State bill would punish cyberbullying

Jamie Isaacs, 14, of Lake Grove, says she

Jamie Isaacs, 14, of Lake Grove, says she was bullied by classmates in school. (May 10, 2010) (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

A proposed state law that would make cyberbullying a crime comparable to stalking -- and in some instances manslaughter -- was unveiled Monday with the help of a Long Island girl who was victimized online and at school.

The proposal comes on the heels of the apparent suicide of a 14-year-old Buffalo boy who was found dead Sunday after alleged cyberbullying.

The bill, which will be presented in Albany at the next legislative session, would add cyberbullying to the definition of third-degree stalking and includes "bullycide" -- harassment that pushes a victim to suicide -- to the definition of second-degree manslaughter.

"Our society has changed so much because of all these electronic devices," said Lake Grove anti-bullying activist Jamie Isaacs, 15. "Now if you're bullied, the whole world finds out and people chime in immediately. Once something is online, it stays online. These hurtful words, these attacks, they will always be there."

The measure was unveiled Monday a news conference held by state Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) outside Manhattan Criminal Court.

"We've come a long way from yesteryear of the schoolyard bully, who would pick on you and pick on you, maybe a fight occurred and then it was over," Klein said. "Unfortunately the bully of yesteryear has gotten to become a cyberbully, where you can hide behind the Internet and Facebook and Twitter and really torment a person."

The manslaughter charges means that a cyberbully, defined in the proposal as someone who causes of fear of harm or emotional distress using electronic communications to a person under 21, could potentially be incarcerated for 15 years.

Isaacs knows firsthand the consequences of Internet attacks, she said, having for years been bullied by Sachem Central School District classmates.

She and her family were there to support the legislation proposed by Klein and fellow Democratic state Sens. Diane Savino of Staten Island and David Carlucci of Clarkstown.

Klein described Isaacs, who used her experiences to inspire her year-old Jamie Isaacs Foundation for Anti-Bullying, the "bravest young woman I've met in a while."

The Sachem school district has declined to comment on Isaacs' case, citing confidentiality and ongoing litigation. The district has said it has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying. Isaacs' family has filed at least four notices of claim against the district since 2007.

Isaacs, who said she was forced to transfer schools and is now a 10th-grader, helped Suffolk Legis. Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) pen a bill that would have held school officials responsible for keeping records of bullying and punishing perpetrators.

Cooper withdrew the bill after passage of a state measure calling for all districts to have in place, after the next school year, policies, programs and training to curb bias and bullying.

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