Posted Mar 29, 2010 11:26 pm CDT
Nine teenagers in Massachusetts are now facing criminal charges after allegedly harassing a high school classmate so severely that she committed suicide in January after a three-month campaign that included physical attacks, taunting and cyberbullying via social networking websites.
Charges against the two boys and seven girls range from statutory rape to harassment, and the six oldest teens, who are 16 or over, are facing felonies, reports the New York Times. The victim, Phoebe Prince, 15, was a recent immigrant from Ireland. She and the unidentified defendants attended South Hadley High School in western Massachusetts.
State lawmakers have been working for some time on a new law intended to provide prosecutors with a better arsenal for targeting such harassment, but the case shows that criminal charges can be pursued even under current law, says Robert Trestan. He serves as the eastern states civil rights counsel for the Anti-Defamation League.
“These indictments tell us that middle school and high school kids are not immune from criminal laws,” he says. “If they violate them in the course of bullying someone, they’ll be held accountable. We don’t need to create a new crime.”
Related earlier coverage:
ABAJournal.com: “Judge Overturns Conviction of Lori Drew in Cyberbullying Case”
ABAJournal.com: “Missouri Cracks Down on Cyberbullying, Detains Teen for Creating Website”