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September 6th, 2010 by Loni Coombs

Taking a Stand against Cyber Bullying

The following is from my good friend Loni Coombs, a legal analyst, mom and regular contributor to the Dr. Phil show and The Doctors. She appeared on the Dr. Phil show “Bullied to Death,” weighing in on the legal consequences cyber bullies should face as a result of their actions.

Loni_1I just finished taping a heart-wrenching episode of the Dr. Phil show that airs today. The show deals with the recent suicide of Tyler Clementi, the Rutgers University freshman who was “outed” by his roommate’s  alleged surreptitious recording of Tyler’s sexual contact with another male. It was broadcast over the Internet, and highlights a dangerous and devastating trend that we as a society need to deal with immediately and not continue to stick our collective heads in the sand and hope it will go away.

Tyler’s story brings together the perfect storm of a vulnerable young man struggling with his own sexual identity, a desensitized attention seeker and the far-reaching, immediate and permanent impact of the cyber social network.

I’ve always compared the Internet to fire — a powerful tool that can improve life or destroy it.  It all depends on how we use it. Unfortunately, we literally put this potent instrument into the hands of children, teens and young adults. Most of them don’t have the maturity or understanding to use it responsibly, and the results are deadly. Yes — deadly. During the show, I struggled to contain my emotions as photo after photo of sweet, beautiful young faces —  children — who have committed suicide after being cyber bullied, flashed on the screen.

Dr. Phil and I discussed the legal ramifications of Tyler’s death. Presently his roommate and another freshman are charged with multiple counts of invasion of privacy, which carry a maximum five-year prison term. Prosecutors are considering adding a hate crime enhancement, which would double the maximum sentence. Dr. Phil zeroed right in on the critical issue in this case: Should the defendants be held accountable for their actions only? Or should they also be held responsible for all of the resulting consequences — including Tyler’s actions? Have suicides from cyber bullying reached such a level that we as a society should consider it a “reasonably foreseeable” consequence?  Are we ready for a “cyber bullying manslaughter” law?

9402_1Dr. Phil included in this show a group of young people who courageously shared their personal experiences of being bullied over their perceived sexual orientation. Years ago, when I was in charge of the Hate Crimes Prosecution Unit for Los Angeles County, I spent quite a bit of time with the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community support groups, so I’m not naïve about the shocking lack of common decency exhibited by some people. But most of the victims I dealt with were adults.

Now, I listened to these young people describe their loneliness and isolation from peers and parents, and their painful struggles with depression and suicide attempts. I had to reign in my overwhelming mothering instincts to go wrap my arms protectively around each one of them and tell them how strong, and beautiful and valuable they are. At the end, Dr. Phil asked each one of them to look directly into the camera and share the advice they would give to someone who might be out there, drowning in that same dark hole that they had been in. With simple eloquence, each young person expressed moving encouragement of love and hope.

As parents, teachers, lawmakers and peers, we need to open our eyes and take a stand against cyber bullying. Failing to act now is too dangerous, too deadly for us all.

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110 Responses to “Taking a Stand against Cyber Bullying”

  1. Cheri A Somers says:

    Dr Phil,
    I was watching a part of your show on 12-30-2010 on gay and transgendered children. It is not only the kids that are different in their gender seclusion. I am a 58 year old transgender, and I have had to fight my entire life with my inability to show and to fight for every inch of my feelings. I have had to fight with my personal feelings, and not understanding myself, and why I felt feminine all my life. I may have been raised to be a boy, but during my entire life from the time I could remember till now. I have had to fight bullies, prejudicial people on the street, and infact just recently (May 31, 2010) I was attacked by 5 males calling me a queer, and eventually started fighting me to the point I ended up in the hospital that evening. The local (Phoenix AZ police) did not even file a report, from my knowledge, and I ended up purchasing a 9mm pistol, which I carry in my purse or in my pocket at almost all times now. I contacted the Attorney Generals office on the matter and the only answer I got was from the automated answering system. I have served in this country’s military (total of 23 years) and have went on several conflicts, and it was hard for me to try to hide my real abilities. I recently tried to go back to college for nursing, I lasted one semester before the college decided to lose my compliance requirements to allow me to continue in school, and again I am certain that the office staff knew I was transgendered, which somehow led to my final denial to continue.
    I not only suffer from my ability to cope, but also have been diagnosed with CML. I have been seeing an oncologist and a psychotherapist/psychiatrist about my nightmares and I am very honest, have thought on many occasions to commit suicide. I lost my ability to drive truck again because I was not able to pass the DOT physical, and have now been trying to file for SSDI. I am old enough now that jobs are hard to find and I have been denied so many times from jobs I felt I was somewhat qualified for, but was not given the ability to prove. So it is not only an infliction upon the young, but also among the elder ones as well. Maybe this won’t mean much to you, but I hope that you will at least try to understand.

  2. Nik says:

    please keep highlighting this issue dr phil in the excellent manner you do.

    i have some very close gay & bisexual friends n am bisexual myself. my eldest 2 know mum has had girlfriends previously and the gay friends who have come out.

    i am a mother of 3 (11, 7 n 7mths) n my eldest asked why is being gay a choice. i was lost for words, the best way i could find was to remind them about the butterflies in their tummy they get when they have a crush on someone. they can’t make those butterflies arrive for just anyone, they just happen but only for that special person they adore at the time. For a gay man or lesbian woman it is exactly the same, that they can’t make themsleves fall in love with someone of the opposite sex.

    it doesn’t change who that person is or is really anyones business who they like to kiss (i have tried to make the conversation as age appropriate as possible)

    if my 11 n 7 year olds can get this why the hell can’t religious groups n adults poisoning their children? i am a Christian myself n maybe my beliefs are coloured because i am able to fall in love with another woman as i can a man, but i don’t believe God would be taking these bigots under his care when they are called before him

    i believe myself (through experience with my father who was molested) that a lot of hate comes from people who have been abused sexually n mistake gay for paedophile n others who are scared of their own deep down feelings

    i would love to know how to educate my children the best way possible, kepp up the great work in highlighting the real cost to youth when they lose any member of their generation. any one of these beautiful children could have had the cure for cancer, aids, world peace. i have to believe that one day with people like you out there advocating for what is good and righteous we as a species will overcome this hatred for difference.

  3. kelly says:

    This is such a sad story.
    How do these sweet adorable little babies grow up to HATE people so much to be so cruel. We need to look at bully back rounds.
    Is there hatered in the homes of other nationalitys, sexuality, religion, cultures stereotyping etc,etc, the list could go on forever.
    Not only do we need to give these kids some counciling and teaching them to be accepting and tolerant of others and there differances, but also need to look at the family lifes of these bullys.
    Are they being bought up to be racist and with discrimination and if so what do we do about it to change, not only help the bully, but help the people the bully associates with. If you have family and friends that dont bully and dont like seeing it and dont get off on it, there is no point in doing it. But if you have people around you encouraging you, your not going to stop. This problem is so huge and out of control, its going to take americal like dr phil.

  4. myriam says:

    Dear Dr Phil:
    I must thank you for so many good lessons i had from you and your shows.Shoud we all be more logical and educated I am sure half of our problems would not exist.
    I am writing here not with the intention of being quoted in your programs but I have two issues i would like to discuss with you.
    The first one is that on one of your shows there was a lady who was very psychic,and as she had a premonition dream about a man that was going to die etc etc you had advised her to go and tell him about the dream so he can go to the doctors to get help.
    I am not a psychic but i also have lucid dreams and premonition dreams of “feelings” and let me tell you Dr Phil, there is NO WAY anyone can PREVENT what is going to happen. These are not dreams to PREVET things…they are an advanced notice of WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN. So please do not advise people to go around giving people the bad news !! just let it be. I am awared of what i say here sounds a bit fatalistic but this is the reality.

    On my second subject is about marital abuse. You have touched all aspects and combination of it but i wonder if you are awared of the marital abuse of diplomat’s wives? I supposed it is difficult to find people to talk about the subject due to public figures estatus and power these man have over everyone.
    My daughter was one of these abused women and as their husbands are protected by DIPLOMATIC INMUNITY they feel they are above the law and in actual fact THEY ARE !!!
    Kind regards

    thank you

  5. Jayne says:

    I would like to comment on cyber bullying. Over the past year or so I have had people posting nasty filthy things and lies about me and my daughter on the Internet. One person posted my email as if they were me telling a man I wanted to be with him. I have filed three complaints with the IC3 website on this and nothing has been done, I have heard nothing from them. Everyone acts as if they want this stopped but when these complaints are ignored it makes me wonder if anyone really cares. Someone needs to change these rules to make sure that everyone with a complaint gets it investigated. When filthy things are posted on the Internet about you and your family it is devastating and it should not be allowed to happen.

  6. Filbert says:

    After watching that episode, I just find it so appalling that there are people who actually engage actively in cyber-bullying. I believe without any doubt that death threats should be taken very seriously. It doesn’t matter if they are just bullying that kid, death threats NEED to be taken seriously. Because if your child gets hurt, you know who hurt him/her. However, I am angry that there is so much cyber-bullying. No child deserves this. Particularly when they are targeted at gays. Gays are indeed different. However, that is no excuse for bullying them. With all the suicides occuring today, they certainly do not need to victimisation and stigmatisation that they are facing. My stand on cyber-bullying, press charges. This is especially so if the cyber-bullies are young children. They need to know that there will be serious consequences if they continue cyber-bullying.

  7. Hi! I´m being bullied on the internet, do a search on my name. It has turned my life into a living hell. If someone greets me with “heil hitler” I won´t pinch my arm cause today I know it´s not a bad dream anymore. But! There is a growing movement against it. Check it out! You will find my facebook profile using that internet adress. And I am willing to fight for this matter. Extremely important.

    Best Regards Catrin

  8. Kathy Goldberg says:

    My daughter’s accounts have been hacked several times by the same group of mean girls. They send out nasty e-mails to her friends pretending to be her, use curse words about and to her. The bullying is escalating and having an affect on how she sees herself. I called the Sheriff’s Dept. but they don’t seem to know what to do. Who do I call to report cyber crimes to?

  9. Sarah Pettey says:

    Bullying will never end.. I was bullied by my own mother and grown children until I tried to commit suicide july 4th 2011and barely lived, while they continue to bully.. did they enjoy watching me hurt myself.. laws mean nothing when things like this continue because I am still alone being bullied… thanks for nothing

  10. Brenda Leer says:

    Sarah Pettey—-I HEAR you. My life has been a lot like yours. Bullied and abused by mom since 2nd grade (earliest I can remember), physically and emotional abused by husbands, ex-boyfriends, several tried to kill me, two with guns, one with my own car, etc. One hung himself and DUMMY me CUT HIM DOWN and he lived. My only son has bullied and verbally abused me since he was 15 and he’s 37 now. It gets worse each year he gets older. It NEVER stops…all through elem and high school…bullying and name calling. It CONTINUES today..WHY are people SO miserable and hateful??? I’ve thought about suicide for MANY years but for some reason am still here. My animals are what keeps me here day after day. With PTSD and Panic Disorder with Agoraphbia, the bullies and perps have ruined my life and CONTINUE to do so. Yea…my thoughts exactly…thanks for nothing. I have a PFA on my son and he violated it THREE months later…still to this day have not heard ONE thing about what they are going to do about it and now the PFA is almost up. So, I had to REAPPLY for ANOTHER ONE..when they haven’t even dealt with the first time he violated it. Laws…???? Thanks for nothing, indeed.

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