The tragic death of Amanda Cummings has prompted New York lawmakers to act. State Senator Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) introduced a bill that will make cyberbullying a crime in New York.
For about six months, the Senator and his staff have been working on the bill. Sen. Klein hopes that his bill will increase the penalties surrounding cyberbullying in three ways. Bullying a youth through the use of the Internet, cellphone or other forms of electronic communication will be updated to third-degree stalking. Using electronic communications to commit a crime will be listed as aggravated harassment. The bill will also modernize first-degree criminal impersonation to include all electronic communications.
We are also updating our bias crime laws to include cyberbulling, Sen. Klein told International Business Times' Crimes of New York. I think this is a way to bring our penal statue into the 21st century and into the digital age.
Cyberbulling has become a major issue across the nation. The prevalence of the Internet and social media has increased the potential for bullying at home. In fact, Sen. Klein said that about 42 percent of young people have reported instances of being cyberbullied.
Amanda Cummings was just 15 years old when she ended her life by stepping in front of a bus on Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island. Members of her family say that she was constantly bullied at New Dorp High School, where she was sophomore, and on the Internet.
Bullying is a far cry from what it used to be before the Internet. Even Sen. Klein admits there are major changes as he recounted his youth.
I remember when I was a kid, probably about 12 years old, there was a guy in my middle school trying to pick a fight with me, he said. Eventually, the two got into a scuffle. However, he explained that the small fight was the end of any problems. The two looked past their differences and became friends.
Bullying is completely different in the 21st century with Facebook, the Internet and cell phones. Now, there are hoards of invisible bullies, hiding behind the Internet as a weapon against others, said Sen. Klein.
In order to take a proactive approach to learn about cyberbulling, Sen. Klein helped launch a website with Assemblyman William Scarborough, (D-Jamaica), Miss New York 2011 Kaitlin Monte, anti-cyberbullying advocates, and victims in order to compile data on cyberbullying in New York. The New York Cyberbully Census is an anonymous survey for children from grades 3 through 12 that gauge students' attitudes and experiences.
Sen. Klein also has worked with anti-bully advocate Jamie Isaacs, a 15-year-old girl from Long Island who was maliciously bullied for over six years. Since then she created an anti-bullying foundation, the Jamie Isaacs Foundation for Anti-Bullying, dedicated to helping teens and children.
It got so bad that there was a website at which you had over 200 kids on a daily basis saying hateful things about her, he said.
According to her mother, Anne Isaacs, students from her school threatened Jamie on a regular basis using email, instant messages, Facebook and text messages.
One message said 'we are going to break into your house and kill you,' said Isaacs. The Internet became a breeding ground for bullies to attack.
The texting was coming in and the instant messaging was coming in over the Internet, she said. Then they would call my house.
The hate mail spread like wildfire and within seconds the whole school got these messages, said Isaacs. Jamie and her family began actively approaching the subject of cyberbulling. Her organization even helped Legislator Jon Cooper write and pass an anti-cyberbulling in Suffolk County. Isaacs said Sen. Klein had also called Jamie for the same reason.
The cyberbullying law has been a long time coming, she said. We need this bill.
Sen. Klein has received support for his anti-cyberbullying bill from Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island/ Brooklyn) William Scarborough (D-Jamaica). However, he is also expecting bipartisan support.
I know that Marc Grisanti signed on, says Sen. Klein. I expect a bipartisan effort to get something done.