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When cyberbullying becomes criminal

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Arkansas is one of just a few states in the nation with a cyberbullying law on the books which means kids as young as 10 years old can be arrested for repeated, threatening behavior online.

 

Sadly, those kinds of exchanges happen every day across the country. More often than not, parents have no idea their kids are involved.  When they escalate to a certain level, parents do need to know and in a few cases, police and prosecutors need to step in. 

 

Larry Jegley, Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney, has seen a number of cases involving juveniles and cyberbullying.

 

"Certainly you cross a line when fighting words are used, when a threat of physical harm or property destruction or anything like that is made, just ugly, hurtful words are one thing, but threats and intimidation is really where you cross the line," said Jegley.

 

Electronic bullying cases are fairly easy to investigate due to the nature of the crime.  Everything in the online world is traceable.  Sergeant Cassandra Davis with Little Rock Police points out parents need to emphasize that fact with their kids.  They need to make sure their kids know their words can be used against them in a court of law. 

 

"Once it is in writing, there's evidence, so we can use it as evidence.  It can be printed out and kept as evidence, so we can use it against you," said Sergeant Davis.

 

The Little Rock Police Department classifies cyberbullying cases as harassing communications, a charge which carries a fine of up to $2,500 and a year in jail. Sergeant Davis said extreme cases could even include felony charges.

 

The more informed your kids are, the safer they'll be.  Be sure they realize cyberbullying can take many forms including:

Impersonation - when someone's online account is hacked and embarrassing, hurtful, or threatening messages are sent

Flaming - online bashing and fighting

Outing - when someone is tricked into revealing secrets or embarrassing information.

 

No matter the form, Jegley said parent's need to monitor their kids' online activities and realize that when they get out of hand, there can be serious repercussions. 

 

"That's when it gets to the point that the law needs to step in and say stop it. Decent people don't live like this and just be a nice little boy or girl," said Jegley.

 

If your child is the victim of repeated, threatening behavior online, you should contact your local police department or prosecuting attorney's office.