Girl’s suicide could quicken anti-bullying law
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who last week arrested two middle-school girls in the suicide of a third girl, says there’s a message for bullies and their parents.
“When are we going to stand up, as a society, and say, ‘Bullying is unacceptable and there are consequences?’ “ he said.
Judd’s department arrested 14-year-old Guadalupe Shaw and 12-year-old Katelyn Roman on charges of felony aggravated stalking in the suicide of Rebecca Sedwick, who jumped to her death last month at an abandoned cement plant in
The case has drawn national attention because it is alleged to have included cyber-bullying, with Sedwick facing online messages such as, “You’re ugly,” “Why are you still alive?” and “Go kill yourself.”
Now, Judd, who is president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, is calling for other types of penalties for cyber-bullying. That includes counseling and anti-bullying classes, anger-management classes through the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and— perhaps most daunting for youths — the loss of access to cell phones.
Sedwick’s suicide came just weeks after a new law went into effect, adding cyber-bullying to the public school system’s list of prohibited behavior. As of July 1, students and school employees are protected from harassment via technological and electronic communications — even beyond the school grounds.
State Sen. Dwight Bullard, a Miami Democrat and sponsor of the new law (SB 626), said its implementation is moving forward, but not fast enough for many parents and educators.
“People are upset that action wasn’t taken sooner,” he said. “Sometimes legislation can’t catch up with the realities of life.”
The law defines bullying as “teasing, social exclusion, threat, intimidation, physical violence, or emotional pain or discomfort.” The bullying doesn’t have to take place at the school if it “substantially interferes with or limits the victim’s ability to participate or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school or substantially disrupts the education process or interferes with the orderly operation of a school.”
Both senators said they expect Sedwick’s suicide to give a new urgency to implementing the law.
“I wish we could have implemented this bill several years ago, and hopefully, could have saved a life,” Bullard said.