Bullying is a Problem Both On and Off the Internet

As reported by Linda Borg in the October 27, 2010 edition of the Providence Journal, local area schools are tackling the issue of bullying, both in-school bullying and cyberbullying. A state-wide conference was held at the University of Rhode Island for students, school officials and police officers to discuss bullying and its adverse effects on students' educational experiences. Various communities within the State have crafted new programs in an attempt to discourage bullying. Tiverton has instituted a peer helping network, while Coventry has installed tip boxes, which allow students to report bullying.

Although individual schools draft their own policies defining bullying and establishing penalties, the Rhode Island General Assembly has also passed cyberbullying legislation. Pursuant to R.I.G.L. 11-52-4.2, cyberstalking and cyberharassment is defined as:

Whoever transmits any communication by computer or other electronic device to any person or causes any person to be contacted for the sole purpose of harassing that person or his or her family is guilty of a misdemeanor, and shall be punished by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both. For the purpose of this section, "harassing" means any knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person which seriously alarms, annoys, or bothers the person, and which serves no legitimate purpose. The course of conduct must be of a kind that would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, or be in fear of bodily injury. "Course of conduct" means a pattern of conduct composed of a series of acts over a period of time, evidencing a continuity of purpose. Constitutionally protected activity is not included within the meaning of "course of conduct."

(b) A second or subsequent conviction under subsection (a) of this section shall be deemed a felony punishable by imprisonment for not more than two (2) years, by a fine of not more than six thousand dollars ($6,000), or both.

The Rhode Island General Assembly is currently investigating the problem of cyberbullying and cyberthreats. A Senate Commission has been established to study the problem and is currently holding hearings, which allow members of the public to testify about this problem. Members of the Senate Commission include lawmakers, school administrators, lay people and judges.

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