Voices: Time to toughen anti-bullying laws

Diana Kurniawan argues that Colorado’s anti-bullying laws don’t go far enough.

I believe Devin Scott, a pupil at Vista Ridge High School in Colorado Springs, committed suicide on Aug. 7, 2012, as a result of ongoing bullying (although police determined officially Devin was not a victim of cyberbullying). The day before his death, kids showed up in his neighborhood to watch him fight.
This is just one of the many instances of bullying that happen in Colorado, and bullying is now an epidemic that can stem from simple jealousies between students and lead to the most outrageous online harassments and physical attacks.

The repercussions can be as detrimental as suicide or death, and there have been many cases where the perpetrators were not caught or they were deemed not responsible for the crime they have committed.

Colorado Senate Bill 12-046 on Disciplinary Measures in Public Schools describes bullying as follows:

“Bullying” means any written or verbal expression, physical, electronic act, gesture, or a pattern thereof, that is intended to coerce, intimidate, or cause any physical, mental, or emotional harm to any student. Bullying is prohibited against any student for any reason, including but not limited to any such behavior that is directed toward a student on the basis of his or her academic performance or against whom federal and state laws prohibit discrimination upon any of the bases described in Section 22-32-109 (1) (ll) (I). This definition is not intended to infringe upon any rights guaranteed to any person by the first amendment to the United States constitution of to prevent the expression of any religious, political, or philosophical views (Colorado Senate Bill SB12-046, www.colorado.gov).

The punishment for the acts of bullying is as follows according to the bill:

Each school district’s policy shall set forth appropriate disciplinary consequences for students who bully other students and for any person who takes any retaliatory action against a student who reports in good faith an incident of bullying, which consequences shall comply with all applicable state and federal laws(Colorado Senate Bill SB12-046, www.colorado.gov).

The problem with the enforcement of this law is that it has not been significantly efficient in terms of curbing bullying on school grounds or incidents that occur away from educational facilities, as proven by Devin’s death. The prevention needs to start at the first sign of a problem, whether it’s simple name calling or physical violence.

“What distinguishes bullying from mere aggression is that bullying is repetitive and involves a power imbalance between a socially powerful perpetrator and a socially weaker victim.” (Sacks, et al. 2009).

In short, we need stronger laws to combat bullying.

Colorado’s anti-bullying law requires district boards of education to adopt policies concerning bullying prevention. The state statute also requires school boards to adopt policies and procedures for dealing with students who cause disruption in the classroom, on school grounds, in school vehicles, or at school activities or sanctioned events.

These policies must also allow teacher to remove such students from their classroom. A third offense results in removal from the class for the remainder of the term of the class.

Bullying is a policy problem

Bullying should be a prosecutable act beyond the school level with each proven offense resulting in a criminal citation with the possibility of it becoming a misdemeanor. This crime should be punishable through a fine, juvenile detention, sentencing to long-term community service or rehabilitation. By increasing verbal warnings and criminal reports at first signs of bullying with this proposed state law, there will be more awareness of its crucial repercussions.

Colorado should introduce a “bystander reporting act,” also known as a good Samaritan law to eliminate the epidemic of bullying. Through the addition of a law like this, the public would begin to understand the severity of bullying and what it problems it can create for victims in the long run. A so-called “bystander reporting act” could increase the proactive involvement of innocent bystanders who witness bullying.

By enforcing a Bystander Reporting Act at the school level, those who are more vulnerable to violent crimes are secure knowing someone will be able to report even the slightest possible act of violence. This reporting act will place more of a focus on preventing bullying – and serves as a deterrent for the students who may be bullies.

Under this tweak to the current law, a bystander could be protected under the anonymity rule. This piece of added security would enhance the safety of the educational facilities.

“Many people mistakenly believe that they have only two options in instances of actual or potential violence: intervene physically and possibly expose themselves to personal harm, or do nothing…However, physical force and passive acceptance are only two of countless possible options. There are numerous ways that bystanders can prevent, interrupt, or intervene in abusive behaviors, and the majority carry little or no risk of physical confrontation.”  (Katz, 2006).

The prototypical bystander reporting act or Good Samaritan Law is not high-risk if individuals are allowed to report the incident without having to expose their identities except for an administrative purpose. The reports at the school level can become citations. And, and after several episodes involving the same person, the bullying becomes a misdemeanor that can result in juvenile detention or rehabilitation. The record can be negotiated on its permanency after the juvenile  turns 18 years old.

This form of non-violent and non-threatening action is a great first response and prevention tactic to curtail bullying.

Through the protection provided by the Bystander Reporting Act – along with citations and rehabilitation – there will be a higher rate of reportable bullying crimes. This method not only increases safety within the school, but outside the school zones and environment as well.

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