DENVER (AP/CBS4) — Bullying through text messages or social media platforms would be a new crime in Colorado under a bill that advanced unanimously out of a House committee Monday.
Lawmakers voted on the bill after hearing from teenagers who testified they had been bullied to the point of wanting to commit suicide.
“Cyberbullying is easier for teenagers to do now because we’re all so connected to the Internet, we’re all so out there,” said Ashley Berry, 14, who said she has been bullied and now speaks out against bullying nationally.
Another victim, Bailey Lammon, told lawmakers she tried everything to escape the torment of cyberbullies.
“They would message me and tell me no one liked me and everyone would prefer me dead,” said Lammon.
Lammon said she switched schools ten times, begged school administrators for help and even cut herself.
“At the time my mother was in hospital on her death bed and i was being told to kill myself,” said Lammon.
Lawmakers on the House Education Committee voted 12-0 Monday in favor of the bill, which would make it a misdemeanor to inflict “serious emotional distress on a minor” through cyberbullying.
Supporters say having a specific penalty on the law books would help crack down on the crime. The Colorado Criminal Defense Bar opposed the measure, saying the crime is already handled with the state’s current harassment statute.
The District Attorneys’ council said harassment and stalking statutes simply don’t fit.
“Both harassment and stalking require conduct that’s directed to another, toward a person, I harass an individual. Cyberbullying says I just post a comment potentially one time but the difference is it’s one time but to hundreds or thousands of people,” said Tom Raynes from the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council.
The bill faces another committee vote before going to the full House.
Berry said that when she was bullied, she stopped going to school, wouldn’t leave her room and was depressed. She said she’s aware of friends now who are bullied.
“On a day-to-day basis, I witness it. It’s teenagers being told names, being told, ‘You know, we’d like you better if you were gone, go kill yourself.’ Things like that,” she said.
“I’m feeling physically nauseated over what you went through,” said Rep. Cherylin Peniston, D-Westminster.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, told lawmakers that the legislation is needed to help prosecutors keep up with a new phenomenon driven by technology.
“Bullying is no longer in our playgrounds. Bullying has gone high-tech,” said Fields.
Under the bill prosecutors could only bring charges if they could prove the bullying caused serious emotional distress.
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