July 29, 2008

KY- Does Kentucky new bullying law go far enough?

7-29-2008 Kentucky:

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - WAVE 3 is committed to helping parents in the fight to keep kids safe from bullying. Earlier this year, we helped get a law passed that's now in effect, but will it help fight the new bully who does battle online? WAVE 3 Investigator Janelle MacDonald is looking into what the law can and cannot do to protect your kids.

The one thing we can say for sure is that parents are frustrated. After doing these stories in the past, we've heard from lots of you at your wits end.

You're not sure who to turn to when it comes to protecting your kids. As we go about our daily lives, every once in a while, we encounter those age old problems - issues, it seems, without answers. Could bullying be one of them? Certainly, we've all experienced it.

One man tells us, "I was bullied around quite a bit when I was in school."

Another says, "Having to tell the principal otherwise you'd get hurt really bad."

A woman says, "Locked me in the closet something like that."

But school officials will tell you that bullying has changed from when you were in school. Jefferson County Public School's Maurice Risner is in charge of student safety. He says, "It's becoming more of an issue, again, because of the text messaging and the cyber bullying."

Bullying has moved from the schoolyard to online and your - or worse your child's - computer.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway says, "Psychologists are telling us that it's more damaging than the typical face to face bullying that we know."

Conway tells WAVE 3 his office has been really involved in trying to catch the law up to technology. He says this new bullying bill WAVE 3 helped push for does address cyber-bullying. It requires schools to report it and any other felony offenses.

Conway says, "If the bullying rises to a certain level, they have to report it to law enforcement."

The problem is school officials say they can't intervene in some cases.

"If it's two students who are on their home computers and they're not linking it back to school, that's going to be interesting there," Risner says.

Even Conway says, "I'll readily grant that this is a gray area. It's a tough area."

In fact, the new law only makes cyber-bullying alone a misdemeanor so don't try going to the police. They have to witness a misdemeanor crime to investigate. Most parents don't want to wait for their kids to be the victim of a felony. So what can you do?

Conway says, "In this new and challenging culture, parents have to get more engaged."

In a lot of cases, that means going after prosecution yourself. Paul Richwalsky is in charge of the Juvenile Court Division for the Jefferson County Attorney. He says, "We've got zero tolerance. Those kids all come to court."

He says if your child is being bullied, you can file paperwork yourself to get a juvenile case started against the bully, but he says, "it has to rise to the level of a criminal offense. Bad words usually doesn't rise to that."

Richwalsky says his office does prosecute bullies and the more documentation you have, the better.

"We can do cases with somebody's word against somebody else's word, but if you can substantiate it," said Richwalsky.

So yes, while we've all experienced bullying and it may seem like there's not a lot of help out there for parents, educators say we've got to do something.

Risner says, "Just because it happened in the past, doesn't mean it's ok because it's hurt a lot of people."

The Court Designated Workers Office is where you would go to file a juvenile complaint, but make sure you think a crime has been committed first. The number in Jefferson County is 595-0036.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General tells me parents need to make sure they know what their kids are doing online and have access to their MySpace and Facebook pages. That way you know if they're being bullied.

We've also made it easy for you to find other things you can do to fight cyber-bullying go to wave3.com and use the speed word "bully."

WAVE 3 would like to make sure the law is doing all it can to fight online dangers. Conway tells WAVE 3 there may never be a perfect law to prevent cyber-bullying, but he's working on others. You may remember the bill we told you about earlier this year. It would create the crime of cyberstalking, prohibit sex offenders from getting on websites like MySpace and allow parents to search email addresses of registered sex offenders. It passed the Kentucky House but failed in the Senate this past session.

Conway says, "If people are interested in this bill, contact your State Senator, contact your State House Member and say that the House Bill 367 from this last session is one that they want to see passed."

Conway says he plans on prefiling the same bill again for the upcoming session. ..News Source.. by Janelle MacDonald

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