Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Local Lawmaker Wants to Make Cyberbullying of Minors a Crime

Posted By on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 at 6:00 AM

click image David Molak, far left, committed suicide on January 4 after suffering online harassment. - DAVID'S LEGACY | GOFUNDME
  • David's Legacy | gofundme
  • David Molak, far left, committed suicide on January 4 after suffering online harassment.
Texas legislators will hear from the families of two teens who were anonymously harassed by online bullies, including one who eventually took his own life, during the first state hearing on legislation that would make cyberbullying a crime. 

The proposed legislation is being called "David's Law" in remembrance of 16-year-old David Molak, an Alamo Heights resident who killed himself on January 4 after facing a barrage of online harassment. The law would make electronically harassing or bullying anyone under the age of 18 through text messages, social media, websites or apps a misdemeanor. 

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hold a hearing at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday where Molak's family and the family of Matt Vasquez, who anonymous bullies encouraged to commit suicide while the teen was being treated for leukemia, will testify about the harassment their loved ones endured. The committee hearing will also include testimony from bullying experts who will talk about what the Legislature can do to prevent and combat online harassment. As it currently stands, there's not much police or school districts can do to fight anonymous online harassment, according to the bill's author, State Sen. José Menéndez.

Both families have said that law enforcement and school officials told them that current law just wasn't sufficient to punish bullies that tormented Molak and Vasquez. In Molak's case, the San Antonio Police Department did conduct an investigation and turned it over to Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood, who said in April that there just wasn't enough evidence to charge the people who bullied Molak with a crime. 

Menéndez says the proposal is partially modeled after legislation in Maryland called Grace's Law, which made cyberbullying a misdemeanor punishable with a $500 fine and up to a year in jail. That law is named after Grace McComas, a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after experiencing anonymous online harassment. However, David's Law would do much more than making cyberbullying a misdemeanor.

It would also provide police with more subpoena power to unmask anonymous online bullies and provide school districts the ability to investigate off-campus bullying, along with requiring districts to include cyberbullying in school bullying policies. Schools would also be required to create an anonymous way for people to report instances of bullying and threats, along with requiring districts to notify parents if their child is the victim of bullying or the aggressor. Lastly, David's Law would require counseling for victims and rehabilitation services for bullies.

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