. INTRODUCTION
October 7, 2003 will always be the day that divides my life.
Before that day my son Ryan was alive. A sweet, gentle and
lanky thirteen year old fumbling his way through early
adolescence and trying to establish his place in the often
confusing and difficult social world of middle school. After
that day my son would be gone forever, a death by suicide.
Some would call it bullycide or even cyber bullycide. I just
call it a huge hole in my heart that will never heal.1
John Halligan penned these words of pain in the years
following the death of his son, Ryan Halligan, who committed
suicide in 2003.2 Although Halligan did not blame one single
person or one single event for his son’s suicide, he had no doubt
that both physical and electronic forms of bullying were significant
factors that triggered his son’s depression and eventually led to his
son’s untimely death.3 The electronic bullying that Ryan
experienced has become so predominant that the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has attempted to define it.
The CDC defines electronic aggression as any type of harassment
or bullying that occurs through e-mails, instant messaging, chat
rooms, websites, or text messaging.4 Electronic aggression—often
called “cyberbullying”includes teasing, ridiculing, insulting,
defaming, offending, and threatening.5 Because of the limited
research on cyberbullying, it is difficult to make definitive
statements about the possible impact of cyberbullying on today’s
adolescents. However, the CDC found that, in 2005, nine percent
of adolescent Internet users claimed that they had been harassed or
bullied online.6 Researchers note that this is a 50% increase from
Copyright 2012, by BRITTANY LAYNE STRINGER.
1. John Halligan, If We Only Knew, If He Only Told Us, RYANS STORY,
http://www.ryanpatrickhalligan.org (last visited May 6, 2012).
2. Id.
3. Id.
4. MARCI F. HERTZ & CORINNE DAVID -FERDON, U.S. DEPT OF HEALTH
AND HUMAN SERVICES, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION,
ELECTRONIC MEDIA AND YOUTH VIOLENCE: A CDC ISSUE BRIEF FOR
EDUCATORS AND CAREGIVERS 3 (2008), available at http://www.cdc.gov/
violenceprevention/pdf/EA-brief-a.pdf.
5. Id. at 3.
6. Id. at 5.
1130 LOUISIANA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 72
the 6% reported adolescent victims in 2000.7 Many researchers are
concerned that the percentage of bullied victims will continue to
increase at a substantial rate.8 The Federal Probation Juvenile
Department reported in 2007 that 90% of middle school students
have had their feelings hurt online and around 75% have visited
websites that “bashed” another student.9 Other federal
governmental research indicates that not only does cyberbullying
have the potential to lead to school violence, but it can also
cultivate future adult criminal behavior.10
Although state legislatures differ in their definition of
“bullying,” this definition is representative: “written or verbal
expressions, or physical acts or gestures, that are intended to cause
distress to another student while on school grounds or at school
activities.”11 With the constantly growing popularity of the Internet
and the ever-expanding use of technology, bullying in cyberspace
is an increasing problem for young Americans.12 Because
cyberbullying consists of a public forum that allows for wide
distribution and access, cyberbullying can be more detrimental for
the victim than traditional forms of bullying.13 Although both
traditional bullying and cyberbullying victims report feeling
depressed, the victim of cyberbullying is more likely to report
higher degrees of depression, and the cyberbully is more likely to
emerge unscathed.14 Because cyberbullying normally takes place
away from campus and school activities, student victims of
cyberbullying are left with little or no assurance of recourse.
7. Id.
8. Id.
9. Alvin W. Cohn, Juvenile Focus, 71 FED. PROBATION 44, 50 (2007).
10. Kevin Turbert, Faceless Bullies: Legislative and Judicial Responses to
Cyberbullying, 33 SETON HALL LE GIS. J. 651, 65657 (2009) (finding that a
“2002 United States Secret Service report concluded that bullying was a major
factor in school shootings such as Columbine” and that “[a]nother report found
that nearly sixty percent of boys who were bullies in middle school were
convicted of at least one crime by age twenty-four”).
11. This representative definition was derived by the author from Fred
Hartmeister & Vickie Fix-Turkowski, Getting Even with Schoolyard Bullies:
Legislative Responses to Campus Provocateurs, 195 EDUC. L. REP. 1, 811
(2005).
12. Turbert, supra note 10, at 657 (finding that “[t]his new form of bullying
is more troublesome and widespread than it seems and is an epidemic in many
of America’s school systems ”).
13. Renee L. Servance, Cyberbullying, Cyber-Harassment, and the Conflict
Between Schools and the First Amendment, 2003 WIS. L. REV. 1213, 1219
(2003).
14. See generally W.N. Welsh, The Effects of School Climate on School
Disorder, 567 ANNALS AM. ACAD. POL. & SOC. SCI. 88, 88107 (2000);
Turbert, supra note 10.
2012] COMMENT 1131
As the number of cyberbullying incidents continues to grow
and as more adolescents continue to increase their use of
technology, parents, school districts, legislatures, and society in
general must determine how to handle this growing epidemic.
States are addressing the growing frequency of cyberbullying
through various legislative enactments.15 These control
mechanisms include allowing victims to pursue cyberbullying
claims in civil court, enacting statutes that criminalize
cyberbullying, and expanding the school district’s jurisdiction over
students’ off-campus Internet speech. As of July 2010, all three
remedies were available to Louisiana residents.16 However, the
effectiveness of available legal remedies is questionable. Thus, just
like the hole in John Halligan’s heart, there is a void in current
Louisiana legislation. As technology continues to become more
accessible, affordable, and sophisticated, Louisiana educational
policy makers must act now to examine all the options and
determine the best systematic approach to the issue.
This Comment examines the concept, background, and legal
issues of cyberbullying, as well as Louisiana’s current legal
position on the subject. Part II analyzes traditional forms of
bullying and their impact on adolescents, explains the elements and
characteristics of cyberbullying, and distinguishes between the two
types of bullying. This Part ultimately concludes that, although the
action and motive of the bully are essentially the same in each
type, a technology-based medium aggravates the impact of
bullying. Part III explains the current cyberbullying-related
legislation in Louisiana by analyzing the civil suit remedy,
examining the possibility of criminal prosecution, and exploring
the option of expanding school districts’ jurisdiction over students’
15. Turbert, supra note 10, at 658; see also Anne Collier, Schools, State Laws
& Cyberbullying, CONNECTSAFELY.ORG, Sept. 17, 2007, http://www.Connect
safely.org/NetFamilyNews/schools-state-laws-a-cyberb ullying.html (“Rhode
Island is considering one of the toughest anti-cyberbullying laws . . . . Under the
proposed legislation, students and their parents could be prosecuted if the student
is caught sending Internet or text messages that prove disruptive to school,
whether or not the y send those messages from schoo l . . . . South Carolina recently
passed a law that mandates school districts to define bullying, including
cyberbullying . . . . In Oregon, lawmakers have backed a bill that would require all
schools to adopt policies that ban cyberbullying and allow for expulsion of those
who are caught doing it . . . . Virginia is out in front as the first state to require
public schools to teach Internet safety.”) (internal quotations omitted); U.S. DEPT
OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, STATE LAWS RELATED TO BULLYING AMONG
CHILDREN AND YOUTH, available at http://www.education.com/reference/article/
Ref_State_Laws_Related/?page=2.
16. See LA REV. STAT. § 17:416.13 (2011); LA REV. STAT. § 14:40.7
(2011).

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