Months after a Williamsville teen got worldwide attention following a suicide that many say happened because he was bullied, a new law will soon be in place that takes aim at cyberbullying.
The Erie County Legislature voted unanimously to pass a law banning cyberbullying against minors. The legislation was drafted after the suicide of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer. "It broke the hearts of the entire community when it happened and this local law will help ensure that that type of tragedy never happens again," said Ed Rath,III, the Williamsville Republican who sponsored the legislation.
Under this new legislation cyberbullying outlets include among other things E-mail, social media, and text messaging. The repeated bullying must result in the victim fearing harm for himself, his family, or property or have an effect on the person's health.
Amherst Police Safety Education Officer Cathy Onions says the law not only covers posts a person writes on other people's walls, it also covers posts a bully writes on their own wall about others. She says while it will be an effective tool, enforcement needs to start at home. Police will not simply be patrolling Facebook and Twitter. "We still have to have people come forward. It has to be a repeated act, so it can't just be one offense," says Ofc. Onions.
Parents can help by keeping records. "If it's directed to them and it's sent in an email they can just save that and print that. If they're on Facebook anything that they can print out that they would be able to show us," Ofc. Onions adds. She also suggest parents be proactive and know what their child is posting and what's being posted on their page. Friend them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.
Even with all that, prosecuting still isn't easy. Police need to find the real user behind the user name. "We can't assume that because it's somebody's Facebook page that they had knowledge that the stuff was posted."
The law is an unclassified misdemeanor, with maximum penalties being a $1000 fine and up to a year in jail, but experts tell us most cases against children under 18 would be handled in Family Court. Jail time is unlikely. Officer Onions says really, the law is sending a message. "Everybody is getting tired of all the bullying that's going on out there, especially the cyberbullying. You don't see people's reactions so you don't really get a feel for how much you're hurting that person and sometimes it gets out of control."
As for the law, County Executive Mark Poloncarz has to sign it before it takes effect. A similar law is working its way through the state, once that law is passed, it will supersede the county law.
The following is the law passed by the Erie County Legislature on February 16, 2012.
COUNTY OF ERIE
LOCAL LAW INTRO. NO. 10-2011
LOCAL LAW NO.___-2011
A Local Law to Prohibit Cyber-Bullying in Erie County
Be it enacted by the Legislature of the County of Erie as follows:
SECTION 1. LEGISLATIVE INTENT.
Bullying is a long-standing problem among school-aged children in Erie County and throughout the nation. With increasing accessibility to electronic means of communication, bullying has transformed from a predominantly school-based issue to a broader societal problem.
Researchers have demonstrated that bullying has long-term consequences. Further, bullying goes beyond the classroom to bullying on the job, on athletic teams, on college campuses and the internet.
Experts have suggested that one tool for schools to use in combatting bullying is to maintain and enforce consistent policies against bullying and harassment, including cyber-bullying. Such enforcement is not always possible if bullying occurs away from school or by a non-student.
Perpetrators of cyber-bullying are often more extreme in the threats and taunts they inflict on their victims, as they do not actually see their victim's emotional reaction to the abuse and believe that they are anonymous. Victims of cyber-bullying suffer very real and serious harm as a result of these incidents, often showing signs of depression, anxiety, social isolation, nervousness when interacting with technology, low self-esteem and declining school performance. In some cases, victims attempt or commit suicide in part because of cyber-bullying they've endured.
Several states have enacted laws criminalizing cyber-bullying. To date, the New York State Legislature has failed to take action on this problem. Erie County should not wait for New York State to act and should implement legislation to discourage and prevent cyber-bullying from occurring.
Therefore, the purpose of this law is to ban cyber-bullying in Erie County.
SECTION 2. DEFINITIONS.
As used in this article, the following terms to have the meanings indicated:
A. County -- the County of Erie, New York.
B. Cyber-bullying - shall mean harassment or bullying accomplished by publishing, communicating or causing a communication to be initiated or displayed through electronic means, including, but not limited to, electronic mail, internet-based communication, pager service, cell phone, or electronic text messaging.
C. Harassment or Bullying - shall include a course of conduct or repeated creation and/or the dissemination of, any intentional written, visual, verbal, or physical act or conduct targeting at a specific other person which is severe, persistent, pervasive or repeated, and serves no legitimate purpose, and that a reasonable person under the circumstances would know could result in, and does in fact result in:
a) placing such other person in actual or reasonable fear of physical harm to himself or herself, or to a member of such person's immediate family or a third party with whom such person is acquainted; or
b) placing such other person in actual or reasonable fear of damage to the property of such person or to a member of such person's immediate family or a third party with whom such person is acquainted; or
c) a substantial detrimental effect on such other person's physical, mental, or emotional health.
D. Minor - shall mean any natural person or individual under the age of eighteen (18).
E. Person - shall mean any natural person or individual.
F. Publishing - shall include issuing, printing, reproducing, distributing, circulating or any other means of publicizing or communicating to other individuals, including by electronic means.
G. Student - shall mean any person who is enrolled in a primary, secondary, or post-secondary educational institution located within the County.
SECTION 3. PROHIBITIONS.
No person shall engage in cyber-bullying against any minor or student
person when such minor or student is located in the County of Erie.
SECTION 4. PENALTIES.
Any person who knowingly violates the provisions of this local law shall be guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to one year imprisonment.
SECTION 5. APPLICABILITY.
This law shall apply to all actions occurring on or after the effective date of this law.
SECTION 6. REVERSE PREEMPTION.
This law shall be null and void on the day that statewide or federal legislation goes into effect, incorporating either the same or substantially similar provisions as are contained in this local law or in the event that a pertinent state or federal administrative agency issues and promulgates regulations preempting such action by the County of Erie. The County Legislature may determine via mere resolution whether or not identical or substantially similar statewide legislation has been enacted for the purposes of triggering the provisions of this section.
SECTION 7. EFFECTIVE DATE.
This local law shall become effective immediately upon the filing with the Secretary of State pursuant to section 27 of the Municipal Home Rule Law.
SECTION 8. SEVERABILITY.
If any clause, sentence, paragraph, subdivision, section or part of this Local Law or the application thereof, to any person, individual, corporation, firm, partnership, entity or circumstance, shall be adjudged by any court of competent jurisdiction to be invalid or unconstitutional such order of judgment shall not affect, impair, or invalidate the remainder thereof, but shall be confined in its operation to the clause, sentence, paragraph, subdivision, section, or part of this Local Law or in its application to the person, individual, corporation, firm, partnership, entity, or circumstance directly involved in the controversy in which such judgment or order shall be rendered.
LEGISLATOR EDWARD A. RATH III