St. Petersburg, Florida Police arrested a 15-year-old girl on allegations of cyberbullying after discovering hundreds of threatening text messages sent to three of her classmates. Because she did not comply with police orders to refrain from texting the girls, the 15-year-old also got a “tampering with the witness” charge. The teen was arrested and temporarily detained at a Juvenile Assessment Center awaiting trial.
The four girls were formerly friends, but their relationship turned vitriolic after an argument. The suspected cyberbully knew that one of the girls’ relatives had recently committed suicide, and encouraged her via text to do the same.
The young suspect sent texts like “You’re a pathetic piece [expletive], you’re a [expletive], nobody likes you, I hate you so much and I hope to cut you, [expletive].” Even though the girl only sent the texts over the span of eight days, she received a charge of aggravated stalking for each of the girls she bullied. Clearly, the girl was well aware of the traumatic effects of her messaging. To add insult to injury, the 15-year-old self-incriminated by admitting that she stated “if this isn’t bullying then I don’t know what is” in one of her text messages. Nevertheless, the teen denies sending most of the texts.
The Role of Technology in Cyberbullying Cases
Police will identify the sender of the injurious messages regardless of the suspect’s protests. The teen denied sending most of the texts, but in cases which involve technology there is little room for interpretation. In this case, the girl did not use Facebook or typical text messaging; instead, she used “Kik.” Kik is an application created by a Canadian company which allows users to send texts through an internet connection but not a cell phone line. Thus, the girl might have thought she maintained conspicuity. The trick, as always, is that everything posted though the World Wide Web stays in the World Wide Web. In this teen’s case, the invective will be used against her at trial.
What About Massachusetts Law?
Massachusetts does not actually have the “aggravated stalking” charge, since Florida has been stringent with its felony stalking interpretation after young Rebecca Sedwick’s September 9 suicide. Chapter 265 of the Massachusetts Legal Code clearly states in Section 43 (a)(1) that engaging in a “pattern of conduct or series of acts” that would cause a reasonable person to suffer emotional distress can be charged with stalking and punished with up to five years in prison, and a $1,000 fine, or up to two and a half years in a house of correction. The statute specifically names internet and telecommunication devices as covered by the statute’s scope. For the teen’s “tampering with a witness” charge, the young girl would be liable for up to 20 years in prison. As per 18 USC § 1512, she “used intimidation”, threatened and intended to silence the three victims.
As of Nov. 21, all charges have been dropped.