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.
I 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?
Dr. 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.
This entry was posted on Monday, September 6th, 2010 at 11:59 am and is filed under Bullying, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.