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‘David’s Law,’ Texas S.B. 179, Criminalizes Cyberbullying of Minors

The death of Texas teen Brandy Vela touched my heart. I felt terrible for her family and for the suffering she was unable to endure from relentless online bullies who sought to ruin her reputation and, ultimately, her life.

I am grateful that the internet wasn’t quite so prevalent when I was “coming up.” Sure, you could have harassed me on a message board or Livejournal, but the audience would have been pretty limited. Nowadays, the world can see your missteps or failings, whether factual or the fabrications of a bully. It must be tough to be a bullied teen in this environment.

That is why I am grateful for “David’s Law,” Texas Senate Bill 179, which was unanimously passed this last session.

S.B. 179 make cyberbullying a Class B misdemeanor, or a Class A misdemeanor if the perpetrator has been previously convicted for cyberbullying, or if the victim commits suicide or severely harms themselves as a result.

The David of “David’s Law,” 16-year-old David Molak of San Antonio, committed suicide after being relentlessly harassed about his physical appearance by several other students via a group text message.

Normally, I believe in “free speech” and that folks are ultimately responsible for their own decisions. However, young people must face at least some legal consequence for relentlessly harassing another human being to the point that they end their life. In this circumstance, it’s just what’s right and what makes sense. And this bill does not punish someone simply for being mean or critiquing a minor. The language of the bill is clear about what crosses the line and constitutes a criminal act:

…engaging in written or verbal expression, expression through electronic means, or physical conduct that […]has the effect or will have the effect of physically harming a student, damaging a student ’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to the student ’s person or of damage to the student ’s property;is sufficiently severe, persistent, or  pervasive enough that the action or threat creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for a student

It is my ardent hope that people will stop bullying and harassing minors simply because it is the right thing to do, and because we care about the mental health and the lives of our young people. However, there will always be awful bullies — sad, ignorant people who chose to spend their time so awfully. It’s for those people that I am glad this law exists.

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