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This House would hold students legally responsible for bullying if it resulted in the victim's death
This House would hold students legally responsible for bullying if it resulted in the victim's death
Bullying can be any form of behavior, physical or verbal, intended to berate, humiliate, scare, or harass another person. The behavior is usually repetitive, and can extend over a long period of time. Bullies are frequently in a position of power over their victims, either physical or social. Bullying has always existed in schools and in a myriad of other environments from the home to the workplace. In the past, it was viewed as a harmless right of passage children had to go through to ‘toughen up’. But in recent years, a better understanding of the traumatic effects it can have on its victims, has increasingly highlighted how damaging a phenomenon bullying is. It can lead to serious psychological problems, like depression and even suicide. Both the shooters in the Columbine high school massacre (1999) and the Virginia Tech school shooting (2007) had been bullied for years before they opened fire on fellow students and then killed themselves. The media has also shined a light on the problem by widely reporting on high profile cases like that of Tyler Clementi, 18, who committed suicide after being outed as gay on the internet by his roommate, and Phoebe Prince, 15, who hung herself after months of torment by students at her school. There are also indications that the rates of suicide caused by bullying are higher for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) youth. This heightened awareness has led to numerous initiatives to tackle the problem, through both government and civil society programmes. But what, if any, should be the legal response against bullies? Should we just focus on prevention and the protection of victims, or should the bullies themselves face the force of the law if their actions lead to loss of life?
|Points For||Points Against|
|The law should always punish actions that inflict serious harm - whether physical or psychological||Individuals should only be held responsible for the consequences of their own actions|
|The bully's intentions are irrelevant||Conduct offence|
|The current legal regime is not able to prevent or adequately punish bullying||It is difficult to make a direct, legally sound link between a bully's behaviour and a victim's suicide|
|Making bullying a legal issues does not incentivise robust enforcement of anti bullying rules by schools|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
The law should always punish actions that inflict serious harm - whether physical or psychological
Bullying can inflict serious psychological harm on its victims, especially in the case of young people. It leads to low self-esteem, depression, and for some kids it leads to suicide. Bullied children are almost 6 times more likely to think about or attempt suicide. This phenomenon has been termed ‘bullycide’ and the law should recognize it. Many forms of behaviour that result in the death of another person are criminal, from murder to negligence. It is the duty of the law to brand such behaviour as unacceptable, deter future incidents, punish the perpetrators, and offer comfort to victims: in this case, the families of those who lost their life to bullying.
 O'Moore, Mona, “Understanding School Bullying: A Guide for Parents & Teachers”, Veritas, 1, Dublin, 2010
 Kim YS, Leventhal BL, Koh YJ, Boyce WT “Bullying Increased Suicide Risk: Prospective Study of Korean Adolescents”. Arch Suicide Res. Vol. 13, No. 1, pp15-30. 2009.
The law should only punish people for their own actions, not those of others. It’s fine to punish bullies for their bullying behaviour, if it is against the law. But ‘bullycide’ implies the bully bears individual responsibility for the death of the victim, just like in the case of murder or manslaughter. But the bully did not pull the trigger, the victim did. While the bully may have intended to harm or berate the victim, she made no attempt on the victim’s life, and cannot be treated like a murderer, who intentionally took the life of another.Improve this
The bully's intentions are irrelevant
In criminal law, the establishment of culpability does not always depend on the intentions of the perpetrator. If, during a fight on a train platform, I shove someone and that person falls on the tracks and is killed by a train, I will be guilty of manslaughter, whether I intended to kill the person or not, because the harm caused by my actions is so great. The same applies to bullying. Bullies try to hurt their victims through their actions, either physically or psychologically. Whether the bully intended for the victim to die or not, is irrelevant. The bully’s actions were responsible for the victim taking her own life.
 Ashworth, Andrew. Principles of Criminal Law, Chapter 7.5. Oxford University Press. 2009.
There is a fundamental difference between someone’s actions directly resulting in another person’s death and the case of bullying. In the case of manslaughter, the victim never had a choice. The perpetrator is solely responsible for what happened. But some victims of bullying take a decision to kill themselves, while others do not. The bully cannot be held responsible for someone else’s decision and action, only for her own.Improve this
The current legal regime is not able to prevent or adequately punish bullying
Even when bullies are sometimes prosecuted, they are charged with offences that constitute individual components of the bullying behaviour, like harassment, stalking, causing bodily harm, or invasion of privacy. But these offences were not designed with bullying in mind and fail to capture its overall impact and the harm it causes. While bullies may be charged with several of these offenses this will still not capture the kind of harm being done and would not be as effective as a specifically tailored offense. We need laws that recognize that harm and which punish those who inflict it adequately.
 Foderaro, Lisa W. “Private Moment Made Public. Then a fatal Jump.” The New York Times. September 29. 2010. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/30/nyregion/30suicide.html
The laws are inadequate because it is very hard to define bullying. Almost any act or gesture can constitute bullying depending the victim’s subjective experience of it. Criminalizing bullying would lead to criminalizing behaviour that would be considered normal by most standards.Improve this
Individuals should only be held responsible for the consequences of their own actions
In any free and democratic society, criminal law should only hold people accountable for the things they do, not for the actions of others. We are all autonomous, moral agents who make decisions and have to live with their consequences and the consequences of our actions. While it might be justified to punish bullies for their bullying behavior, if it breaks the law, we cannot hold them accountable for another person’s decision to commit suicide.Improve this
Under this law, bullies would be held accountable for their own actions, not those of the victim. The law wouldn’t have to equate them with murderers, punish them as harshly, or suggest they bear sole and full responsibility for the victim’s death. But it would make it clear they bear some responsibility for the outcome, and that they should be punished for their role. If they are children, they can be prosecuted as juvenile offenders and given less harsh punishments, like community service.Improve this
Defining bullying would be nearly impossible. Spreading rumours, giving someone the silent treatment, inviting all your classmates but one to a party, expressing a religious belief about someone’s sexuality, eye rolling, making faces, these can all be hurtful and perceived as bullying. Yet this is perfectly legal behaviour. Criminalizing bullying would amount to criminalizing these acts. They may be offensive, they may even be hurtful, but these gestures should never, ever constitute criminal behaviour in any society that is concerned with human rights, freedom of speech, and of expression. Throwing someone in prison for spreading rumours or eye rolls might be worthy of a totalitarian state, but not a liberal democracy.
 Bolton, José, and Stan Graeve. No Room for Bullies: from the Classroom to Cyberspace. Boys Town Press. 2005.
We criminalize behaviour when it is truly harmful. Especially when it is so harmful that it leads to someone losing her life. Eye rolling and gossip are not harmful enough to be criminal offences. Nor would they be under this law. What would become a criminal offence would be the sustained and prolonged torment of another person to the point of pushing her to committing suicide, whatever forms that torment takes, whether it’s gay slurs, or physical threats and insults. It has also long been established that there are limits to the freedom of speech or expression we enjoy, if that can result in the direct harm of others. For example, we don’t allow people to incite violence against others.Improve this
It is difficult to make a direct, legally sound link between a bully's behaviour and a victim's suicide
Many of the children and adolescents who take their own lives allegedly as a result of bullying have a far more complicated background. Some already struggle with depression, and have unstable family situations that make it hard to turn to their parents for help with their problems. Phoebe Prince, for example, was taking anti-depressants, was devastated by her parents’ divorce, was self harming, and had already attempted suicide after a break up. And that was long before she was allegedly bullied to death. She was a very troubled young woman, and anything could have pushed her over the edge. It would be hard to find the bullies criminally responsible for her death.
 Bazelon, Emily. “What Really Happened to Phoebe Prince? Entry 2”. Slate. July 20. 2010. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/bulle/features/2010/what_really_happe...
Of course there will always be ambiguous cases. That is why we have trials, and rights for the defendant. The weight of the evidence presented in court should establish what degree of culpability, if any, the bullies had. If the prosecution does not have a solid case to present, it may even choose not to prosecute. But the law should be in place for those cases where it is needed.Improve this
Making bullying a legal issues does not incentivise robust enforcement of anti bullying rules by schools
Schools are educational establishments that parents trust to protect and educate their children. Teachers and school administrators are those who should be keeping a watchful eye on the students in their care and intervene before harm comes to them. If bullying occurs at school, then that school has failed in its duties. In fact, in cases where suicides occurred, it has often later come to light that a bullying culture was widely tolerated at the school, and that school staff that knew about it did nothing to prevent it, with tragic results. To prosecute the bullies would shift responsibility from the woeful failure of the adults around them, who should have known better and done more than the children in their care.
 Bazelon, Emily. “What Really Happened to Phoebe Prince? Entry 1”. Slate. July 20. 2010. http://www.slate.com/articles/life/bulle/features/2010/what_really_happe...
Prosecutions of bullies responsible for suicides, and improved safety in schools are not mutually exclusive goals. Programmes need to be set up that stop bullying early on, give victims support, and people to turn to when they are in need. Schools and their administrators can and should also be held accountable to their boards, and the community. But in those cases where tragedies still happen in spite of such measures, the culprits should be held to account.Improve this
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