Two Florida Students Charged In Connection With A Bullied 12-Year-Old's Suicide
from the and-the-problem-with-existing-laws-is-what? dept
Two alleged cyberbullies have been arrested in Florida, but not because as a result of hastily erected cyberbullying laws. Not that Lakeland could have been blamed for rushing some legislation into existence.
Twelve-year-old Rebecca Sedwick jumped off a tower at an abandoned cement plant after enduring months of bullying by 15 other teens and tweens. Another student, 14-year-old Guadalupe Shaw, posted this message on Facebook shortly after Sedwick’s suicide.
Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a (expletive)].
On the strength of that post, Shaw was arrested and is facing charges for “felony aggravated stalking.” Another unnamed 12-year-old was picked up and is facing the same charge.
Officials have presumably secured previous posts from the two arrestees aimed at Sedwick that justify the felony charges. This message alone would not qualify as a felony or misdemeanor.
(2) A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
(3) A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.
The difference between the two is the existence of a “credible threat.” Messages sent to Sedwick from other students included phrases like, “You should die” and “Why don’t you go kill yourself,” including some sent by Shaw herself.
Witnesses told investigators that Shaw harassed Sedwick by calling her ugly, told her to “drink bleach and die,” and suggested that she should kill herself.
Prosecutors hoping to make these charges stick may have trouble turning suggestions into threats, but as stated earlier, there may be more posts that haven’t been made public that are actual threats. Even so, the felony charge is Class 3, one step up from a misdemeanor.
Grady Judd, the sheriff whose office performed the arrest, said Shaw brought this on herself.
“She forced this arrest,” Judd said of the 14-year-old’s alleged decision to post the message. He said investigators don’t believe her Facebook account was compromised.
Judd sent detectives to arrest her and a 12-year-old friend at their homes.
They were booked Monday, and the 12-year-old was released to her parents, Judd said.
The 14-year-old made her first court appearance Tuesday and was being kept at a juvenile detention facility.
The comment about Shaw’s account being “compromised” is a response to Shaw’s parents’ claim (and Shaw’s herself) that their child’s Facebook account was hacked.
But Shaw’s parents told ABC News Tuesday that they regularly look at their daughter’s account — and would never allow her to write anything so vile.”I would check her Facebook every time she would get on it,” said Shaw’s mom, who wasn’t identified.
“If we saw something that was not right, we would’ve addressed it and it would’ve ended right then,” her dad added.
Shaw’s attorney also said the girl denies stalking Sedwick, a former classmate at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland, and isn’t responsible for the online message.
So, there’s that. The claim seems to be a bit unlikely, especially if investigators have collected posts made from the account over a lengthy time period. Even if Shaw didn’t make the post that resulted in her arrest, it’s going to be a stretch to assert that all negative posts directed at Sedwick from her account were a result of hacking. The latest post was the trigger for law enforcement, but the aggravated stalking charge relates to “repeated” actions. Even so, it’s still an obstacle prosecutors will need to surmount.
That the teens are being charged under existing law indicates the “need” for separate cyberbullying laws is overstated. Existing statutes are capable of addressing the most harmful bullying behavior. Cyberbullying laws, at least to date, have tended to replace targeting clearly criminal behavior with targeting unpleasant behavior, not all of which is bullying and very much of which is protected expression.
That the outcome of this will be unsatisfactory for those seeking justice for Sedwick’s suicide (most likely no time served for either arrestee) doesn’t prove the existing laws don’t go far enough. As tragic as Sedwick’s suicide was, and as reprehensible as the behavior was that led to it, attempting to prosecute people for someone else’s choice is a problematic area that no legislator should be willing to rush into. But so many have, applying heated emotions to a process that tends to result in many harmful unintended consequences if not dealt with rationally.