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cyber harassment

Is Cyberbullying a Crime? What Can Victims Do?

A 17-year-old North Carolina is facing cyberbullying charges after posting a nude photo of a 15-year-old girl to Instagram, CNN reports. The incident raises the question: Just when does cyberbullying turn criminal? Here's an overview of cyberbullying statutes and what you can do when confronted by cyberbullying: Can cyberbullying be criminal? Nineteen states now have cyberbullying-specific laws on the books, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center; 14 states impose criminal sanctions for cyberbullying. Definitions of criminal cyberbullying and corresponding penalties vary by state, but generally speaking, the laws encompass acts of online harassment -- words or images sent via email, texts, or social media that are intended to intimidate or embarrass another person -- and typically categorize the offense as a misdemeanor. The penalty may also be age-specific. For example, the 17-year-old student from North Carolina faces a Class 2 misdemeanor under the state's criminal cyberbullying statute; if the defendant is over 18, the offense is punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor in North Carolina. What can you do? According to a new FindLaw.com survey, three out of four surveyed parents reported incidents of cyberbullying typically to "friends, school, relatives, law enforcement, and church or clergy." If you become aware of an act of cyberbullying, your first step may be to notify school authorities. If the situation is serious, you may even want to involve law enforcement. In such a case, make sure to give law enforcement copies of the bullying messages or images. How can a lawyer help? With the assistance of an attorney, parents may be able to sue for cyberbullying as an alternative way of reaching parents, school authorities, or law enforcement when other more direct paths prove fruitless -- especially in a state without a cyberbullying statute in place, as Yahoo! Shine reports. The field of cyberbullying-related litigation is still evolving, but there are now examples of victims and their families suing cyberbullies. Before filing a lawsuit, however, perhaps your attorney can write a strongly worded demand letter to a school (or parent) that is slow to respond to cyberbullying. To learn more about how the law can help in your personal cyberbullying case, check out our page on Cyberbullying. Parents of cyberbullying victims may also want to consult an education attorney or an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your options. Related Resources: Alleged Bullies Arrested in Fla. Girl's Suicide (FindLaw's Blotter) 2 Teens Cleared in Fla. Cyberbullying Case (FindLaw's Blotter) Sarcastic Facebook Threat Lands Teen in Jail (FindLaw's Blotter) WA Girl, 12, Sentenced for Facebook Cyberstalking (FindLaw's Blotter)
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5 Ways You Can Get Charged With Stalking

Though the exact definition of stalking varies by state, it's generally described as the repeated unwanted pursuit of someone. It typically involves a pattern of conduct in which the offender follows, harasses, or threatens the victim, causing the victim to fear for his or her safety. But what does that mean in reality, how do you know if you're a stalker? Specific acts that count as stalking include, but are not limited to, the following five situations: Physical appearances. A pattern of following someone and showing up wherever he or she happens to be is often referred to as "traditional stalking." This can include repeatedly driving by or showing up at the victim's home, school, or place of work, often in violation of a protective court order. Unwanted communication. Repeatedly sending unwanted texts, e-mails, letters, or gifts can be considered stalking. Making harassing phone calls -- including repeated hang-ups -- can also count. You can also face stalking charges for leaving the victim written messages or objects that place him or her in fear. Inappropriate use of social media -- including spreading false rumors -- may suffice if your state recognizes cyberstalking. Surveillance. You can face stalking charges when you monitor a person's phone calls or computer use. Tech-savvy stalkers can face charges for using hidden cameras or GPS systems to track a person. Other surveillance issues can include: using public records or online search services; hiring investigators; going through a person's garbage; and contacting the person's family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers to find out more about the person. Vandalism. When you damage someone's home, car, or other property to make a person fear for his or her safety, you can face stalking charges. Threats and assaults. Both physical assault and sexual assault can contribute to stalking charges. Stalking charges may also result when you threaten the person's family, friends, and co-workers. If you think you're being stalked, you may want to alert local law enforcement or even request a restraining order against the person who's making you fear for your safety. On the other hand, if you're facing stalking charges, you'll want to consult an experienced criminal defense attorney to explore your legal options. Related Resources: Alec Baldwin's Stalker Sentenced to 210 Days in Jail (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice) Facebook Harassment: Should You Call the Cops? (FindLaw's Blotter) What Proof Do You Need for a Restraining Order? (FindLaw's Blotter) Facebook Stalker: Zuckerberg's Restraining Order (FindLaw's Blotter)
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