Bill won't criminalize cyberbullying, Cuomo says

Andrew Cuomo Andrew Cuomo Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Although New York officials agree cyberbullying among youth is one of today's biggest concerns, a political deal already struck by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders won't make it a crime.

State Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) said in an interview Thursday that the dangerous rise in taunting and threats online requires a dual approach that includes a criminal charge, in addition to raising awareness.

But Cuomo said that charging teenagers isn't going to be part of a bill. Instead, he continues to focus on public awareness starting with a legal definition of cyberbullying and requiring schools to report these incidents, both measures contained in the bill he and legislative leaders agreed to as a first step.

Cyberbullying and the sometimes subsequent suicide are rising even as crimes in schools are declining nationwide. The National School Safety Center reports that while the proportion of students, ages 12 to 18, who reported being bullied at school has declined from 32 to 28 percent, the proportion of those who say they are bullied online increased from 4 to 6 percent.

The center's Ron Stephens said in February that the "cyberbullying issue has really moved to center stage."

Some of the recent cases include the suicide of a bullied gay teenager in Western New York after offensive comments he endured online and a 15-year-old girl on Staten Island who jumped in front of a city bus two days after Christmas after she was tormented on Facebook.

"Sometimes what is obvious to our children should be just as obvious to us as lawmakers," said Klein, who represents the Bronx and part of Westchester County. "(The) message is that if you relentlessly harass your peers and intend to cause them serious harm, you may face serious consequences."

The governor said in an interview with WGDJ-AM radio that the state would need to look more closely at the issue before making cyberbullying a crime. However, the Legislature doesn't often revisit such difficult issues after a bill is passed into law.

"That is an important conversation, but it is a very difficult conversation," Cuomo said. "What are you going to do with a 14-year-old? What are you going to do with a 15-year-old?

"But let's define cyber bullying. Let's have a protocol for it. Let's have a response mechanism for it so we know the schools are doing what

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