Bullying and Emerging Florida Law

No one likes a bully. Yet, the social stigma associated with bullying has never seemed to be enough to stop bullies from terrorizing their perceived weaker peers.

States are finally reacting to this age-old problem by passing laws to punish this emotionally- and sometimes physically-damaging behavior. Florida has such laws. That's why two girls, 12 and 14, have been arrested in connection with the death of a 12-year-old Lakeland girl, Rebecca, who committed suicide after being bullied by a number of girls for nearly a year.

It all started when the 14-year-old began dating Rebecca's former boyfriend. She began to harass and torment Rebecca in person and on social media. The bullying through name-calling, intimidation, threats, and at least one fight became so bad that Rebecca's mother began home-schooling her. When Rebecca could tolerate no more, she went to an abandoned concrete plant near her home. She climbed to the top of a silo and jumped. The pain of being bullied had become greater than the anticipated pain of death.

Bullying is not accepted in Florida and many other states. Under our law, a bully can be charged with aggravated stalking for willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly following or harassing a minor under 16. A conviction constitutes a felony of the third degree, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and fines of up to $5,000. Civil remedies for monetary compensation are also available, not only against those who engage in bullying and their parents if they know about it, but also, against others who might knowingly allow bullying to occur, such as schools.

The message today is that there are penalties for bullying, and they are so strong that, if invoked by kids and their parents, they can and will deter malicious, harmful, and even devastating conduct by bullies. The Rebeccas of the world have the law on their side.

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