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When Bullied Students Should Turn to the Police

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.  This blog should not be viewed as legal advice.  It is simply my experiences, opinions, and information I looked up on the internet.

This is the time of year when kids are heading back to school with new clothes and new notebooks. Unfortunately for some kids, they are going back with an all too familiar feeling of dread – the dread that accompanies going to a school where they are victimized on a daily basis with teasing, being hit and pushed, and being humiliated in front of their classmates and teachers.

I had the pleasure of meeting Caleb Laieski last week, the teen who dropped out of school on his 16th birthday because of the bullying he was enduring. He has since earned his GED and is now a lobbyist in Washington D.C. against bullying and discrimination in schools. We agreed that if a student is being physically assaulted in school and the administration is turning a blind eye to their plight, that the student should report it to the police.

(cc) apdk from Flickr

When I think of bullying in schools, I think about kids being shoved into lockers, being tripped in the hallway, and getting swirlies in the bathroom. In high school, these bullies face detention if they’re caught; but in the real world we call this “assault.” In the real world, people go to jail for this.

We want schools to be safe and we entrust teachers and administrators with protecting students.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.  Sometimes they make excuses for problem students.  Sometimes they ignore the problem, despite receiving reports of bullying and pleas from victimized students and their families. At that point, students can’t rely on the schools for protection, and they should report all incidents involving physical violence to the police.

Why should students go to the police instead of suing the school for not fulfilling their obligation to protect its students? The obvious reason is that it won’t stop the bully in his/her tracks; being arrested will. Suing the school takes a lot of time, energy, and money.  Additionally, the victims of bullying that I’ve met weren’t interested in making money; they just wanted the harassment to stop.  Reporting the violence to police is a faster, more efficient solution.

I recently spoke with a parent who reported a bully to the police. Multiple families had complained about the bully, and the school always made excuses for him. One parent decided that he’d had enough and reported the bully to the police when his child was physically assaulted after sticking up for another student who was being victimized. The benefit to the bully, besides getting a clear message that his behavior was unacceptable, was that he was required to attend the counseling and anger management classes that he needed.

When I was in high school, it seemed like students’ options for recourse ended at the principal’s office.  It makes me wonder if today’s victimized students know that they have options besides dropping out if their school won’t protect them.  The school won’t tell them – a school that won’t protect its students probably doesn’t want them to seek outside help either.  It’s up to the advocates to provide the necessary information and support to these students.

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  1. Former High School Student says:

    You’re going too easy on the bullies. In the real world, the situations you described go well beyond “assault” and are textbook battery. Throw in some IIED, slander, and often sexual harassment for good measure. At least, that’s what I remember from high school.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I opted to keep this post focused on criminal law, but you’re right – a victimized student could have grounds to bring civil charges against the bully. While that is an option, seeking criminal charges appears to send a more direct message that what the bully did was wrong.

      Under the model code, assault is the threat of physical contact and battery is the intentional physical contact with another without their consent. In Arizona, everything that qualifies as battery and assault under the model code is categorized under the umbrella of assault.

  2. DerBoss says:

    I would have my kids turn them in right away even if the administration was doing something about it.

    The law does not end at the schoolyard gate, and it doesn’t magically become “not a crime” just because the school administration is dealing with it.

    Bully’s already suspended. Tough, because as a parent I would insist on throwing the book at him with the law even after that.

    Nobody would mess with my kids if they knew they were quick to use the law against them. The world would be a lot more civilized if victims of assault(that’s what bullying is) were quicker to use all the legal resources at their disposal.

    I would sue too, not the school if it was handling it appropriately, I would sue the bully. He would have to deal with both the criminal and civil charges.

  3. DerBoss says:

    In fact it would quickly put an end to bullying if we included beginning legal education classes in elementary school and emphasized the fact that assault is illegal, the law is the same on school grounds, and you can go to the police and press charges.

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      I appreciate that you’re raising your kids to be strong and stand up for themselves.

      I’d probably give the school a chance to deal with it first because some children aren’t taught to not be bullies. But if the school downplays it or doesn’t address the problem sufficiently, then it’s time to take it to the next level.

  4. Chere Estrin says:

    What happens when an adult is bullied? Not just at the workplace but elsewhere? What happens when someone is bullied by the press? How can adults protect themselves? There are few, if any, avenues except costly lawsuits. No real laws, particularly relating to the Internet. Adults can call the police (and rightly so) when it comes to children. When can adults call the police, if ever, for adults? Does it have to come down to physical threats?

    1. Ruth Carter says:

      You bring up a lot of good questions. Each case should be evaluated individually to see if the bullying behavior qualifies as a type of harassment or threat and what state and federal laws might be in place to protect the victim and force the bully to stop or pay the criminal or civil consequences.