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Bullies and the law

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2012 8:40 p.m. CDT

The early stages of bullying intervention call for those accused in such instances to meet with counselors, parents and school administrators. But when the cases become extreme, or when the bullying just doesn’t stop, bullies can meet a different group of people.

At that point, police, prosecutors, attorneys and judges enter the picture. Then the tone changes. Assistant State’s Attorney Jamie Mosser said students might think it’s fun to pick on a classmate in an online setting, but if the courts see things differently, it could lead to a cyberstalking conviction.

“When you apply for a job, you have to tell them that you were convicted of cyberstalking,” Mosser said. “What seems like fun and games can have consequences.”

Kane County State’s Attorney Joe McMahon said he can’t charge someone with bullying because that is not a crime. But much of the behavior behind bullying does qualify as a crime.

Cyberstalking can grow from cyberbullying, in which a person or groups of people harass someone online. Physical bullying can bring battery or aggravated battery charges.

A group of kids physically attacking one person can lead to mob action charges. These can be felony offenses and can result in punishment more severe than a school suspension.

Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez said he is not a believer in explaining such incidents as cases of “boys will be boys.”

“We have the responsibility to intervene,” he said.

Most school districts have police representatives at least at the high school level. Perez said that can help situations, and that there are cases in which the officers can step in.

If the situation is bad enough, Perez said, officers can take action. When it’s serious enough, it’s a criminal investigation.

Sugar Grove police investigator John Sizer said he provides a stack of business cards to school administrators for cases in which situations become more than a school can handle or for parents or students who are not satisfied with a school’s response. Sizer said he’ll hear from both sides and will do what he can to find a resolution.

Mosser said the state’s attorney’s office can get involved, as well, adding it’s important parents know that if they feel a school district isn’t taking a situation seriously – and they feel it warrants serious consideration – there are options.

“If it’s not being handled at the school, there is always a higher level,” she said, adding that a good step is to contact a school resource officer with the goal of trying to stop what is happening.

Perez said a key to finding solutions is the parents of those accused of bullying. Cooperation is a must, he said, if a resolution is going to be reached.

“You don’t send your kids to go to school to be a bully,” Perez said. “If your kid is a bully, you have to step up to the plate and teach that it is not acceptable.”

Often, Perez said, parents of those accused of bullying defend their children’s actions, which doesn’t help. He said many people have such problems; what matters is how they’re dealt with.

“A parent doesn’t ever want to hear that their kid did anything wrong,” Perez said. “If it’s true, you are on the line, more than your kid. You are responsible.”

Charges can be avoided if the situation is addressed and stopped, Perez said. But sometimes, parents don’t want to stop or acknowledge a problem.

“Some will just keep on defending it,” Perez said. “If you defend it to the hilt … you’ve exposed where it comes from.”

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