Massachusetts Might Set Precedent in Criminalizing Bullying

Rhode Islanders and our local news stations have been focused, appropriately, on the flooding that has ravaged our State in the past weeks. Another interesting story, which many of you may have missed, is developing in Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts District Attorney is charging 9 teenagers

with various charges relating to the bullying and subsequent suicide of 15 year old Phoebe Prince. The South Hadley teenager was apparently the subject of months of continuous bullying before committing suicide in January. Her mother twice notified the school of the seriousness of the problem and the impact that it was having on her daughter. Unfortunately, nothing was done and Phoebe Prince ended her life.

Phoebe Prince came to Boston from Ireland. Her tormentors apparently sought her out after Prince, a freshman, had a brief fling with a Senior football player. It appears some of the girls in the high school wanted to show Phoebe “her place” and that she didn’t belong.

Bullying is an epidemic in our schools today that often continues after class is dismissed in online forums and social network groups. At its worst, it can result in the tragic death of a teenage girl who found suicide the only way to relieve her torment.

Ms. Prince’s death might set a precedent that has implications in Massachusetts and beyond. Bullying as we generally understand it, is not a crime. In fact, many might suggest it is a high school right of passage. From my recollection, bullying is a means by which insecure high school students pass their insecurities onto even more insecure high school students. Ms. Prince, however, was subject to far worse than the occasional taunt. She endured constant and repeated abuse, physical threats, attacks and worse. One of the teens arrested went so far as to write “accomplished” on Phoebe’s facebook wall when notified of her suicide.

The Massachusetts district attorney believes that the tormentors crossed a line and the AG office is using the law in a highly creative way to find charges to press against all of the girls tormentors. The nature of the charges range from criminal harassment and civil right violations to stalking and statutory rape. One girl, who previously knocked a red bull can out of Phoebe’s hand, is being charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

This type of creative prosecution is what is occurring with most of these charges. Defense lawyers will be hollering from the rooftops that the charges are unreasonable and the DA will likely be applauded for bringing someone to justice for the death of Phoebe Prince.

Criminalizing bullying may set a very important precedent not only in Massachusetts but in every State in the Country. It will be fascinating to see how this case pans out.

Beyond the legal issues that I have chosen to discuss in this post, I give my heartfelt condolences to all of Ms. Prince’s family and friends.