A Bronx senator is taking aim at the alarming trend of online suicides caused by bullying – highlighted by the recent death of an upstate teen – and is proposing a bill that could land attackers behind bars for 15 years.
If passed, the measure would push New York into the forefront of anti-cyberbullying laws, although observers said enforcing it would be tricky.
“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,” state Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) said Monday at a news conference in Manhattan.
Under the bill, a person convicted of bullying someone who ultimately commits suicide could be charged with second-degree manslaughter and go to jail for up to 15 years.
In addition, cyberbullying someone under age 21 would be considered third-degree stalking punishable by up to a year behind bars.
Klein and other politicians who support the legislation cited the death of 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, of Buffalo, who despite posting an online video earlier this year saying his life was “getting better,” committed suicide this month.
One anonymous online bully wrote that Rodemeyer was “stupid, gay, fat and ugly. He must die.”
His story touched Lady Gaga, who spoke with President Barack Obama on Sunday about the need to combat cyber-bullying. She also dedicated one of her concerts to the cause.
However, prosecuting such cases could be tough, said attorney Neal Goldstein.
“It’s starting to occur now where we do have some precedents, but it’s not like there are a million cases like this,” Goldstein said, noting the issue of free speech.
A Klein spokesman said the state Assembly is expected to come up with a companion bill and the Senate is expected to pass its bill with bipartisan support next year. The Senate passed an anti-bullying law that didn’t deal with suicides.
“I don’t know if people will agree with the degree of punishment, but it’s definitely a step forward,” said Elizabeth Siegel, 27, of midtown.
(With Christine DiStasio)