Criminalizing Bullies

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It is very worrying that a person as young as Phoebe Prince had to die at such a tender age only after being bullied. However, I do not think that the suspects of this act deserve to be made to answer criminal charges. They did not mean to cause death in the same way that criminal law describes and more importantly, they are juveniles.

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Online bullying is also on the increase these days. It is very shocking that children are being exposed to abuse that is a continuation of bullying at school whenever they use the internet in order to play computer games or to do assignment-related research. It is upon teachers to take bullying seriously. The courts should not complicate such issues by making them into criminal offence proceedings when teachers are perfectly equipped to deal with such matters. It is sad for this country’s justice system managers to seem to find time for such a case when there are so many more deserving cases awaiting determination. Most of the cases pending hearing cannot be heard else in any other place. Therefore, the court system should prioritize on them. The court system should leave a case such as this one of Phoebe and the bullies to be determined by teachers and parents.

            It is true that the criminal system in this country seems to be very clumsy. This is not to say that the conduct was not serious. It is simply to say that opening criminal charges on nine children is a rather harsh decision by all means. I also think that the statutory rape charges are rather troubling especially if it is taken into consideration that the sexual act was consensual. This is because, everyday, teenage boys always engage in conducts of this nature and no one prosecutes them.

            The main reason why the case gained criminal overtones is because the girl killed herself. This is not in accordance with the rule of law. The law should be predictable, uniformly and effectively applied and in dealing with cases such as Phoebe’s. The actions that were perpetuated against Phoebe may have been designed to making it very difficult for her to remain at school. However, it is not clear where the teachers were during all this time. They should have created a suitable environment for people like Phoebe to report and cases of harassment that they were experiencing.

            It is normal for teenagers to quarrel. It is also perfectly normal for teachers to pick up instances of bullying and to deal with them according to basic rules of discipline. It is not possible for the justice system to be dealing with cases of this nature every time they occur. It is perfectly true that applying criminal law in such a case is a perfect example of the law being taken through the slippery slope. Majority of school children would agree that this act was not designed to cause death. The last thing that the accused teenagers wanted to do is to cause death of one of their classmates.

            The same law that is being used to punish such teenagers sets out a policy whereby these youngsters should be monitored by adults in order for their behaviors to be put under control. For this reason, the law may be seen to be unambiguous. Worse still, the custodians of this law do not seem to realize this. There are many things that the school administration should have done to deal with the problem. I believe that punishing the teenager would have sent enough signals to other like-minded youngsters who seem to have difficulty controlling their impulses and the insatiable desire to cause harm to other people.

            One of the ways in which the girls responsible for this assault may have been punished is through suspension, expulsion or enrolment into a mandatory counseling class. It is clear which other responsibility of the teacher will be handed over to the judge any time a student dies on account of an act of indiscipline being committed by a fellow student. Taking the bullying incident into the courts and bringing forth such charges is surely a way of setting the wrong antecedent in the state’s court’s system as that of the entire country.

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            What the teenagers did is not very outside teenage norms and should not be made into a national symbol of human cruelty. Instead of pursuing the teenagers, the legal system should pursue the high school administrators who did not do enough to prevent such a nasty incident from being blown out of proportion through suicide.

            The Massachusetts District attorney missed a major point by criminalizing the incident. Bullying, as it is generally understood, is not a crime. Some people even think that it is a rite of passage for anyone who goes through high school. The argument that the District attorney may be making is that the girls who committed the act crossed the bullying line. Although there may be some sense of truth in his argument considering the prevailing mood, what should be borne in mind is that the slippery slope can take many forms and this seems like a perfect manifestation of one of these forms. Such a way of applying the law forces attorneys to argue on the basis of creativity rather than inherent provisions that exist in law. For this reason, defense lawyers will have a good basis for arguing that their clients are not guilty of any crime.

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