HARTFORD, CT, Feb. 22, 2012 — Cyberbullying is a relatively recent and dangerous development in the lives of our children. Fueled by the increase in social networking and the very public way our children live, this devastating crime continues to make headlines. The very nature of the internet emboldens these cyberbullies, giving them a false sense of anonymity and invulnerability. But things are changing, according to an attorney who has represented the victims of cyberbullies and those accused of the crime.
“There are laws that have been in place for years that can be applied to this growing problem and there are newer ones coming on the books each day. Cyberbullies are being found and prosecuted,” says Jeremy Weingast, a Hartford-based attorney who practices criminal defense and family law. “These laws specifically address cyberbullying. In addition, law enforcement professionals are constantly improving ways of tracking down those responsible for this crime.” He pointed to a recent case, where a student created a false website in the name of a former friend and posted derogatory comments. Police officers were able to determine the identity of the responsible party and prosecute him.
Cyberbullying is defined as one person targeting another through interactive technologies. It can take different forms, many of which can be addressed by long standing criminal laws such as criminal impersonation, threatening, harassment and identity theft. Newer criminal statutes about computer crimes involve laws against unauthorized access to computer systems. These have given law enforcement the means to attack this ever-growing problem. Parents, teachers and police are constantly finding ways to pierce the anonymity of cyberspace to find those responsible for cyberbullying. “It is interesting that almost daily we read about cyberbullies being caught, yet these crimes continue and their perpetrators continue to believe in this false sense of anonymity,” says Atty. Weingast.
He looks at the crime from two perspectives: someone who’s been victimized and someone who’s been accused of the crime.
If you are the victim – Many people react to cyberbullying passively, assuming there’s nothing they can do to stop it. That is simply not true, according to Atty. Weingast. “When someone posts derogatory comments about you, you can and should take action. Start by approaching the abuser directly. You can simply say, ‘I know what you posted about me. I want you to take it down and not put up any more derogatory remarks. If you don’t, I will contact the police.’ Do not engage in further discussion. Keep your comments simple and direct. If the behavior continues, it may rise to the level of criminal harassment. The law defines this as ‘Communicating to another person through a computer network with the intent to harass or annoy or alarm another person.’ If it gets to that point, contact the police. In a surprising number of cases, cyberbullies who simply hear from police officers stop the harassment. For those who don’t there’s always the next step – criminal prosecution. This may include charges of violating state computer crime statutes which specifically address unauthorized access to another person’s computer system.”
If you or someone you know is accused – Those who are caught engaging in cyberbullying can face serious consequences. Students may be suspended or even expelled. Anyone arrested for cyberbullying may face a criminal conviction and in very serious cases, jail time. For that reason, anyone accused of cyberbullying needs to take the charge seriously. They should contact an attorney to help them through every stage of such an accusation. There are constitutional protections against incriminating yourself. Attorneys will take all steps to make sure these rights are protected before you speak to the police. “Many people think if they answer questions from a police officer without requesting an attorney that they ‘look innocent’ because they are acting as if they have nothing to hide. It’s not that simple. Without proper legal protection, a comment that the accused believes to be an innocent statement, may turn out to be something that will be used against them in a future prosecution,” cautions Atty. Weingast.
Cyberbullying can ruin lives, but it can be stopped. Atty. Weingast concludes by saying, “All of us need to take these matters seriously. Cyberbullying is a crime that must be stopped. No one should allow themselves to be victimized by it or wrongly convicted of it.”
About Jeremy Weingast
Attorney Jeremy Weingast is a former Hartford City Prosecutor who is now in private practice in family law and criminal defense. His family law practice concentrates on issues involving child and sexual abuse, divorce, child support and custody and guardianship issues. His criminal defense work includes representing those accused of white collar crimes, youthful indiscretions, other juvenile court matters, motor vehicle and DWI cases and drug crimes. He practices in state and federal court. For more information, see: www.weingastlaw.com.
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