The city of Carson, California, decided to move forward with legislation Thursday when its city council voted unanimously to criminalize bullying – harassment in the form of cyberbullying as well as physical torment – against anyone under the age of 26, according to NBC Los Angeles.
A final vote will be held on May 20 and, if approved, the ordinance would take effect after 30 calendar days.
The ordinance considers harassment as “any conduct, whether verbal, physical or written or by means of any mode of communication” that causes a person to feel “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, harassed or molested and which serves no legitimate purpose,” according to a report by the City of Carson.
The report also cites “hurtful, rude and mean text messages” as well as “widespread rumors or lies about others by email or social networks” – all very unfortunate and familiar scenarios – as key forms of cyberbullying and mentions the special vulnerability of children who are gay, overweight, disabled, and gifted.
Currently, there are no federal laws against bullying or cyberbullying, and California law limits punishment to school discipline, such as suspension or expulsion, according to NBC Los Angeles.
If the ordinance is passed on May 20, the punishment for anyone caught harassing someone, from kindergarten up to the age of 25, is that they could be charged with a misdemeanor if it is determined that the bullying would lead to physical and mental harm to the subject being bullied and would make parent(s) or guardian(s) “responsible for the bullying acts of the child” if there was any knowledge of the act, NBC writes.
However, it also gives law enforcement officers the discretion to charge alleged bullies with a lesser infraction rather than a misdemeanor, meaning they would be required to pay a fine in addition to seeking counseling.
The City of Carson report points out that bullying affects 28% of kids between the grades of 6-12 and that both victims and perpetrators of bullying are more likely to contemplate or commit suicide in addition to incurring mental health issues later in life.