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  • Writer's pictureSameer Nath, Esq.

What Can I do if my Child is Being Cyberbullied?

What Can I do if my Child is Being Cyberbullied?

\While student bullying has long been a problem, in times past, the bullying often ended when the targeted child closed the front door to their home after school. The evolution of cell phones, social media, and communication-technology has created a climate in which bullies can call their victims at all hours of night, on weekends and holidays, and can even make humiliating social media posts that are viewable by the general public. In some cases, bullies edit images of their victims into obscene, sexually inappropriate or even racist pictures; in others, they can disseminate a victim’s private contact information to others to chime in on the abuse.

To a child or adolescent learning to make their way in the world, this can be devastating and can cause myriad psychological problems ranging from anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to depression and in the most tragic cases, even suicide.

The New York State legislature has taken steps to protect students in the state from bullying sand cyberbullying.

The Dignity for All Students Act:

The Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) was signed into law in New York State on September 13, 2010 and took effect on July 1, 2012. The Act was designed to prohibit harassment and bullying against students in school based on (real or perceived) race, skin color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender (including gender identity and expression) and sex, and aimed to prohibit discrimination based on these characteristics.

While the Dignity for all Students Act originally targeted in person, “face to face” bullying, New York State Education Law Article 2 was amended to include cyberbullying. New York State public school are now are tasked with prohibiting, investigating and preventing cyberbullying in addition to traditional bullying.

How are Bullying and Cyberbullying Defined by New York State Law?

New York State Education Law Article 2, Section 11 defines Bullying and Cyberbullying as follows:

“Harassment" and "bullying" shall mean the creation of a hostile environment by conduct or by threats, intimidation or abuse, including cyberbullying, that (a) has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student's educational performance, opportunities or benefits, or mental, emotional or physical well-being; or (b) reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause a student to fear for his or her physical safety; or (c) reasonably causes or would reasonably be expected to cause physical injury or emotional harm to a student; or (d) occurs off school property and creates or would foreseeably create a risk of substantial disruption within the school environment, where it is foreseeable that the conduct, threats, intimidation or abuse might reach school property. Acts of harassment and bullying shall include, but not be limited to, those acts based on a person's actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender or sex. For the purposes of this definition the term "threats, intimidation or abuse" shall include verbal and non-verbal actions… “"Cyberbullying" shall mean harassment or bullying as defined in subdivision seven of this section, including paragraphs (a), (b), (c) and (d) of such subdivision, where such harassment or bullying occurs through any form of electronic communication.

How can I Protect my Child from Cyberbullying?

If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, an important early step to take is to preserve evidence. This includes phone calls, text messages, voicemails and screen shots of abusive social media posts. Sometimes, bullies will engage in “spoofing” which means using false phone numbers to commit cyberbullying in attempt to evade detection – even if you believe the phone numbers are fake, any/ all steps should be taken to preserve evidence. Phone companies will often not release the information without a subpoena, so it is important to enlist the aid of law enforcement or a private attorney in order to obtain the real numbers, but criminal and civil actions both require evidence in order to achieve the maximum chance of success.

Notify Law Enforcement: If you believe the behavior has elevated to a criminal level, a phone call to your local police precinct, or the District Attorney’s office is likely in order. The bullies can be arrested and prosecuted for offenses including stalking, harassment, and aggravated harassment. In more extreme cases, these charges may be prosecuted as hate crimes. Even if a bully is ultimately not prosecuted, a p8hone call from a police detective may be more than enough to send a strong message to a bully (and their parents) that the behavior will not be tolerated.

Notify the School: In order for the school to protect your child, they need to know the problem exists. Enlist the aid of the school principal and/ or guidance counselors, inform them of the abuse, and find out what steps the school will take to protect your child.

Consider pursuing a lawsuit: New York State law allows for lawsuits to be brought against institutions who fail to abide by the requirements of the Dignity for All Students Act. Under the Act, public schools must have anti-bullying policies in place and must adhere to them. The law further permits people to file lawsuits against the abusers themselves. In New York State, there are strict time limits (these are known as Statutes of Limitation) for lawsuits to be brought so it is important to consult with an experienced Personal Injury attorney in order to preserve your child’s right to compensation.

If you or a loved one has a child who has suffered from cyberbullying, call 914-500-7990 at any time to set up a free consultation.

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