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PlaygroundEquipment Blog
Thursday, July 24, 2014

Child Bullying: Should it be considered a crime?

Bullying is a subject matter that should not be ignored, but rather should be addressed head-on. Each state in America addresses bullying in a different manner in order to teach a hard lesson to those involved. In some cases, bullying, together with other related behaviors such as cyber bullying, are addressed in a single or multiple laws. There are also situations wherein bullying is part of a criminal code that may apply to the youth and criminal charges can be made. At present, no specific federal law has been applied to bullying. Among the reported cases of bullying because of color, race, sex, disability, religion, or natural origin, it overlaps with harassment cases and schools are given the legal authority required to address the situation at hand.

Have we crossed the line when it comes to bullying? Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr, Creative Commons
With increasing incidents of bullying, especially reported cases of deaths caused and initiated by bullying, certain steps should be done accordingly to protect your child from being a bullied victim. However, in dealing with such bullying cases, a big question always pops up the moment authorities come face-to-face with the bully and the victim.

Can the bully be considered a criminal for his actions towards the victim? Is scolding good enough to stop it from happening again? Should the accused child be arrested if the victim commits suicide after a bullying incident? Should bullying be considered a crime, after all?

Bullies: Charged Guilty

“Pure bullies” or those who initiated the bullying may not be apprehended by just a simple counselling procedure, nowadays. There are places and states which have opted to pass bills and legislation to combat bullying and its long term effects to a child’s life. A research done by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics reveals that bullying could have worse effects, with bullied kids aged 9 to 21 that are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts compared to those who were not bullied.

In the light of various bullying incidents and tragedies, certain U.S. states and other countries have pushed for bullying laws to take effect to protect the victim and his rights. These ordinances and legislations have been done also because of major bullying incidents; majority of which ended in tragic deaths.

Victoria, Australia has its anti-bullying legislation known as the “Brodie’s Law” which took effect last June, 2011. It considers bullying a crime because of the tragic suicide of a young woman, Brodie Panlock, who was bullied at work. At present, the law is applied to any form of bullying even in schools or on the internet and perpetrators can be punished by up to 10 years in jail.


In the United States, the state of Florida is pushing for its own bill that aims to make bullying a crime. Known as “Rebecca’s Law”, it calls for bullying to be considered a criminal offense, after the death of Rebecca Sedwick, 12, who committed suicide because of her schoolmates’ bullying in the Polk County School District. The bill also considers aggravated bullying as a third-degree felony and on the second offense of the bully, he/she can be sentenced to prison for 1 year. Senator David Simmons is in favor of this move to show that people need to be aware of their boundaries, especially for those who are not really aware of it. Tricia Norman, Rebecca’s mom, is keen on putting a stop to bullying in their state through Rebecca’s Law. Norman points out that the students need to see the future consequences of their bullying action.

In addition to Rebecca’s law, the U.S. Department of Education data reveals that more than half of the 42 states have bullying laws that focuses on punishment rather than counselling the bullies. Those states who authorized criminal actions against bullies amount to fifteen, while 8 have created criminal offenses connected to bullying.

But let’s take a look at the other side of the coin: can bullies be treated as criminals, especially if they are children?

Bullies: Kid Criminals?

A lot of groups and individuals have expressed support in making bullying a criminal offense because of its effects to the victims. Bullying goes too far causing deaths to innocent children and the ordinances are in place to stop further situations of bullying. Jeff Edelstein, suggests that a bully at the age of 12 should be treated as an adult and can be rightfully charged of a criminal offense. He argues that teenagers who commit crimes should be put in trial the same way as adults do. He also points out that criminal investigations are also being conducted in bullying cases, especially when the victim commits suicide, so bullies can be considered as criminals as well. He believes that a suspension punishment can be just fine to a bully but being in jail because of bullying tells a different story to the initiator.

Laws and ordinances: Is it a good move to put an end to bullying? Photo by Paige via Flickr, Creative Commons
Meanwhile in Chicago, Cook County sheriff Tom Dart approves of criminal prosecutions for school bullies. If their intention is clear, and the actions are severe then the bully has crossed the line and should be charged appropriately. Dart also supports the idea of more adult involvement when a bullying happens, especially with the recent suicide of Rebecca in Florida.

There are also those who consider criminalizing bullies as an ineffective solution to fight bullying.
Paul Butler, an Associate Dean at George Washington University, believes that America doesn’t need new criminal laws. He points out that committing suicide is a tragic and rare response but the criminal law doesn’t charge people for unpredictable outcomes. Suicide incidents are evidences of deeper problems other than bullying and authorities can look at those angles for solutions.

Eli Federman shares the same sentiment that criminal prosecutions is not the solution. Bullying should be addressed by parents, teachers and the whole community altogether, as well as quick interventions and awareness of bullying incidents. In a suicide victim’s mind, a bully’s behavior can be a factor, but under the criminal law, it is rare for people to say that someone’s actions caused the suicide directly. She also points out that suicide victims are few, despite the millions of teens being bullied every year.

An interesting point of view when it comes to bullying and legislation is also expressed by a blog by Cjujitsu. He states that when it comes to bullying, parents might be too overprotective of their kids and this might not help them in standing up for themselves. He points out that life has its adversities and you “can’t legislate that away”. He further stressed his point that no one has to be a victim of violence but more laws and legislation for bullying is not the solution. The solution for him is a job well done and close supervision by parents and teachers, and not legislation.

Bullying: A Societal Beast or a Mere Phase? 

Children at schools often times encounter bullying in schools and play areas. They either fall victim to it, initiate it, or serve as mere spectators to the incident. But can it be readily called as a crime for the cops to come in once bullying takes place or is it just a natural phase in one kid’s life that can be managed?

There are those who claim that certain cases of death that are directly attributed to bullying might be too hard to be proven since it needs to take into consideration other factors involved prior to the suicide of the victim. Bullying might just be an implicated factor.

In the case of Rebecca Sedwick’s suicide case, Nancy Willard, director of the group Embrace Civility in the Digital Age that focuses on combating cyberbullying, obtained the police files and carefully reviewed them. Willard states that the media and people might be too quick to judge to instantly associate the death with bullying. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters that they never told that bullying was the sole cause, but they do point out that bullying “continued to stack bricks on an already overloaded wagon till finally, it broke.

Some claim that children, just like criminals, are expected to be punished because of bullying activities.
But others are opposing to this harsh move towards kids. Photo by Nick Vidal-Hall via Flickr, Creative Commons
On the other hand, concerned citizens particularly the victims of bullying and their parents call for concrete actions and solutions to specifically combat bullying—through anti-bullying legislation. These laws serve as a weapon to pin down bullying, and its initiators. Affected individuals push for this so as to teach a specific lesson to bullies and to prevent other tragic events to happen in their area that are attributed to bullying. The State Cyberbullying Laws reports that among those states who have anti-bullying laws, 14 of them includes criminal sanctions.

The Call is The Answer

People who are pushing for laws want more concrete solutions for bullying through its provisions and sanctions. Those against sanctioning kids with criminal punishments pushes for alternative ways to stop bullying. Those who wants kids to be punished as criminals treat bullying as a criminal case, while those who are against it see bullying as a right of passage in a kid’s life that can be well managed if noticed at once.

In the case of bullying, it is clearly seen that the child victims are greatly affected by their bullies. In addressing these cases, what needs to be done?

As parents and educators continue to work hand in hand in addressing the situation, is it safe to say that we can already call the cops to get into the picture and help in combatting bullying?

More importantly, is it a go or no for us to call the bullies as kid criminals? Can we totally say that bullying can be considered as a crime or another form of unnecessary movement for an arguably too pampered generation of kids?

Learn about the author: Jennifer Holmes

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