As more and more victims of cyber-bullying emerge, authorities are trying to make examples of tormentors. After their classmate's suicide, nine teens in western Massachusetts have been charged with a variety of felony charges that include statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury, harassment, stalking and disturbing a school assembly.
Last fall 15-year-old Phoebe Prince moved to America from Ireland with her family, and entered South Hadley High School as a freshman. Before long, she had a brief romance with a popular football player (a senior). This allegedly incensed a clique of "popular" students called the Mean Girls, who stalked her, knocked her books out of her hands, sent her incessant text messages, and constantly called Prince an "Irish slut."
According to the Times, an investigation "found that on January 14th students abused her in the school library, the lunchroom and the hallways and threw a canned drink at her as she walked home." Her 12-year-old sister found Phoebe hanging from a stairwell at home, still in her school clothes, at 4:30 p.m. Her tormentors then mocked her death on Facebook, and after one student told a local TV station that "bullies were stalking the corridors of South Hadley High," one of the Mean Girls punched her in the head, the Boston Globe reports.
Three of the students charged are 16-year-olds who will face prosecution as “youthful offenders” in adult court; another three are old enough to be tried as adults. (Six of them are identified here.) Three younger girls have been charged in juvenile court. The indictments come as the Massachusetts legislature is working on a new anti-bullying law that would require school employees to report suspected incidents and principals to investigate them.
The law would not label bullying a crime, which some say is a good thing. "These indictments tell us that middle school and high school kids are not immune from criminal laws," says Robert O. Trestan, Eastern States Civil Rights Counsel of the Anti-Defamation League. "If they violate them in the course of bullying someone, they’ll be held accountable. We don’t need to create a new crime." On Long Island, police are investigating what role cyberbullying played in the suicide of a 17-year-old girl on Sunday.