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Cyber-Bullying: It’s Time to Step Up to Stop the Growing Epidemic

Last month, a freshman from Rutgers University leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge.  Tyler Clementi was 18 years old, a gifted musician and blessed with a loving family.  He was also a profoundly private person.  Just days before his death, his roommate, Dharun Ravi, secretly filmed Tyler having a romantic encounter with another male student.  Ravi then broadcasted the video on the Internet, shattering Tyler’s privacy … and his life.

This latest tragedy is one of a series of recent suicides being linked to the growing issue of cyber-bullying.  In March of this year a beautiful, popular 17 year old from West Islip killed herself after being bullied on a social networking site. This followed the suicide in June of a 15 year old girl in Massachusetts who suffered from similar cyber- bullying at the hands of her classmates.

The National Crime Prevention Council defines cyber-bullying as “when the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post texts or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person”.   In its milder uses, it can be an anonymous catty remark about an acquaintance on the Internet. In its most severe cases, it is unrelenting barrage of insults, smears ridicule and even false information all meant to hurt the target and cause them humiliation.

The National Crime Prevention Council has stated that almost half of all American teens have been victims of cyber bullying.  Studies by Stanford University, ABC news and Harris Interactive give findings that are similar and in some cases higher.

But sadly, while it is found that while the problem is widespread, it is seldom reported to adults.

New York currently has no specific laws relating to cyber bullying.  However, there is proposed legislation entitled “The Dignity for All Students Act”. This act has recently been passed by the New York State Assembly and is mostly directed toward discrimination in schools.

Kathleen Rice, the District Attorney of Nassau County, recently proposed that schools implement a prevention plan with education for students, staff and parents as well as mandatory reporting of any cyber bullying incidents to law enforcement. The concept being that the technology behind cyber bullying can easily reach further than the geographic boundaries of the school district. The sophistication of the act of cyber bullying goes well beyond the abilities of a school district to police.

As highlighted by the deaths of these three young individuals, the effects of cyber- bullying can be shattering and tragic. Schools, parents, students and law enforcement must work in tandem to address this issue – before another young life is lost due to what just may be the most cruel, and far-reaching, type of bullying ever.

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