On April 20, 1999, Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold walked into Columbine High School armed with guns and explosives, killing 12 students and one teacher before taking their own lives. The motive behind their murderous and suicidal rampage indicated revenge for apparent mistreatment by other students. Since then, the link between bullying and school violence has been evaluated extensively.
With the growth of social media, bullying has gained an even larger audience, and numerous children and teens have been driven to suicide over bullying and cyberbullying.
StopBullying.gov defines bullying as intentionally aggressive and repeated harassment highlighting "power differences." Bullying is generally perpetrated by an individual or a group against another individual or group in an effort to reduce the victims' power or standing. The organization describes multiple types of bullying, including physical, social, or verbal bullying and cyberbullying, which can be both verbal and social.
Certain individuals and groups are at greater risk of being bullied:
Because individuals are often targeted for bullying, harassment, and intimidation on the basis of their differences, acts of bullying involving race, disability, or other specified criteria may be prosecuted as hate crimes in Oklahoma.
Likewise, certain individuals and groups are often predisposed to becoming bullies:
Because "bullying" has become such a hot topic because of the violence and disenfranchisement it creates, many people have used it as a buzzword, calling any negative experience of youth "bullying." Using the term loosely tends to negate the seriousness of bullying, which can have deadly consequences if not kept in check.
In Oklahoma, there is no specific bullying statute. While bullying itself is not against the law, many of the actions which comprise bullying or cyberbullying are misdemeanor or felony offenses. Those who use threats, violence, or harassment to intimidate or harm another person may be criminally charged as a result of bullying.
The above offenses generally pertain to person-to-person bullying, but certain acts of cyberbullying are also against Oklahoma law.
Oklahoma's stalking laws define harassment as "a pattern or course of conduct directed toward another individual that includes, but is not limited to, repeated or continuing unconsented contact, that would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress, and that actually causes emotional distress to the victim. Harassment shall include harassing or obscene phone calls."
Emotional distress is considered to be "significant mental suffering" that may be severe enough to warrant medical attention or psychological counseling, although such treatment is not necessary to demonstrate emotional distress.
Cyberbullying is social and verbal harassment carried out online and through social networks. It may include threatening emails or instant messages, threats or rumors perpetrated over social networks, or the posting of embarrassing photographs or stories over the internet.
Currently, there are no laws prohibiting bullying per se, but there are multiple laws under which acts of bullying and cyberbullying may be criminally prosecuted. While bullying is often a crime among children and teens, even adults may be bullies. If you or your child is accused of a hate crime, assault, or criminal harassment as a result of bullying or cyberbullying, call the Law Firm of Oklahoma to see how we can help you keep this incident from becoming a defining feature of your life.