The Chicago Family Law Blog

How to Deal With a Bully in Chicago -- Online or On the Ground

Some say that bullying is an age old problem. It's been going on as long as people have existed and getting bullied is just a part of growing up. It will make the kids tougher.

That's a load of crap.

In the "old days," when you walked uphill both ways to school, bullying was done in the hallways of school or on the school bus. All a kid had to do to escape was just to run like Forest Gump.

But times, they are a changin'.

The cyberbullying problem is more than a modern version of the same age-old bullying issue. We, as a people, are a lazy bunch. Instead of bullying the old-fashioned way by smacking someone’s books out of their hands or repeatedly pointing out the phallic implications of a student’s last name, such as Peacock, students are doing what we all do now … going online.

Whereas students used to be able to escape the bully by heading home, they now go online to find their Facebook wall covered in insults, or fake profiles with their name posting embarrassing things. The only limit to bullying now is the bully’s creativity.

So what does a parent do, shoot the computer? The first step is to have open communication with your kids. Your children need to be able to come and talk to you about anything, especially embarrassing bullying. No child should feel like they are alone and without recourse.

The solution needs more than talking, however. Recent amendments to bullying laws have provided some legal recourse, as well as put the burden on schools to address the problem before it gets out of hand.

In 2010, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill that expanded the definition of bullying to include email, text messages, or social networking sites, like Facebook, reports ABC 7 Chicago. It also set up a bullying prevention task force to address ongoing issues.

Cyber harassment statutes were amended in 2011 to address the modern world and the evolving bully. It prohibits using electronic communication to make comments, requests, or suggestions which are obscene with an intent to offend. It is punishable as a low level misdemeanor, though repeat violations are subject to mandatory jail time. Something as simple as an email suggesting that the reader engage in deviant sexual activity with themselves could qualify.

The Illinois school code was also amended in 2011 to allow the school to suspend a student for cyber bullying. Previously, if the harassment wasn’t at school, the school was powerless to act.

Unfortunately, not everything is yet being done. Another bill, which outlined more school-level procedures, including educating students on bullying and remedies for bullies and bully victims, was defeated in the state Senate earlier this week.

According to the Quad-City Times, the bill was defeated because certain conservative groups were afraid that it would lead to education on tolerance of homosexuality.

So, to summarize, you should discuss the bullying openly with your child. Find out exactly what is happening, whether it be physical violence on the playground, or cyber harassment. Talk to your child’s school about the matter as well. They should have procedures in place and might be able to stamp out the problem immediately. If the harassment continues, going to the police is also an option, as almost all bullying activity is now a crime of some sort. And if all else fails, you can also sue.

This post is part of FindLaw’s Legal U series. We are working to help you learn what to do in your city to cope with some of the legal problems, questions, or issues that come up in daily life. Please come back to learn more from future posts in this series.

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