Can Parents Of Bullies Be Sued For Money Damages Or Criminally Prosecuted?

The city of Monona, Wisconsin has passed an ordinance in response to the increase in school shootings, teen suicides and cyber bullying in general.   The tickets are municipal (city) code violations, which is a civil not a criminal offense.  Parents of kids who bully other kids can be fined $114 for the first offense, and up to $177 for repeat violations.  Like any other violation, the victim must file a report with the city police.  The cops would investigate the matter by obtaining cell phone or computer evidence and get statements from witnesses.  Before being issued a ticket, parents would be informed in writing of a previous violation within the past 90 days by the same child.   He said tickets will be issued only in extreme situations, ones where parents are not making any effort to deal with their child’s face to face and cyber bullying behavior.  He went on to say the fines are meant only for parents who are not cooperating.  The director of the National Bullying Prevention Center in Minneapolis, MN said this is the first such ordinance in the 50 states that he knows about.  The Canadian province of Nova Scotia has a new Cyber Safety Law that permits victims to sue cyber bullies and their parents for money damages if the bully is a minor and parents have not properly supervised the child’s use of electronic media.

What about laws that impose criminal liability on parents who do nothing to prevent cyber bullying?  Remember the Florida case where two girls where charged with a crime of aggravated stalking when they cyber bullied Rebecca Sedwick, a 12 year old girl who committed suicide?   Mark O’Mara, the Florida lawyer who represented George Zimmerman, commented on his blog recently about charging parents with a crime when their children were found to cyber bully other kids.  If such a law was passed, it would be the first in America to hold parents criminally responsible for cyber bullying.  O’Mara raised the question in this way.  If a child uses a parent’s gun  or a parent’s car and breaks the law, parents can be held responsible.    If a child breaks the law using a computer or cellphone provided to the child by his/her parents….how is it different?   He plans to draft legislation that would impose criminal liability on parents who show “willful blindness or gross negligence” to the type of online harassment allegedly inflicted on Rebecca Sedwick by the two Florida girls charged with felony stalking.



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