Our virtual world has created the perfect environment for relentless cyberbullying. The tormenting can be so severe it can lead to anxiety, depression, and, in extreme cases, attempts or completion of suicide in children as young as 9 years old.
While Colorado law prohibits kids from bullying each other at school (C.R.S.A. § 22-32-109.1), it doesn’t apply to what happens after class, when a lot of cyberbullying can occur. Your hands aren’t tied, though.
CYBERBULLYING IS AGAINST THE LAW
Two Colorado tragedies in the same year spurred new legislation that gives parents more options to hold schools and bullies (or their parents) accountable.
Until recently, Colorado didn’t even identify cyberbullying in the state’s harassment laws. That changed after Highlands Ranch teen Kiana Arellano tried to take her own life, in 2013. Classmates ruthlessly cyberbullied Kiana in text messages. Kiana survived, but she is wheelchair bound after suffering brain damage.
That same year, An Arapahoe High School student shot Claire Davis. Claire later passed away from her injuries.
As a result, there are two Colorado laws that address cyberbulling and school violence.
Kiana Arellano’s Law makes it a crime for someone to harass another person using “interactive electronic devices,” in other words, cyberbullying. That includes harassment on social media sites and apps, like Instagram, SnapChat, WhatsApp, and GroupMe.
Finally, the Claire Davis School Safety Act (C.R.S. 24-10-106.3) allows school districts to be held liable for violent incidents that occur at school or school-sanctioned events.
Under Claire’s law, school districts and charter schools no longer have government immunity from lawsuits. A school district may owe damages if a school cannot show it took reasonable care to prevent school violence and someone is seriously injured or dies.
WHAT IS CYBERBULLYING?
Cyberbullying is harassment that happens on social media, in text messages, emails, etc. Today, cyberbullying is considered harassment.
In order for someone to violate the state’s harassment law, their actions must be done “with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person.” However, free speech is not considered harassment.
In Colorado harassment includes:
- Striking, shoving, kicking, or touching a person or subject someone to physical contact
- Directing obscene language or gestures to another person in a public place
- Following someone in or about a public place
- Directly or indirectly initiating communication via technology that’s intended to harass or threaten
- Repeatedly calling with no legitimate conversation
- Repeatedly calling at inconvenient hours to invade privacy or interfere with someone enjoyment
- Repeatedly insulting, taunting, challenging, or offensively communicating with someone to provoke a violent or disorderly response.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
You have a few options to protect your child and try to put an end to the cyberbullying. First, it’s important to document as much of the harassment as you can. Take screenshots, for instance, of electronic bullying. Write down dates and descriptions of the attacks.
Notify the School of the Cyberbullying
Since cyberbullying and in-person bullying often go hand in hand, you should notify your child’s school officials about what’s going on.
Because Colorado law requires school districts to implement a plan that addresses bullying prevention and discipline, the school has a duty to address the situation.
Inform to the Cyberbully’s Parents
If possible, the cyberbully’s parents should be notified. You could ask the school to call, phone the parents yourself, or have your lawyer send a letter. It’s important that the other child’s parents be put on notice.
They can be held liable for their child’s behavior if they are made aware of the harassment and do nothing to stop it.
Report the Cyberbullying to Police
If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, file a police report. Again, it is against state law for your child to be harassed in this manner. By contacting police, you’re also officially recording the bullying.
Obtain a Restraining Order
You may even consider hiring an attorney to help you get a restraining order from the court prohibiting contact from the other child.
THE BULLY WON’T STOP. WHAT NOW?
Unfortunately, sometimes the best efforts don’t hinder a determined cyberbully. If you’ve notified the school, the other parents, and the police, it’s time to speak with an attorney.
File a Personal Injury Claim
Cyberbullying often involves defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other civil claims. The effects of bullying can cause your child to experience physical and emotional distress for which they need professional help.
Bullying and Cyberbullying Can Lead To:
- Physical Injuries
- Emotional Trauma
- Behavioral Issues
- Ostracized by Peers
- Fear of School
- Decline in Grades
- Eating Problems
- Sleep Disruptions
You may be entitled to damages if involved adults don’t try to stop the harassment.
Parents of bullies can be held liable for their child’s behavior. You may also be able to receive monetary damages to help pay for medical and therapeutic costs. Judges can award punitive damages in egregious cases .
Civil cases can be complex. A civil litigation or personal injury attorney can help you assess your case.
Sue the School
Today, a child may be eligible to recover damages if they are seriously injured in an act of violence at school. In the case of Claire Davis, an investigation found major failures by school administration and the district.
You may be able to sue if your child is seriously injured at school or at a school-sanctioned event.
According to state law, the school district must show how it tried to prevent the violent event that resulted in serious bodily harm. A school can be held liable for up to $350,000 if a court finds it was negligent. Damages increase with the number of victims.
If your child has was injured, talk with a Robinson & Henry litigation lawyer who is well-versed in Colorado law.
Push for Criminal Charges
Here’s where state law gets a little complicated.
Kiana Arellano’s Law makes cyberbullying a misdemeanor, punishable with up to a $750 fine and six months in jail.
If the harassment becomes more severe, such as stalking, the penalties increase. We’re talking felony charges, years-long jail time, and six-figure fines.
However, a child bully may not go to jail if they are charged and found guilty. Rather, the juvenile court system will mostly likely handle the case if misdemeanor charges are filed.
When someone under 18 years of age commits a crime, they’re part of the juvenile justice system, unless their crime is severe enough to warrant a transfer to adult court.
Also, a child convicted of harassment won’t necessarily spend time in juvenile detention. A juvenile judge has great discretion about what kind of sentence to hand out.
If the child has no prior issues with the law until the cyberbullying incident, the child may receive probation or community service.
In some cases, a child could remain under court supervision.
File a Wrongful Death Claim
Parents can file a wrongful death claim if they lose their child to cyberbullying. This type of cyberbullying case can sometimes lead to criminal charges.
WHAT IF MY KID IS THE ALLEGED BULLY?
Cyberbullying is a serious matter. Even if you believe your child has done nothing wrong, it’s important to take the claims seriously.
A lawyer can help you uncover whether what your child allegedly did was illegal, and whether you, too, could be liable for their conduct.
Colorado law states harassment occurs when there’s intent to annoy, harass, alarm someone. Exercising one’s free speech rights does not constitute harassment. That’s why it’s important to get legal clarity with your child’s situation.
Robinson & Henry’s criminal defense attorneys are well-versed in this arena.
CONTACT ROBINSON & HENRY, P.C.
Take action if your child is cyberbullied. We can help you and your child through this difficult situation.
Our attorneys are knowledgeable in civil and criminal law. They can assist you with obtaining a court order, writing a cease and desist letter, or filing a lawsuit.
Don’t take cyberbullying lightly. Our lawyers know the balance between being compassionate and assertive when approaching these kinds of sensitive cases.
To schedule a free initial consultation call (303) 688-0944. We will work ensure your family and your child does experience additional harm.