Children today must tackle many challenges, including homework, sports, extracurricular activities, as well as maintaining their social lives. One challenge that children should not have to deal with the fear that their reputation will be attacked or that they will be subject to emotional or physical harm at the hands of their peers. Unfortunately, this fear is a reality to far too many young people who are confronted by bullies on a continual basis.
Bullying has always been a serious concern of mine and months ago I began working on legislation to address bullying and youth suicide when a 15 year old girl took her own life as a result of excessive harassment and bullying.
The tragic suicide of Rutgers’ University student, Tyler Clementi, has brought bullying to the forefront once again, but we have seen the heartbreaking consequences of bullying too many times before.
Children now face many new forms of bullying. With the advancement of technology has come ways for children to harass each other not only in school, but from their homes through the use of computers and mobile phones. Bullying may have taken different forms, but it is just as damaging, if not more so, and the consequences are just as devastating.
In order to combat this problem, I have introduced legislation which would upgrade the crime of cyberbullying, a form of harassment, to a fourth degree crime when the victim is under the age of 18. The bill would also place restrictions on the use of the Internet by convicted cyberbullies.
Since cyberbullying does not only affect minors, I have also introduced legislation that will increase the penalties for all acts of all cyberbullying, regardless of the age of the victim. The measure would upgrade all crimes of cyberbullying to a fourth degree crime, which is punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine.
In addition, I have drafted legislation which requires the Commissioner of the Division of Children and Families to develop and adopt a youth suicide prevention plan. The bill promotes awareness of suicide prevention resources and identifies barriers to mental health and addiction resources.
Most recently, I created legislation to address the severity of bullying by drafting the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights.” The “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” bill has forty-two bi-partisan sponsors in the General Assembly and twenty-eight bi-partisan sponsors in the Senate.
The “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” applies to bullying at school, near school, on school buses, and cyberbullying and requires schools to address any reported acts of bullying. This measure requires many steps to be taken by school officials in order to address and prevent incidents of bullying, including appointing an anti-bullying specialist within each school, requiring that all school personnel receive anti-bullying training, mandating all teachers learn about bullying as part of the suicide prevention training that they already complete and sets deadlines for the reporting of bullying.
Under the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights,” superintendents will report to the Board of Education twice a year all incidences of vandalism, violence, intimidation, harassment, and bullying. This report will be used to grade each school and that grade is to be posted on the school’s website. The “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights” also establishes an annual school-wide Week of Respect, during which each school will provide anti-bullying programs, and strengthens suicide prevention training for teachers. It is important to note that the bill requires no funds to be expended to implement these important goals.
I urge all my colleagues in the Legislature to support the anti-bullying legislation by becoming sponsors and taking swift action to pass these bills. We need to turn these bills into laws and begin taking steps to ensure safety in our schools and eliminate any instances of bullying from ever occurring again. As we have seen recently, failure to address bullying can have serious and sometimes fatal consequences.
Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini