When does bullying become a crime? - WFLA News Channel 8

When does bullying become a crime?

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POLK COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

On Monday, a 12-year-old girl was buried, her family says she was a victim of bullying.

The Polk County sheriff's office is investigating to see if any charges will be filed in her death.

Rebecca Ann Sedwick will never know what it's like to go to high school, to have a driver's license, or even what it's like to be a teenager.

Polk County deputies say last week, the 12-year-old went to an abandoned cement plant and leapt to her death.

Her family says, over the past year, she was a victim of relentless bullying.  She received online messages like, "nobody cares about you" and "you seriously deserve to die."

Attorney Robin Allweiss said, "Parents don't know what to do when their kids are bullied. And so because of that, bad outcomes can happen."

She said, "We have kids who are dying, and that's the biggest thing, we have to stop this."

Robin Allweiss is a former state prosecutor.  She also represented the family of Zachery Gray, a Pasco teenager who tried to commit suicide after being bullied.  He's now paralyzed.

Allweiss says for a case to be considered 'bullying', it must be prolonged.

She said, "Bullying is not one incident. It is a period time, it could be a period of time of a week, but it has to be ongoing and continuous."

She says the bullying must cause physical or psychological harm to the victim, and the bullies could face various charges from battery to stalking to harassment.

It's all up to the state attorney's office to decide.

Allweiss says Florida has civil laws that say schools must have anti-bullying policies and investigate claims. But she says the schools have no legal accountability.

She said, "There are no consequences really if the school does not follow the law."

Allweiss feels more can be done. She thinks the state should criminalize bullying, which would make punishments more direct and discourage any future bullies.

For now, she advises parents to make sure they know whether their kids are bullied at school.

Allweiss says parents should make sure any attacks or cases of bullying are reported to authorities.

 

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