*The tragic episode of Tyler Clementi and the emergence of bullying as a catalyst in multiple youth suicides has people across the country looking for answers.
The question of how these situations can be prevented is stressed. But the related question of how to penalize the perpetrators is largely ignored even though its answer may help in prevention.
Penalizing those who bully others implies going down one of two avenues. Either the school system can implement justice or, as it seems increasingly necessary, justice can come from the criminal system.
In the days of your bullying meant verbal or physical intimidation; bullying was a largely tangible threat associated with someone visible and known. By contrast contemporary bullying encompasses those threats as well as exerting mental cruelty. Also important is the fact that cyber bullying has become a standard form of bullying. Cyber bullying is impersonal in that the perpetrator need not see or know the victim. And because of that the bullying can become extra malicious even as the victim has no one to confront.
Bullying of yesteryear could be investigated and dealt with by school officials because all parties involved were right down the hall. Bully of today is not as simple. To investigate cyber bullying takes the expertise and resources of a police department. By allowing the criminal system to be in charge of penalizing bullies ensures that contemporary bullies will be caught more often and that the correct people will be caught.
The second aspect of allowing the police to get involved is the substantial penalties that can be imposed. Certainly the penal code will need to be amended to ensure that Jimmy is not sent to prison with murderers for taking Bobby’s lunch money. But the spate of suicides has raised the stakes. And when bullying can lead to the loss of life, the perpetrators should be in danger of more than a trip to detention.
Together the superior investigation of bullying and improved punishments should act as a deterrent and thereby prevent more cases of bullying.
When the police get involved, when jail is a possibility, everyone realizes the seriousness of the situation. And bullying is serious business.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. You can reach him at [email protected]