Orie: Make cyber bullying a crime in state

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High technology has gotten ahead of state law when it comes to Internet abuse involving children hassling other children, and one state senator hopes to do something about it.

A new generation of middle and high school students is using computers to intimidate classmates and create phony Web sites that subject them to public ridicule.

   
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Bullies take intimidation to cyberspace (06/26/06)

   

"This is a new level than what we saw in our generation," said state Sen. Jane Orie, R-Bradford Woods. "Instead of the rumors spreading by word of mouth, it's on the Internet, and the things these kids are writing are permanent and they're extremely hurtful and actually more dangerous than in the days when we grew up with the rumor mill."

Ms. Orie soon will introduce legislation to make cyber bullying and cyber identity theft a crime in Pennsylvania. The law also will require all school districts to adopt policies to address it.

"There have been reported instances of high school students copying published photos of other students and maliciously using the photos of these students on Internet blogging sites such as MySpace.com, Xanga.com, and others," reads a letter Ms. Orie recently sent to other senators seeking support for the legislation.

Her proposal includes two parts.

One piece of legislation would amend Title 18, the Crimes Code, to make that type of theft, re-publication, and cyber bullying a criminal offense. The other piece would amend the Public School Code to require school districts to adopt policies prohibiting the conduct.

More states are moving to adopt laws concerning cyber bullying.

Vermont was first to pass a law dealing with cyber bullying in May 2004 in response to the suicide of 13-year-old Ryan Patrick Halligan. When his parents discovered he was the victim of cyber bullies, they lobbied the state to pass a law against it.

Jayne Hitchcock, a cyber crime expert in York, Maine, said 45 states have upgraded their laws to deal with cyber bullying.

"Honestly, it's harassment and stalking," Ms. Hitchcock said. "But for kids and teens, we call it bullying. But it's basically the same thing."

Because cyber bullies often can remain unknown and unseen, they will behave more badly because they think they will never be caught.

One study by I-Safe America found that 42 percent of students in fourth through eighth grades admitted to being harassed or bullied online, and 53 percent admitted to having said something hurtful or mean online.

"The concern here is you have not only the bullying taking place, but there's also the cyber ID theft where these students are taking pictures of each other, scanning it and creating sites for them and doing bullying and slander against these kids," Ms. Orie said.

"This is all a pretty new phenomenon that is happening here. What we're trying to do is have legislation match the 21st-century technology so that we can get schools to put in place protocols to deal with this and educate these kids."


Tim Grant can be reached at tgrant@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1591.


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